Monday, February 20, 2017

Interviews with RHS Botanical Art Gold Medallists - from the UK and Europe

At the end of this week, the RHS Botanical Art Show 2017 opens in London in the RHS Lindley Hall.

This post contains interviews with five artists who won RHS Gold Medals for their botanical art in 2016.

I've been writing about the RHS Botanical Art Shows on this blog since 2007. In future, all my reviews about the RHS Botanical Art Shows and interviews with the artists will be on the blog on my dedicated website Botanical Art and Artists. (This has grown traffic fast and now gets two-thirds of the traffic that Making A Mark gets. Also, Alexa's 'similar sites' tool now ranks it as the top website in the world for botanical art!)

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Interviews with RHS Botanical Art Gold Medallists in 2016

Now for the explanation behind this post!

In 2016, there were 13 Gold Medallists and I had to really rethink my normal strategy of including all the interviews with Gold Medallists in one blog post.

After the show, I wrote a number of blog posts about:
Then added their photos and mini-bios to my website pages about Botanical Artists in the UK and Europe and Asia and Australia and Africa....

....and completely FORGOT (I was pooped!) to write up the interviews with the five artists winning Gold Medals who lived in Italy, the Netherlands and the UK! Whoops!

So one year later here it is!

The themes of the botanical artists below are all strong in terms of
  • botanical history - Simonetta Occhipinti
  • new discoveries - Esmee Winkel
  • the profile in development of different plants over time - Roger Reynolds
  • plants found growing in a specific region - Lidia Vanzetti and Sarah Howard

Simonetta Occhipinti (Tuscany, Italy)



Simonetta Occhipinti GM - won a Gold Medal in 2016 for her series of paintings of the Citrus of the Medici Family.

Simonetta Occhipinti with three of her six paintings
She started the project in the Spring of 2013, two and half years before the exhibition in order to cover all the seasons, the blooms and the fruit. It was too much to try and do them all in one year.  You can see all her citrus fruit paintings on her website

She visited the "Dei Semplici" Botanical gardens of Florence - one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world - and the gardens of the Medici villas around Florence over a period of two years. She chose to paint the plants coming from the "Dei Simplici" Botanical gardens of Florence and the Medici Gardens of Boboli (which lie behind the Pitti Palace).

The citrus plants presented some challenges in terms of identification due to the changes in morphology which can occur depending on how they are grown. The Natural History Museum of the University of Florence was consulted in relation to the history and nomenclature of citrus plants. The Curator of the Villa Castello provided assistance with the identification of the botanical features of each variety.

Interestingly Simonetta used different kinds of Fabriano Artistico for her paintings and their diverse needs in terms of texture - smooth, knobbly, wrinkled, rigged, brilliant or dull.

Lidia Vanzetti (Grignasco, Piedmont, Italy)


Lidia Vanzetti won her third RHS Gold Medal in 2016 for Grapes of the Piedmont.

Lidia Vanzetti with one of her paintings
She lives and paints in the Piedmont Region of Italy and is a member of the Floraviva Botanical Painters Association in Italy.

Lidia is not a professional painter. She's a primary school teacher (of children aged 6-11) who enjoys painting.

Her Gold Medals have all been of fruit grown in the Piedmont region of Italy. The first was for apples, the next for pears and this one is for grapes.

Her narrative for the exhibition highlighted the many varieties of grapes for both red and white wine which are grown in neat rows on the hillsides of the Piedmont.

Grapes of the Piedmont by Lidia Vanzetti GM

Esmée Winkel (Leiden, Netherlands)


Esmée Winkel GM  won a second Gold Medal for her display of drawings of rare and endangered orchids in 2016. Her first Gold Medal in 2013 was for a set of meticulous and well-designed pen and ink drawings of Leguminosae. Esmee has also been awarded the Jill Smythies Award for excellence in botanical illustration by the Linnean Society in 2014.

Esmee Winkel with two of her drawings for botanical plates on display.

Esmée  has a Masters Degree in Scientific Illustration and is a professional botanical illustrator working in pen and ink. She works as a scientific illustrator and botanical artist for Naturalis Biodiversity Center at the Nationaal Herbarium Nederlands.  You can see examples of her drawings on her website.

All the orchids she drew are recent discoveries in the two years prior to the exhibition. They were found on Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and Sulawesi - and are a small fraction of those orchids that still need to be described visually.

We had yet another discussion about working with pen and ink - and I remember vividly her comment to always draw a line down (i.e. move the paper to do this - because it enables you to exercise much more control over what the line does).

