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My Botanical Art: Part II

2005 until now

Figure 1. Clematis - 2005

This painting of a Clematis from my garden in 2005 was the trigger for me to learn more about botanical art. It was the picture that made me realise painting plants correctly was not something everyone could – or even wanted to do. But I did.

The stamens made me realise that I had been doing something similar to painting my chicken with four legs. The lack of attention to detail! I found the stamens particularly difficult and I knew that the halo I had formed round the edge of a petal would not pass muster.

At home I was encouraged to go further, even though I warned my husband that if I did so, I would be lost to painting in most of my free time. I was still working full time in another career, so free time was a much appreciated commodity.

Figure 2. Daffodils

The turning point was when I

went on a week’s course to the mountains in Wales led by Margaret Stevens, the then president of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) and director of the Distance Learning Diploma Course (DLDC). I wanted to learn to paint stamens! I was given a red rose, without visible stamens, but Margaret was an encouragement in more than just that week’s course.

During that week, Margaret encouraged me to sign up for the 4th DLDC. Additionally, the original paintings for her second book ‘The Botanical Palette’ were sent while we were there. What an inspiration. I was well and truly hooked!

With the guidance the course gave me, I was fully motivated not only to learn about botanical art, but also to master a new technique – colour pencil.

My main media at the time were watercolour and graphite, but I was intrigued by colour pencil. On the course there was one module devoted to colour pencil and I did that assignment ten times before I was reasonably happy with the daffodils shown in figure 2. Subsequently I practiced and practiced, went on various workshops and read all I could about the different techniques in botanical art. My poor husband!

Figure 3. Italian "lords and ladies" 2009.

I challenged myself to get full SBA membership before I finished the DLDC course. The course was 2 ½ years long and in that time, I submitted and had accepted the requisite number of pictures to gain full membership. I achieved a distinction on the course, but as this happened after I had gained membership it didn’t help fast-track me towards full membership.

Membership criteria for the SBA changed early in 2019 but in 2009 it was five pictures accepted each year for three years running. My work has developed so much now that it would be difficult to produce 15 pictures in three years.

My next challenge was the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). As you will understand, for me challenges are an essential part in motivating me. My first application was rejected because of the greens. The Italian lords-and-ladies to the right was one of those pictures submitted.

My application the year after however, was accepted and in 2011 I held my RHS first exhibition, A year in the life of a Magnolia x soulangeana tree - watercolour that resulted in a RHS Silver medal.

Researching the Magnolia was the reason I got into botanical illustration; botanical art and dissections in an aesthetically pleasing composition. The ripe red seeds hang by a fine thread from the fruit (Figures 4,5). I wondered about that thread, where it developed and its attachments in the fruit. I used lenses to trace the passage of the thread and became enthralled at what I could see.

Figure 4. Magnolia

Figure 5. Magnolia

My second RHS medal was Silver Gilt in 2014 for a series of crab apples in colour pencil. These too were botanical illustration and for those my husband bought me my first microscope.

I am constantly learning and continually enthralled by what I find in plants as the year changes and there is always another challenge around the corner. It would take several life times to paint all the plants I want to explore but at least I can spread the word about botanical art so that hopefully everyone can appreciate the beauty of the medium.

The final picture (Figure 6) is one of Thymus vulgaris. I was asked to paint this herb for a commission for a book. The plant is so tiny I wondered how on earth I could capture someone’s interest as they viewed the picture. But the more I studied its form I became completely enthralled. It is a fantastic little plant and if you go for walks over heaths, you will often be walking on it. You may also know it as an herb, particularly if you include it in your cooking for its aromatic oils.

Figure 6. Thymus vulgaris. © Gaynor Dickeson

Interestingly, whilst I was painting the picture, I was part of the Chichester Art Trail and had an Open Studio event at home. Without fail I got every visitor to look at the plant and see what I had seen. It is completely covered in the tiny trichomes that contain the aromatic oil. The visitors also became very interested in the plant and from that, my drawings and botanical art generally.

The graphite part of the artwork is the Thyme, natural size. We call it a ‘habit drawing’ as it shows how it grows. But as the habit is so tiny, I took the upper part of a flowering stem and painted that three times its natural size so the viewer can admire the intricacy of it all.

My scale bar by the habit drawing shows 1 cm and that by the enlarged section also shows 1 cm, but relative to the first scale bar, it is three times longer.

Figure 7. Pen & Ink sketch from my Perpetual Journal 30 July 2019

Being able to paint and draw is not about ability, it is ‘wanting’ to do it in the first place; the ‘wanting’ is the motivator to try and try again and not give up.

Gaynor Dickeson


SBAF, DipSBA (Dist)

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