ISBA fundraiser Dec 12 2013


The first ISBA fundraising event will take place with a Silent Purchase Sale of A5 paintings by botanical artists. The sale will take place on December 12 2013 on the Mezzanine of the Visitor Centre at The Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. The staff and student Craft Fair is also held that day so there will be plenty to see, to eat and to purchase.

Each painting will be mounted and wrapped in clear cellophane. Purchasers, by presenting €50 will be buying a painting but will not know which one until they identify the number they pull from a box with that which is placed by a painting.

If you are unable to attend on the day of the sale, payments can be made online using Paypal. If you have a Paypal account please send €50 to and identify your payment as ‘ISBA Silent Purchase Sale’. If you don’t have a Paypal account, please email Jane Stark at to request an invoice. On receipt of the Paypal invoice, please follow the directions for making the payment. You do not have to join Paypal to do this.

Below are some of the paintings that will be available in the sale.

[nggallery id=10]

Hip Operation

So, the nights are drawing in … next week the ISBA will meet to see how the ‘Hot Petals’ challenge (set by Holly Somerville earlier in the summer) worked out and also to set a new challenge for the coming months. But as the weather cools and the evenings close in, what’s a botanical artist to do for inspiration?

Arum maculatum berries by Jane Stark

Arum maculatum berries by Jane Stark

The flowers of summer may be gone, but the Anemones and Michaelmas daisies are blooming still in our gardens, providing plenty of challenge for those who want to try their hand at the paler end of the spectrum or especially the  whites and botanical greys (if you choose Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’ for example).

The flowering heads of the ornamental grasses (Miscanthus spp., Molinia caerula and lots more) are shimmering in the autumn light – not easy, but very graceful subjects.

But if working in colour is your thing, or the ‘Hot Petals’ challenge has left you wanting to do more with intense colours, then remember that Autumn is harvest time! And so many of the hips and haws and seeds ripening now will provide plenty of delightful subjects for those with a need to wield paint or pencil as the season changes. So get out there with eyes wide open and your sketchbook at the ready.

You might discover the bright orange berries of Arum maculatum (Cuckoo pint) under the trees of your local woodland as Jane Stark did earlier this month.

Or if you’re in the mood for some foraging, you’ll be checking the hedgerows for brambles: you can always paint the blackberries at all stages of ripeness before you go on to eat them in delicious crumbles or jams. Here’s what Yanny Petters did with hers:


Bramble/Blackberry/Rubus fruticosa by Yanny Petters


‘Conker’ (Aesculus hippocastanum) sketch by Fionnuala Broughan

You could always head out with your children (or borrow someone else’s!) to collect conkers and practise textures: the spiny, sometimes mottled case providing one challenge, the shiny chestnut inside another. This year seems to a be a great one for beech masts and again the spiny cases with their contrasting velvety lining are a good textural challenge! You can always reward yourself after a good drawing with the little triangular nuts inside.

But what artist wouldn’t love to get their hands on the rose hips, the haws and the rowan berries that make our hedgerows glow with vermilion and scarlet and garnet.


The intense red hips of Rosa glauca contrast nicely with the glaucous foliage. (Photo by Bernard van Giessen)



There probably aren’t too many practising artists reading this who haven’t taken up their brushes to capture the intense reds, satiny textures and gorgeous shapes of rose hips. But some of you might like to try rendering them in a medium you haven’t tried for a while. For those of you who work in watercolour who’d like a change in pace, or for those (like me)  just starting out, here’s a tutorial (in English) by Dutch artist Sigrid Frensen on how to draw rose hips in coloured pencil.



And finally–and always–there’s composition, when you move from the freedom of your sketch book to the rigour (and terror, for some) of the Blank White Page. Here’s an exquisite and inspiring gathering of rose hips, holly berries, sloes and haws by Holly Somerville:

Autumn fruits by Holly Somerville

An autumnal gathering – hips, haws, holly berries and sloes – by Holly Somerville

Whatever challenge you set yourself–colour, texture, new medium, composition–enjoy the work, and who knows, it might well tie in with the next ISBA project: you’ll hear more about this at next Thursday’s meeting if you’re there, or afterwards by email. Do tell us in the Comments section below how you’re getting on. Comments have to be approved (trying to keep the spammers at bay) so don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up straight away.

Thanks to Jane Stark, Yanny Petters, Bernard van Giessen and Holly Somerville for their contributions, and to Sigrid Frensen for the link to her tutorial.

Plant photography tips for botanical artists

The author of this post is Bernard van Giessen ( Bernard is a professional photographer with over 30 years’ experience both in his native Holland and here in Ireland where he has lived for 13 years. In this post he provides hints and tips on macro photography, a useful tool for botanical artists who wish to record details for later reference.

Macro photography–for example, close-ups of flowers and insects–requires the right combination of patience, favourable weather conditions, suitable backgrounds and some basic knowledge of your camera equipment and specific techniques.