Her method is to:
  • start with the habit size fixed to the format required for the journal which she produces illustrations for
  • she produces sketches and then cuts them out and arranges them to find a composition
  • She uses a lightbox to trace her sketches to her final drawing paper. She traces directly using ink as it's much faster for those who are skilled
  • She always uses a Rotring Technical pen as they are really good quality and very long lasting plus Rotring Ink.
  • She uses a .35 and .25 for all her stippling and varies the ink for different size of dots with thicker dots in darker ink and thinner dots in lighter ink
  • she recommends: 
    • drawing the form in your head before you try to draw it with a pen or pencil
    • draw a line down rather than up - turning the paper all the time to do this
    • always use scale bars as they are the only thing that represents size correctly if and when a drawing is reproduced at a different size
    • never ever go on "automatic pilot" when drawing
    • don't get too close to the drawing
    • don't make your lines and mark-making too loose

You can see more of Esmée's tips for working with pen and inkin
In common with most professional scientific illustrators, she can also draw using digital software and uses Inkscape.

Sarah Howard (UK)


Sarah Howard won her Gold Medal for her display of Horn of Africa Aloes.

Sarah did her Diploma in Botanical Art (with Distinction) at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, is a member of the Scottish Society of Botanical Artists and has won awards at Botanical Illustration Scotland (BISCOT). She also exhibited at the 13th Hunt International Exhibition of Botanical Art in 2010. Prior to this, between 1997-2000 she was the official illustrator for the Flora of Ethiopia & Eritrea.  Her interest in Africa is explained by having spent her childhood in Kenya to this childhood in Kenya. She also graduated from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies with a degree in African History and Social Anthropology

Sarah Howard with her Ethiopian Aloes
Sarah is most interested in providing a visual description of Ethiopia's rare and beautiful plants in the the face of habitat loss and climate change. 
I have always carried a sketchbook and brushes on my travels I am fascinated with recording rare and beautiful plants in the face of habitat loss and climate change. An intimate knowledge of a subject’s context is important to me in creating a faithful portrait.
Her approach to her project was as detailed below
  • She made notes and studies in the field, spending a month in each of 2013 and 2014 in various habitats in the north and east of Ethiopia.
  • A professor at the National Herbarium in Addis Ababa helped identify the Aloes she found
  • She decided to limit the features for comparison as the plants are so variable. She chose the rosette, a raceme and a 1/8 size habit drawing. Her aloes show the succulent leafy rosettes that enable survival in long periods of dry conditions. 
  • To enable identification in the wild:
    • Her aloes are displayed in their habitat. 
    • She also provided geological and climatic information for each plant in her labels as well as an associated plant.
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh assisted through supervision of most of the project. 

Roger Reynolds (UK)


Roger Reynolds BSc SBA won his Gold Medal for The Tip of the Branch. You can see his RHS Submission on his website

Roger Reynolds and his RHS gold medal-winning exhibit (above and below) of The Tip of the Branch
The other four paintings - Roger chose to frame his work

Roger has a degree in botany and used to be a Biology Teacher.  Once he retired he took up painting and botanical illustration and also became the Education Coordinator for the Institute of Analytical Plant Illustration (IAPI). He organises talks and workshops around the UK and teaches botany with art.

He decided for his RHS submission he wanted to practice what he preaches and used a quote from a lecture on Ruskin.
nor can the character of a tree be known; until not only its branches but its minutest extremities have been drawn - John Ruskin 1819 - 1900
His idea was to get to really know a series of woody hedgerow plants by painting their features as observed throughout the year. His panels all have their winter state of the woody plants on the left and as you cross the panel they progress through spring and summer to their autumn state on the right. They include imperfections of the specimen including any damage or disease.

He paints on Schoellershammer 4G Illustration Board which is a very smooth paper which works well for dry brush work as well as line and wash which it is more commonly for. It has a reflectivity which enables a bright image. he builds up his paintings slowly using small Kolinsky Sable brushes (his preference is Pro Arte Renaissance). He is not a fan of brushes for miniature painting.
He indicated size with a metric scale bar but only when the object was drawn at a magnification significantly different from that found in nature.

Roger had some really excellent labels to accompany his paintings. I'm a big fan of informative and well-presented labels - and I think the judges are too!

What impressed me most about this set of paintings was how good they looked as a set. The design and composition of the theme, the display and the individual paintings was tight and well focused.

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Previous Posts


You can take a look at the art which has won a Gold medal in previous years in my blog posts below. The first set is about tips I've had from Gold Medal-winning artists. The second set are interviews with those same artists. Both show images from the shows.

More Top Tips for winning an RHS Gold Medal

These are now summarised on a page in the Education section of my new Botanical Art and Artists website - see Tips and Techniques

Interviews with RHS Gold Medallists

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