Friday, 30 May 2014

Happy in Bloom

The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.
~Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

I love this time of year. Even though life is a hectic whirl of end-of-school commitments at the moment, the world looks glorious when the sun is shining and the gardens are in full bloom.

Bloom Garden Festival is Ireland's largest Garden Festival and takes place in Phoenix Park Dublin over the June bank holiday weekend, running from Thursday 29th May until Monday 2nd June. Last year there were over 110,000 visitors, and with so much to see and experience at Bloom, there is definitely something for everyone.

For the botanical art lovers, there is the second annual Botanical and Floral Art Exhibition, held in the Visitor’s Centre, which lies between the beautiful Victorian walled garden and Ashton Castle, a 17th century medieval tower house.

The Visitor's Centre, Phoenix Park, Dublin

The hard-working organisers, Holly Somerville, Yanny Petters, Margareta Pertl and Lynn Stringer
I submitted my two vellum pieces, the Iris foetidissima and the Calamondin (Citrofortunella microcarpa)

This year over seventy paintings were submitted, but only 38 made it through the tough submission process. The organisers, Holly Somerville, Yanny Petters and Lynn Stringer did a great job hanging all the work- it looked amazing. 

Brendan Sayers, Glasshouse Foreman in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin was one of the judges and he opened the exhibition with an entertaining speech which had everyone chuckling.

I was over the moon to discover that my painting of Iris foetidissima seed heads had won a gold medal!!!

Me with my painting and gold medal! Kind thanks to Bernard Van Giessen  for taking this photograph!

There were 14 medals awarded, so there were plenty of very happy artists in the room. There were only two gold medals, and I was delighted to see that the other person who had won a gold was my friend Soyoung Sin from South Korea. Soyoung is currently doing the SBA Distance Learning Diploma Course, which is how I know her.
Winning work by Soyoung Sin from South Korea
My good friend Yanny Petters won a silver for her work
Happy artists- Siobhan Larkin, Helen Noonan, Angela Jupe and Janet Colgan

Jacky and Holly, who won a silver gilt for her beautiful work
The party was great- the wine flowed, the guests mingled and the artwork was much admired. By the end of the evening, there was a satisfying number of red dots on the wall.

Elaine Mackey, her proud daughter and her lovely Fatsia japonica painting

If you are in Dublin this weekend, come along to Bloom! It’s a great event- as well as the botanical art exhibition, there are over 30 show gardens, gorgeous displays of flowers and plants, live music, great food and drink, art & crafts and plenty of entertainment for all the family. As the Bloom video below promises, you will go home happy!

Saturday, 24 May 2014


"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. 
Live the life you have imagined." 
~Henry David Thoreau

Five years ago I read something that changed the course of my life. 

It was an interview given by Margaret Stevens, former President of the Society of Botanical Artists, to Katherine Tyrrell for her excellent Making a Mark blog. In the interview, they discussed the SBA Distance learning Diploma Course that Margaret was running. You can read the full interview here 

I remember feeling very excited reading about this course. I have always painted but never had any formal training. Inspired by a visit to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery, I had been dreaming of taking up botanical art, but didn’t know how to begin. As I was living in Egypt at the time, this really seemed like the perfect solution- a botanical art course from the comfort of my own home.

To apply for the course, you need to submit a sample of your work. They do state that this is not a course for beginners, so I really wasn't  sure if my work would be good enough to be accepted. 

However nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Encouraged by a friend, I sent off my application form, daring at my own audacity to dream so big. 

clementine (Citrus ×clementina) done before the SBA course

Clementine studies done during the course. I had started to learn about disappearing edges here.
A recent study of a calamondin fruit (× Citrofortunella microcarpa)

Fortunately my application was successful, and I took to my studies like a duck to water. I loved doing the course. The feedback from the tutors was informative and insightful, and very quickly I could see improvements in my work. I cringe now when I look back at my submission efforts, but sometimes it’s good to look back and realise how far you have progressed.