More important still is an awareness how we perceive the world around us. Just look at your subject for a little while before you whip out the camera. As you focus on your subject you may well discover details you would have missed if you had started to take pictures straight away.

The technical bits
Most compact cameras are equipped with a built-in Macro setting (often displayed as a little flower icon) that will allow you to get pretty close to your subject. If you own a digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) you can increase your potential for great shots but at a cost. With compact cameras you can get away with using automatic settings and still get pretty decent images. With an SLR you may need to learn a bit more about Exposure, Aperture, Depth of Field etc. There are very useful websites that explain technical issues these very well;  one I’d particularly recommend is
Briefly though:
  • For Macros and Close-ups, the lens-opening should ideally be small, this means the aperture setting, or F-number, should be high. Remember, the bigger the F-number, the smaller the lens opening and so the greater the depth of field.
  • Shutter-time is important too and is directly related to Aperture; if you change either, the other will change too.
  • Sensitivity (ISO) directly influences Aperture and Time. Higher ISO values give you more room to move, but increase the risk of ‘noise’ which is the digital equivalent of grain and unsharpness in traditional film.
JPEG, TIFF and RAW are file formats and vary in quality and size. JPEG files are heavily compressed and ‘throw away’ information at the start. Most compact cameras shoot in JPEG. They are a bit like the Kodachrome images of the day, suitable for average print quality and size. Most photographers shoot in RAW which is the equivalent of a digital negative; the image still has to be ‘cooked’ with a software program.
En plein air
Keep the following suggestions in mind when you’re out and about.
  1. The closer you get to the subject, the more you also magnify movement caused by wind, camera shake etc. A tripod will help to suppress camera shake but the downside is that you become less flexible and unable to move quickly.
  2. The area that will appear in focus on your screen/photo will decrease as you get closer. This relates directly to the severely reduced Depth of Field which can be as little as 1mm, even at very small lens openings of F16, F22 etc.
  3. Direct sunlight can cast deep shadows and/or can cause parts of an image to appear ‘washed out’. Most garden and plant photographers will prefer overcast weather because of this. The saturation of colours remains limited and there are virtually no shadows. If it’s sunny you can try to shield the light with your body or buy a cloth diffusor which you will need to place/hold between the sun and the object.
  4. Be conscious of a background that will make your subject stand out and avoid clutter. Because you are very close to your subject it will be important to choose an angle that will limit a distracting background.
  5. As you know from your painting work, with flower portraits you can try different compositions. Sometimes an off-centre image creates a bit more tension and interest. This matters even more when you are showing a section of a garden. You may want to use ‘leading lines’ to guide the viewer and give a sense of a three dimensional space. Background, middle ground and foreground need to be in harmony and allow the viewer to briefly rest their eye on each part of an image before returning to the main subject.
  6. In photography you ideally want to have an image in your head of what the actual photo will look like when you’re done.
The Digital Darkroom
Last but not least, the digital darkroom: photographers use powerful software that enables them to improve an image. It may be worth investing in such software if you want to do more than crop an image and/or use the auto-enhance option with the software that came with your camera. Popular photography sites like Picasa allow some minor enhancements too. Such enhancements can however produce very saturated images.
Here are some photographs I’ve taken with a brief explanation of settings and conditions:
Welsh Poppy: Aperture F16 – Time 1/500 – Sensitivity iSO 800 – 105MM Macro lens, handheld in bright sunny conditions. I photographed this poppy at ground level to achieve minimal distraction in the background and a background colour that enhances the yellow of the poppy.
Welsh poppy bud

Welsh Poppy; copyright 2013 Bernard van Giessen

Dandelion seed: Aperture F18 – Time 1/50 – Sensitivity ISO 200 – 105 MM Macro lens, Tripod in the Greenhouse, with black canvas background, sunny conditions. I also used a reflector to cast light on the seed, a diffusor to shield excessive light and a few props to hold the Dandelion in place.
Dandelion seed

Dandelion seed; copyright 2013 Bernard van Giessen

Ladybird: Aperture F8 – Time 1/640 – Sensitivity ISO 800 – 105MM Macro lens, handheld in sunny conditions at grassroots level. With insects you have move quickly because they never sit still and this little creature just tumbled down from a blade of grass when I pressed the shutter release. In Macro photography you have to decide what it is that you want be in focus. In the case of insects the focus almost always has to be on the eyes of a beastie.

Ladybird (c) 2013 Bernard van Giessen

Equisetum: Aperture F14 – Time 1/40 – Sensitivity ISO 400 – 105MM Macro lens, handheld in bright sunny conditions.

Equisetum; Copyright 2013 Bernard van Giessen

Good luck and happy shooting!

Trade Secrets – tips from Botanical Artists

One of the great benefits of being in a Botanical Art Society is being able to share ideas and tips on everything from painting techniques to keeping those plants looking fresher for longer. We asked some of our members to send us their favourite botanical art tips.   Read on, there is definitely something here for everyone!

Are you struggling to arrange your plants for painting and can’t afford a laboratory-type stand and clamp? Try this ingenious idea from artist Sarah Morrish

Specimen stand- Sarah Morrish

Specimen stand- Sarah Morrish


I have used a piece of scrap plywood, or alternatively a piece of stiff cardboard will do, and painted it white.  It slots into a piece of wood at the base that has had a slit sawn/cut out of it.  Strips of Velcro self-adhesive tape have been stuck at intervals across the board.  My local florist charges 15c each for old plastic tubes with a stretchy lid, and then I stick some Velcro around them.  These can then be filled with water and hung at any angle to hold your plant specimen.  It’s especially good for trailing plants.

Dianne Sutherland (SBA): I draw all my component parts of a composition separately onto pieces of tracing paper and then move them around on a sheet of white paper to decide on the best arrangement. You can also flip the tracings over if need be.  I take a few photos of the various arrangements to decide on the best option.  Always work in odd numbers.                ( and )

tracing example- Dianne Sutherland (SBA)

tracing example- Dianne Sutherland (SBA)

Pulsatilla, Dianne Sutherland (SBA)

Pulsatilla, Dianne Sutherland (SBA)


Frances Wortley: To keep small plant pieces fresh, place them in a plastic bag and fill the bag with air by blowing into it, tie it tightly and place in the fridge. The air in the bag keeps the plastic off the plant acting as a sort of cushion. A plant will keep fresh a couple of days this way.

If a flower like a rose has wilted and drooped at the neck, lay the whole stem in water for a while, making sure it is all immersed-   it should recover perfectly.


Sammy & Lucy, honeysuckle loveheart- Jarnie Godwin

Sammy & Lucy, honeysuckle loveheart- Jarnie Godwin


Jarnie Godwin (dipSBA dist) :  If you are doing a busy card design or a composition with lots of the same flower or leaves, trace just a few and use these in different ways and directions to give a full appearance. The honeysuckle heart painting is a good example of where I have used repeat tracings of leaves and buds. Using repeats really helps if you have to do an odd shaped composition or a specified size.  (thanks KRD for giving me that tip!)

I was also given a good tip about shadow tones (thank you JJ) – use the colours in your existing project palette to get a realistic and complementary look. My ‘Alternative Alliums’ vegetable study demonstrates the shadow tone tip, particularly on the paler parts of the leek.

Alternative Alliums- example of shadow tone -Jarnie Godwin (dipSBA)

Alternative Alliums- example of shadow tone –  Jarnie Godwin

To keep plants fresh, I keep them in the fridge. I’ve just got hold of a big polystyrene box with a lid, the type that fruit and veg get transported in. Put a freezer block from a picnic set in it and it’s great to pop your plants in.    ( )

Elizabeth Prendergast:  A teaspoonful of brown sugar at the bottom of a vase keeps your flowers fresher for longer- it really does work!

Keep your light source constant, especially if you have to move into another room or have to use an electric light!     ( )

Shevaun Doherty : Use double-sided sellotape to keep your leaves/petals flat for botanical illustration. (Thank you BS for that tip!)

Breassia arania verde pulled apart and measured up

Breassia arania verde pulled apart and measured up


A leaf rubbing using a soft pencil and cheap paper is a great way of observing the venation and shape of a leaf.

When disaster happens and that splodge of paint does not want to lift, try using a Magic Eraser. Cut it into a wedge shape, dampen it slightly and gently stroke the stain… it really works!! (JML Doktor Power Magic Eraser is available at Homebase and other hardware stores)

Magic Eraser- works for watercolours too!

Magic Eraser- works for watercolours too!


Doreen Hamilton:   Small pieces of plant, leaves and flowers can be scanned directly onto a scanner with the lid open, and then printed out onto A4 paper.  It’s very useful if you think the specimen is going to die or droop                              ( )

Sarah Morrish:  When I’m out and about and know that I may want to collect some small plant specimens, I always take a plastic container with me.  The best type are Chinese takeaway containers as they are quite slim and compact.  I lay several layers of kitchen roll paper in the bottom of the container and then run water over it, letting the excess drain away, and then cover with the lid.  I then place my botanical specimen in the box and it normally keeps really well until I get home and then I place it in the fridge, where it can often live for a few weeks!  If I have cool bag with me when I am out, then I often place the container in there.                 *Sarah’s website is  and the blog is

Liriodendron tulipifera, tulip tree leaf painted using granulating pigments- Claire Ward (SBA)

Liriodendron tulipifera, tulip tree leaf painted using granulating pigments- Claire Ward (SBA)