The SBA DLDC course taught me to me methodical, observant and patient. These are preparatory studies for one of the assignments (mixed flowers)

Studies of red and yellow dates (Phoenix dactylifera) done before the course
Red dates (Phoenix dactylifera) 2013  It's quite gratifying to see the improvement!

I finished the course in 2012 with a distinction, a wealth of botanical knowledge and best of all, a circle of friends who shared my passion for art and the natural world.
I could have stopped there, but still I dreamed. The SBA have been both encouraging and supportive to me, and I really wanted to become a full member. It isn’t easy to do. Getting a distinction meant that I needed to submit six paintings to become an associate member, and then a further five the following year.

Starting out, this seemed like an impossible ambition, but this week, my dreams came true.
I flew to London and was presented with my Society of  Botanical Artists Certificate of Membership!


 It was fantastic to meet my fellow students who also became full members, Janet Pope and Sarah Wood. Both of these women are wonderful artists who have already begun to win prizes for their work, so I felt really honoured to be standing beside them.

The new members (photograph by Angeline de Meester )

I stood for a moment looking around the room at all the amazing artists who had come to London for the AGM- artists whose work I have long admired, artists whose names are now as familiar to me as the colours in my paintbox, artists whose work fills me with both inspiration and awe… they are all SBA members. I dared to dream, and it came true.

If you are interested in studying botanical art, the SBA Distance Learning Diploma Course might be the right course for you. Applications close on September 30th 2014, so application forms and a sample of work must be received by the Course Director by then. You can read more about the course here-

"Four steps to achievement: 
Plan purposefully. Prepare prayerfully. Proceed positively. Pursue persistently."
~William Arthur Ward

Friday, 16 May 2014

Feeling fruity

What can you paint when faced with a messy week? 

Botanical art requires time, and flowers are notoriously impatient, dropping their petals like divas if you keep them waiting a moment too long. A good solution is to paint a collection of small things- subjects that can be painted in a short amount of time ... an hour here, a few hours there ... until you have filled the page.

"Fruits ... like having their portrait painted. They seem to sit there and ask your forgiveness for fading. Their thought is given off with their perfumes. They come with all their scents, they speak of the fields they have left, the rain which has nourished them, the daybreaks they have seen."  Paul Cézanne

Summer fruits are delicious to eat, and just as yummy to paint. They are readily available, and come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and textures.  My only problem was that I have a habit of eating them before I have finished! Although I like painting fruit, I haven’t painted any of these before (apart from a very bad strawberry a long time ago). So each little fruit was a fresh challenge. 

It was, as Winsor Churchill said, like taking ‘a joy ride in a paint box’.

I started with the blackberries- lovely little subjects but so fiddly! Here it is after the initial washes of Cerulean, Cobalt violet and teeny bit of Paynes Grey.

Colours used are: Cerulean, Cobalt violet, Paynes Grey, Permanent Blue Violet (Rembrandt)+Viridian and a tiny bit of Perylene Maroon (Note: all my colours are Winsor & Newton, unless otherwise stated)

The blueberries had a similar palette, although I added Cobalt blue to the mixes, and a tiny bit of Cobalt Teal (Daniel Smith) in the initial washes for the reflected lights. I loved painting blueberries.

I didn't enjoy the raspberries. They taste delicious but are so difficult to paint. Initially I planned to paint more, but grew so disheartened with the results that I decided to eat the rest instead. Botanical revenge!

Colours used are: Perm rose, Ruby red (Schmincke), Alizarin, Quinacridone Red, Pink Madder (Fragonard), Dark red (Schmincke), Dark Red+ Perylene Violet

I now have a new respect for those artists who paint strawberries so beautifully, because they are also not easy to paint. The palette was similar to that of the raspberries, but with the addition of Winsor Orange Red.

 Rather than paint carefully around each tiny seed, I decided to take the easier route and used masking fluid applied with the tip of a cocktail stick.