Claire Ward (SBA) Opaque colours and granulating paints like Daniel Smith’s hematite are great for textures in the last layers, especially for autumn leaves, fungi and lichen twigs. I have plenty of earth colours and browns like burnt umber and sepia but it’s great to mix your own too, for example winsor violet and quinacridone  gold make a beautiful golden brown. This leaf is from a beautiful specimen tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. It was painted with some granulating Daniel Smiths watercolours which are superb for this type of botanical. My favourite autumn colours are PY53(new gamboge by W&N), PY110 (M.Graham) and PO49 (quin deep gold).The pigments PO48 and PO49 are hard to get hold of now so if you can get them, do!  Quinacridone golds are now usually made with a mix of PY150 and other pigments. Beware of staining colours like some of the quinacridones and pthalos if you want to lift paint for veins etc.  (  and )

Lorraine Adams (dipSBA):  Take a photo of your subject in black and white (or change it to grayscale on the computer) so you can see the tonal variations. I often take a photo or scan in black and white/grayscale of my painting at different stages, so I can see if I am achieving the tonal variations correctly.

Always use two pots of water, one for adding water to mixes and blending, and the other for rinsing out your brush.

Holly leaf studies in greyscale - Lorraine Adams

Holly leaf studies in greyscale – Lorraine Adams


Mary McInerney: I was given this tip recently about putting your plant in the fridge.  Stand the plant in a tall container filled at the base with small stones, the stones seem to keep the water fresh.  Place the container in a large plastic bag that goes up and around the plant, leaving the top opened.  This seems to prevent the leaves from frost damage and keeps the leaves crisp.

Jane Stark: Fed up with constantly having to sharpen my pencil whilst doing line drawings, I recently invested in a 0.3mm Pentel mechanical pencil from   It works beautifully.  I bought HB but they come in a whole range of grades from 4H to B




Many thanks to all the artists who graciously took the time to share their tips and images here.

If you have any tips that you also want to share, we would love to hear from you!   Please feel free to add it to the comments below, or email it directly to us. We hope  to make Botanical Art Tips a regular feature of the blog.

Comments on the blog are not published immediately as they need approval first, so please be patient!


Getting your work out there (PR by another name)

This week’s blog is written by Yanny Petters, who has just heard that two of her works (Wild Strawberry and Floral Alchemy) have been selected for the Art of the State Exhibition 2013 ‘Encounters’,  the latest in a series of annual joint art exhibitions organised by the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) in Northern Ireland and the OPW in the Republic of Ireland.  The exhibition will tour Ireland by travelling to four destinations, two in Northern Ireland and two in the Republic. Destinations this year will be Derry, (City of Culture 2013), Lisburn, Cork and Limerick.

I was asked to write a blog on the subject of PR, and I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on the subject to cover a time when the methods of getting our art work noticed are changing almost by the day.

Really what I can offer is just my experience from my starting out as an artist in the early 1990s when everything still went by ‘snail mail’, to the present day when facebook and twitter are the norm.

Starting out
When I realised that I wanted to work as a professional artist I was working on a Community Employment (CE) scheme at Signal Arts Centre in Bray where I learnt a lot about PR in the sense that I had to deal directly with people visiting the gallery as well as doing community work.
Presentation was all-important, as it still is of course, so having a striking image was essential, but there were other elements which continue to be vital, and one of most important of these is: making connections.

The press
Firstly, to get the press to take notice you need to think about what the various newspapers or magazines are looking for. This usually includes the mention of ‘local celebrities’, politicians and photo opportunities. A carefully drafted press release is vital and should include lots of catchy words, describing the ‘not to be missed’ event. There are good guidelines on the web for press releases. It’s also useful to be able to drop a few ‘important’ names, mention awards, celebrities, sex if possible … in other words all the things that sell papers! And remember: personal stories are popular.

The publication dates of the papers/media outlets you’re targeting need to be established as well as a contact person. Many’s the beautiful press package was sent to The Editor only to be ‘lost’ because it wasn’t sent to the right name. So, the research is important, as is following up after you’ve sent the information (by whatever media) with a phone call: this is key to getting things noticed.

All media are constantly being bombarded with information, all clamouring to get published, and my experience is that it takes time to build a relationship with a publication to get a look in.
Some will only give you editorial space if you also advertise for instance!

The images
At all times the image supplied is vital, that it is strong in colour and structure. Local papers prefer pictures of people, so the artist hanging the exhibition would be more likely to be published than a painting. Asking them to send their photographer sometimes works. And with newer media now, perhaps we need to design ways of being visually irresistible even when seen on the little smartphone screen.

Stay connected!
More than the published media I found that collecting names of people interested in my work over the past 18 years has been extremely important. While they support my exhibitions and buy my work they also spread the word. I have found too that by printing greetings cards and calendars and by teaching I have been able to extend the list and also keep my name out there.
I think it is still very important to keep personal contact with the publications: if you have a friend or family member who works in the Irish Times or the Irish Arts Review, don’t fall out with them, whatever you do!

Newer media such as facebook and the web have of course helped hugely. While the artist is competing all the time for attention, if you’re inventive with how you use the web, the information can circulate rapidly. I am lucky enough to have an agent who is very good at all that stuff which frees me up to paint! I also have a media-savvy husband who is in charge of my web site and facebook page (lucky me!).

I expect the way forward is mainly through the internet so the thing is to find eye-catching ways to present yourself. The average punter’s attention span is quite short, so we need to get noticed, and be seen regularly, to stay in people’s minds.

Good luck to the ISBA. This wonderful dynamic group should have the media sitting up with their ears pricked!

Wild Strawberries by Yanny Petters

Wild Strawberry by Yanny Petters (image copyright Yanny Petters 2013)

Floral Alchemy by Yanny Petters

Self Heal by Yanny Petters (image copyright Yanny Petters 2013)

Claregalway Botanical Art Expo

Claregalway Botanical Art Expo

July – Mid August 2013

In time, we will look back on these as halcyon days. A gem from amongst these days has been the Claregalway Botanical Art Expo during the Galway Garden Festival in early July. For me and no doubt for many artists, gardeners and visitors who participated or came along to enjoy the festival, we left with more than just bags of plants and books in our hands or beautiful botanical paintings under our arms – and yes, there were some sales!!

Auricula-CW-Needham by Holly Sommerville

Auricula ‘CW Needham’ by Holly Sommerville

Tangled Seaweed (Bladder-Wrack) with mussels by Betty Christie

Fucus vesiculosus and Mytilus edulis by Betty Christie

Claregalway was much more than a pure commercial exposé! It was an atmosphere, an experience, a buzz, a fair! Filled with the friendly banter of neighbours and friends enjoying a day out, gardeners and suppliers renewing friendships from previous events and making new ones, great jazz, the smell of great food, generations from new babies to those who have tended many a vegetable patch, there was something here for everyone!!

lilium etc. by Shevaun Doherty

Lilium asiatica ‘Compass’, Eryngium ‘Orion’ and Limonium sinuatum by Shevaun Doherty

Easter Lily by Liz Prendergast

Easter Lily by Liz Prendergast

Passionflower by Lynne Stringer

Passionflower by Lynn Stringer (Image Copyright 2013 Lynn Stringer)

Claregalway Botanical Art Expo, centrally located next to the castle and overlooking the lovely courtyard, with its perfect perches for those who wanted to muse over a cuppa or a verre du vin, was very much a part of all of this magic. All thanks to Jane Stark who initiated the concept last year and continued this year by extending the invitation to artists to participate through the membership of the new Irish Society of Botanical Artists.

Pomegranate by Mary Dillon

Pomegranate by Mary Dillon


Paphiopedilum orchid by Jane Stark

Paphiopedilum orchid by Jane Stark

As botanical artists, we work largely in solitude.  We need this space with few distractions to create our work and to capture the beauty of our subjects with scientific accuracy. We also need opportunities to grow and nourish ourselveswhich we now have through our new Irish Society of Botanical Artists. Very importantly, we need opportunities to show our work.  We now have one such opportunity with the Claregalway Botanical Art Expo.

This year, over twenty artists participated showing seventy pieces. Four of these artists sent work from Scotland, Wales and England. The work was beautifully hung in a light filled space which was large enough but intimate enough to allow the viewer to engage with the work.

Crimson-Tide by Lorraine Adams

Crimson-Tide by Lorraine Adams


Anemone ‘Honorine Jorbert’, Penstemon ‘Andenken an Friedrick Hahn’
Fuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartoni’ by Julie Whelan

Honeysuckle a snail and a ladybird by Jarnie Godwin

Lonicera periclymenum var. unknown (Honeysuckle); Capaea hortensis (White Lipped Banded Snail); and Coccinella septempunctata (7 Spot Ladybird) by Jarnie Godwin

Iris by Claire Kathleen Ward

Iris sibirica by Claire Kathleen Ward

Throughout the weekend, Jane was there to oversee the smooth running of the exhibition, ably assisted by an array of artists who were participating! Saturday evening saw the official opening of the exhibition by Brendan Sayers, Foreman and Keeper of the Glasshouse Collections in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.

Brendan’s credentials in terms of his vast expertise as an orchid specialist, a much lauded author and co-author, and a keen gardener speak for themselves. However, it is his many years of working closely with one of our own, Susan Sex, along with his long associations with and his love for the work of Lydia Shackleton, Charlotte Wheeler Cuffe, Sophia Rosamund Praeger, Raymond Piper and Wendy Walsh that best qualify him to cast a warm eye over our work. Brendan now works closely with the ISBA on our Alphabet Project, so as our colleague and friend, it was our honour and privilege that Brendan agreed to open the exhibition. He did so with a thoughtful, considered, inspiring speech, imbued with a warm humour that lit the room as he spoke.