 That worked quite well- I removed the masking fluid after the first few washes of paint, although you need to make sure that the paper is completely dry first or you can damage the surface. Even so,  I still had to painstakingly paint around each blob to create the illusion of an embedded seed. Thankfully it smelled divine and tasted even better, so my grumblings were soon forgotten.

I used the same palette for the redcurrants. They have a lovely shiny surface and a wonderful translucency, just like precious stones.

The kiwi was surprisingly straightforward, once I had worked out the colours.

The fresh kiwi slices were laid onto a piece of plastic to protect the paper underneath. 

Slowly building up the colour
 I started with Naples Yellow for the center, and then settled on a mix of Winsor Yellow Deep, Cobalt and Oxide of Chromium. I know that many artists steer clear of Oxide of Chromium because of it’s opacity… but sometimes opaque colours can work really well (I can hear the shouts of protest from here!). Besides, this is a bit of fun. I’m experimenting! The seeds were done in Paynes Grey.

Funnily enough, I was most daunted by the banana slices. However once I had figured out the colours, they were fairly straightforward. I used Buff Titanium (Daniel Smith), Naples, Naples+Cobalt Violet, Raw Sienna, Cerulean+Cobalt violet.  I can see myself having another go at painting a banana, just to get it right.

Summer fruits by Shevaun Doherty 2014
So there you go… a messy week, but I still managed to get a small painting done, and had plenty of healthy snacks to keep me going along the way!

"Above all keep your colours fresh!"  Edouard Manet

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Botanical happiness

Botanical art can be a solitary pursuit. A lot of the time, it’s just you alone in the studio with your plant and your paints, and a gentle stream of creative thoughts going through your mind.

However, after months of hard work, it’s finally time to lay down those brushes, dust off the party dress and have a bit of fun! 

May has arrived with a dizzying whirl of exhibitions and events, and a chance to catch up with all my amazingly talented botanical friends!

 Eidhneán by Shevaun Doherty

The party season kicked off with the opening of Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin,  the inaugural exhibition of the newly formed ISBA. 

I was thrilled to have my painting included. I had been asked to illustrate Hedera hibernica, a plant that I had really never paid much attention to before, but which I grew to like and admire. I blogged about my ivy studies here. As well as the finished painting we were asked to submit any preparatory sketches, and I was really chuffed to find that my sketches had been given a glass box of their own!!

What a surprise!

Detail of some of the ivy studies

 It was wonderful to catch up with old friends, share in their excitement and to see the artwork. The highlight of the evening was meeting Dr Shirley Sherwood, who signed my catalogue and talked to me about her interest in botanical art. The exhibition runs until May 25th, with daily demonstrations by participating artists.

A few days later I found myself travelling down to the beautiful Burtown House with a couple of botanical artist friends, Elizabeth Prendergast and Yanny Petters. Burtown House is the family home of the late Wendy Walsh, Ireland’s best known botanical artist, and her family are keen to continue her artistic legacy by encouraging artists to visit and paint in the beautiful gardens. 

 A portrait of the late Wendy Walsh by her daughter Lesley Fennell
They have a nice little gallery in the house with paintings by Wendy Walsh, her daughter Lesley Fennell and other contemporary botanical artists. We dropped down new paintings for their summer exhibition, had a really delicious lunch in the cafe and then settled into Wendy’s beautiful studio to sketch and chat. Bliss!

Liz and Yanny

Quick bluebell sketches

Finally, the highlight of my botanical year… it was off to London to visit the

I was thrilled to discover that all five of my paintings were included. The exhibition was packed to the brim, and the atmosphere was electric with excitement. The artwork was extremely impressive and I really liked how the exhibition had been carefully thought out in terms of colour, style and habitat. Mine were in the tropical section. 

Five on the wall!

Even the catalogue was colour co-ordinated! Here is the page with my painting of fresh dates

The most enjoyable part of the day was meeting up with all my friends, both old and new. It’s wonderful being in the company of like-minded people… they inspire and encourage you, share the excitement and the dreams and above all keep you motivated.