Opening speech for Claregalway Botanical Art Exhibition

“As this opening speech has been promised to the Irish Society of Botanical Artists for their online blog, I will try to be as true to my typed words as possible. If however, after tonight you read that blog and find it differs, you can forgive my wanderings. 

So, welcome. Welcome to the show, a show of images, a show of patience and dedication, a show of attention and craftsmanship but mostly a show of observation.

We are all here to view the beautiful depictions of plants painted by observant artists from home and abroad. It is delightful to see this ‘gathering’, practitioners in paint, bound together by their chosen subjects, the plants that surround us.  In my chosen career, I often have to steer my audiences past the animal world and to focus on plants. They are easy to disregard and the tool of the artists with paper can highlight those plants in a way that is less disregarding.

I must thank Jane for asking me to open this exhibition. My qualification to do the job is earned by opportunities presented during my career. I have been fortunate to spend hours thumbing through the works of Lydia Shackleton, Alice Jacob and Josephine Humphries, and their watercolour catalogue of the orchids that flowered in the late 18 and early 1900s in the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin. I have been transported to the forests of Burma, their trees festooned with orchids, while handling the large freestyle paintings of Charlotte ‘Shadow’ Wheeler Cuffe. I have had the delight to deliver subjects for illustration to Wendy Walsh and to spend time with this generous and gentle master of the art. I have sipped wine, debated minute morphological differences and examined magnificently executed portraits with and by Raymond Piper in Dublin, London and Belfast. But most of my learning has been at the side of my compatriot, friend and colleague, Susan Sex. I thank them all for the opportunities they have gifted me.

The purpose of botanical art is to depict, in a faithful manner the plants that surround us. The first, early examples are probably crude carvings of edible plants in a cave far away from here. The great wealth botanical art provided was the depiction of plants from far away places that were returned to Europe as tubers, seed and dried specimens. The accompanying paintings allowed those who had never set foot from European shores the delights that awaited them when these seeds and tubers were forced into growth by the gardeners and growers of the days.  The artist, in laying out the plate design, could bend and twist a leaf to reveal a tomentose underside, show front and rear views of flowers allowing the observer to see the magnificent spur at the back.

A functioning botanic garden is one that enjoys the presence of botanical illustrators. For the same reasons as when the first exotics landed on our shores, people need to see what is truly around them. The stripping away of the masses of foliage that comprises a meadow, to highlight a single inhabitant and show it in all its glory.

Even today as books are leaning strongly towards photography, homage is paid to the art of botanical illustration. The recently published Flora of County Fermanagh, has a botanical illustration as a frontispiece. Homage is still being paid there.

The life of botanical art should not and must not be tied to scientific institutions and botanic gardens. It survival and growth depends on an appreciative public. Appreciation shown in our attention to the paintings, our compliments passed to the hard working artists and purchases made of the beautiful end products. Let’s be like the courtiers of the palaces waiting for the latest revelations from the New World.

As some of you know I can at times be opinionated and expect high standards for finished work. I make no apologies for this but also desire and appreciate a more relaxed approach when applicable. And this exhibition at The Glaregalway Garden Festival is one such occasion. The Festival is magnificent and eclectic. As I have to work with many of these artists in the coming months, it would be foolish of me to say too much about the beautiful paintings that surround us. I will mention those from outside the island, Lorraine, Jarnie, Julie and Claire. There is a softer side of me that people don’t very often see and that is in my appreciation of Gordon D’Arcy’s works and the work of Anne Tower’s adding that eclectic touch to a very fine botanical art exhibition and what is for me an absolute delight.”

Brendan Sayers

Owner of Claregalway Castle, Dr, Eamonn O’Donoghue supports Christian Blind Mission Ireland and the Galway Simon community. Several hundred Euro were collected for these charities during the first weekend of the Botanical Art Expo through the raffle of a painting. The upcoming Claregalway Classical Music Festival will take place from Aug 5th – 10th, during which the Botanical Art Expo will be open to the many visitors expected to attend the second year of the Magic of Music School and Festival. There should be a good footfall that week to wrap up the exhibition.








Opening Night

Join the Irish Society of Botanical Artists Facebook group:

Like Claregalway Garden Festival on Facebook:




Rare Books on the Web – Virtual Inspiration

This week’s blog is written by Alexandra Caccamo, Librarian at the National Botanic Gardens.

Many of you have been able to visit the library in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, where Colette Edwards and I work, and there you’ll have seen first-hand some of the rare books and botanical art in the collection. For those of you who haven’t been able to avail of a tour, I thought I’d put together a short list of virtual resources that you can peruse at your leisure. Some of the resources are items that we have in our collection but I’ve also included general resources that might be of interest.

One rare book which is always included as part of a tour is the Flora Graeca by John Sibthorp, illustrated by Ferdinand Bauer. The Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford has digitised the Flora Graeca, and made it freely available online.  Along with the published version of the book, they have also digitised the original drawings, Fauna Graeca and Mediterranean scenes.