After the exhibition we all went out to dinner and the conversations and merriment continued until late in the evening. Thanks to an inspired “art swap”, I left with a bag full of new paints, pens and paper to play with, and my mind buzzing with new ideas.

Gifts to keep me inspired! Thank you!! 

The final exhibition of the week was in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery in Kew Gardens, 
This really is a fabulous exhibition… a superb collection of botanical art in a truly inspiring gallery that should be on any botanical artist's list of places to visit. I was delighted to see two of Yanny’s glass paintings there, two jewels in a hall of treasures. It was hard to pick a favourite amongst such great work.

An Irish meadow by Yanny Petters 

The best thing about going to something like this with other artists is that you get to see things in a different way. You learn new things and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the disciplines involved. We spend ages poring over each painting, discussing what we liked, what we felt worked, what we would like to try, and came away feeling invigorated and excited about the future.

Next year's SBA exhibition- definitely something to get excited about!

It's time once more to return to the quiet of my studio. 
Life is good.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Laburnum and The Bee

"For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy."

Khalil Gibran

This week I have been working on Aislinn Adams’ sketchbook for the Nature Trails Sketchbook Exchange.  Her sketchbook is beautiful, already filling up with lovely artwork, but what caught my eye is right at the back, where Aislinn has included “The List of Rules for Life and Learning” written by artist and educator Sister Corita Kent.

Aislinn's Rules at the back of her sketchbook

Rule 4 : Consider everything an Experiment

I like this rule. Too often we make things difficult for ourselves by expecting everything to turn out perfectly. How many times do we find ourselves faced with a blank sheet of paper or canvas, only to find ourselves frozen with uncertainty and indecision? A friend once advised me to call every work of art ‘a study’. If it doesn’t work out, then that’s fine… it’s a study. If it does work, then that’s a bonus!

This sketchbook project has been great in that it has encouraged me to try out new things, and to experiment with ideas, plants and colours.

I decided that I would try to paint the gorgeous Laburnum anagyroides tree in my back garden. Every year it bursts into bloom; wonderfully scented cascades of yellow blossom, that delight both me and the fat bumble bees that visit. I have always wanted to paint it but never found the time.

I used floral oasis to position the stem so that the flower hangs in a realistic manner

 A piece of white card  helps isolate the flowers from the background. Colour charts are always useful.

As always I start with a single flower, just to work out what I am looking at. I paint it from different angles, and I also pull it apart, laying the pieces onto double sided sellotape to keep them flat. Yes, I know... that top one is upside-down, but look at Rule 6 below!

A note of caution- all parts of Laburnum anagyroides are poisonous. Three or four seedpods are enough to kill a child.

Rule 6: Nothing is a Mistake. There’s no Win & no Fail. There’s only Make.

As I was working on the flowers, I noticed a fat bumble bee that had followed me into the house and who was now bumping against a closed window in frustration, despite the open door nearby. Later that day I found the poor creature lying exhausted on the windowsill, scarcely moving. I popped her into a glass and decided to do a quick study.

Bees are great little subjects to paint and can be a wonderful addition to a botanical painting. 

 When I had finished, I decided to try out something that a friend had told me the week before. If you find a bee that looks like it’s dying, try putting a drop of honey beside it. A long tongue will suddenly appear, and the bee will start to drink the honey and recover. Well, my little bee suddenly came back to life, quivering with excitement as she lapped up the sweet honey. I was absolutely amazed, especially as after 15 minutes, she shot up into the air like a rocket! Next time you find a tired bee, try this!
A happy bee.... look at that long tongue!

Off she goes! Apparently a tummy-full of honey will keep a bee flying for 40 minutes.

Rule 9: Be Happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

My final addition to the page was a few senna pods from Egypt, Senna alexandrina. I have had them in my desk for a while now waiting to be painted. They were fun to do, but perhaps not to drink in tea, even with honey!

The finished spread
Sister Corita Kent