The frontispiece of Flora Graeca, from the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

Sibthorpe’s Flora Graeca, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus :and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature  (or The Temple of Flora as it is more often known) by Robert John Thornton can be found in the Missouri Botanic Gardens digital library, Botanicus.  This is another item that is in our collection but one we don’t often take out for tours, so here is a chance to get a glimpse of this beautiful book.  They have helpfully indicated where the illustrations are, making them very easy to locate.

A plate from Thornton's The Temple of Flora, in the collection of National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

A plate from Thornton’s The Temple of Flora, in the collection of National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

The oldest book in our collection, and one that is always included in a library tour, is Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones.  A digital version of this is also available on Botanicus. Unfortunately, the illustrations are not marked on the page list but a browse through should reveal some of this book’s treasures.

from Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

from Otto Brunfels’ Herbarum vivae eicones, in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

Another digital library can be found at the website of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library in the New York Botanical Garden.  This site has photographs, archives, stamps, nursery catalogues as well as some of their flower books available to view, as part of the Mertz Digital Collections.

And last but by no means least, there is the Biodiversity Heritage Library or BHL for short.  This amazing resource is a collaborative project between a number of natural history libraries (including Missouri Botanical Gardens, LuEsther T. Mertz Library and the Natural History Museum to name a few) to make their collections available online.  It is an essential resource for anyone interested in botany or natural history.  On the main site you will be able to search for and view many rare botanical books, including items such as Redouté’s Les Liliacées along with many more. The BHL flickr stream  might also be of interest as it features some magnificent illustrations from their digital library.

from Redouté's Les Liliacées, National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin Ireland Copy library artwork

from Redouté’s Les Liliacées , in the collection of the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin Dublin

This is only a short list but I hope that gives you a flavour of what is available for you to view online.

Botanical Art in Bloom

This week’s blog is written by Liz Prendergast, with photographs by Shevaun Doherty.

Now that the first Bloom Exhibition of Botanical Art has been dismantled and much of it is on its way to Claregalway, I will give you all a quick–and very personal–impression of the occasion from the perspective of one who was fortunate to be asked to contribute.

The lead-up to the Bloom exhibition was a call to artists to submit paintings for inclusion. Rebecca Dunwoody was the initial exhibition co-ordinator. The judges were:

  • Brendan Sayers of the National Botanic Gardens
  • Belinda Northcote, a botanical artist who had an exhibition stand in the Crafts Council area of Bloom
  • Patricia Butler, historian of botanical art in Ireland.

The judges were looking for artistic merit and also botanical accuracy: with this in mind, those who did not make it this year are encouraged to try again next year.

For the exhibition itself, the paintings were wonderfully arranged by Lynn StringerHolly Somerville and Yanny Petters. The space was limited in size and yet they created a very effective and pleasing display of beautiful work.

Yanny Petters hangs a painting

Yanny gets to work

Holly Somerville hangs a painting

To the right a bit, Holly

An invitation from Bord Bia to attend the Botanical Art in Bloom Exhibition was sent to everyone and the launch was held on the afternoon of Sunday 26 May. It was a lovely gathering of artists, their families and friends, as well as representatives of Bord Bia, who have been very supportive throughout the whole venture. The exhibition was held in a room in the OPW Visitor Centre in the Phoenix Park: this popular meeting place is just beside a lovely lunch venue and would attract much interest through the whole period. The exhibition continued until 10 June.

Admiring the art

Opening day: admiring the art

Looking at art in the exhibition

Having a good look!

Bloom itself could be summed up, for me, as starting with a slightly shaky sensation of tripping over crowded plastic and aluminium pathways, hot stuffy tents and sensory overload, all combined with a permanent feeling of not quite knowing where you were on that strange little map of the tent village.  That was after you had queued to get into the car park, to get food and coffee and of course those queues for the porta-loos! That’s what happens when 80,000 people come to an enormous temporary show in a field in a park for a weekend.

By contrast, the Bloom Botanical art exhibition was a cool sanctuary housed within solid stone walls. The outstanding feature for me was the amazing range of gifted Irish botanical artists with such different styles and yet all accurately capturing the character of their chosen plant or flower. People were delighted to step into this relaxed calm space and chat and maybe purchase some cards or prints. The sale of paintings, despite the overwhelming interest, was not marvellous.

Artwork on display

Some of the artwork on display

Post mortem – Next year we will have to put much larger signage up around the show because I think many people did not know we were there. The opening of the exhibition is normally a very good opportunity to do some serious selling and this may be better on a weekday evening (say,Thursday) where serious collectors expect to be invited and maybe should be. With that said, it was a very impressive beginning for the ISBA exhibition calendar and a credit to everyone involved in its organisation. The responses in the guest book were very positive and many people were interested in going to workshops and classes. The many people I talked to were all very interested and enthusiastic about the formation, at last, of a botanical artists’ society in Ireland.

Gouache technique

This week’s blog – a tutorial in painting with gouache – comes from Claire Ward, and originally appeared on her own blog in 2011. A stunning example of her own work in gouache appears on her current blogpost at Many thanks, Claire, for sharing this with us.


Hippeastrum bud in gouache


I had a request from a friend to explain my technique in gouache painting; so heres a tutorial showing my method.


I have Schminke artists quality, Winsor and Newton designers and a couple of old Daler Rowney goauche paints. The Schminkes and W/N’s are good quality with no white added and so are not chalky and can stay on the palette.The Dalers are chalky with white and fillers added; they form a hard lump on the palette and fall off – but I still have them – they’re OK to mix – some I don’t use.

I have Schminke PY3 Lemon Yellow
Schminke  PY119 & PBk 9 Raw Sienna
Schminke Burnt Sienna
Schminke PR101 English Red
Schminke PV19 Quinacridone Violet
Schminke PB27 Prussian Blue
Schminke PB29 Ultramarine
Schminke PB16 Helio Turquoise
Schminke PG36 & PO62 Sap Green
W/N PY35 & PO20 Cadmium Yellow
W/N PV23 Winsor Violet
W/N PR108 Cadmium Scarlet
W/N PR254 Winsor Red
W/N PR122 Quin. Magenta
DR Yellow Ochre
DR Burnt Sienna
DR Coeruleum Hue

I have mostly chosen paints with the same pigments as lightfast, transparent watercolours and are marked on the tubes as permanent; there are many fugitive gouache paints – and I stay away from those – like rose tyrian, spectrum violet and alizarin.


Heres the arranged palette – with the W/N white (PW6 – titanium white) and W/N ivory black top left. The white is added to lighten the hues and create highlights and the black (and other dark colours) are used to darken the tones. It is more difficult to get the right hues with the red and yellow paints. I use synthetic brushes around size 2 to 4 – or old sables that I no longer use for ordinary watercolours.

First of all I draw the chosen subject – an Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’, onto green mount card – you can use any colour card but it must be smooth.

tut 1

The drawing shows up in white pencil; then start adding layers of white and tinted grey paint.

tut 2tut 3Just keep going – layering the paint and blending in.

tut 4tut 5Then after adding shadows and highlights – start adding details – the best bit for me!

tut 7

Here’s the almost finished painting (you can keep fiddling!) shown with the original flower- it took approx. four-and-a-half hours to do this much.

tut 8

Heres a link to the Handprint website for a really in depth read up on gouache;

I hope this helps and inspires.  xx

Do have a look at Claire’s blog and her website to see lots more of her beautiful work.

Talking Paint with Holly Somerville


Cucurbita pepo, Holly Somerville

Cucurbita pepo, Holly Somerville

It was a year ago this week that a small group of botanical artists met at the invitation of the National Botanic Gardens, to discuss the possibility of forming a group that would both encourage and inspire botanical art in Ireland, and bring together both artists and those who just appreciate plants and painting. Our artists range from the more established and experienced, to those who are just taking their first tentative steps into the rather daunting world of botanical art.

We met up regularly to share ideas, admire artwork and forge new friendships, each time growing steadily in number. To encourage people to paint, we initiated projects like the Irish Alphabet Project, and the more informal Painting Project, where a fun brief is given out at every meeting to everyone.

Another idea is to hold regular Painting Workshops for ISBA members, the first of which will take place on June 9th at the beautiful Mount Slaney Studios. I met up with Wicklow-based artist Holly Somerville, who will be running the workshop, to discuss her approach to painting.

Mount Slaney Gallery and Studios

“My first advice is to always go for something that appeals to you, but keep it simple! You don’t have to paint every leaf! Personally I tend to go for the architecturally structural plants like unfurling ferns, or buds that are just about to open. I love the work by Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932), a German artist, sculptor and photographer.


Karl Blossfeldt, Art Forms in Nature

Karl Blossfeldt, Art Forms in Nature

I usually paint my subjects from life, and preferably with natural light coming in from the left. I work in a north-facing studio. I also have a daylight lamp for use on those dark winter days. I set up my subject with a white board behind it. If I am painting a flower, I will use a soaked floral oasis to get the best position for the painting. If you can bring the whole plant growing in a pot indoors, that would work best.

Studio set-up with her Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum).

Studio set-up with her Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum).

I try to photograph the set-up at the beginning of the day, before the buds start to open and leaves start to move. It’s amazing how much plants can move!! Occasionally I use photographs for the whole painting, but only if the plant isn’t available and someone wants it quickly. However I am rarely satisfied with the results and much prefer to work from life! I always paint my subjects life-size. If I am doing a scientific illustration, I will measure up carefully, but otherwise I do it by sight.

I use Fabriano 4 which is very smooth but is quite lightweight. It doesn’t like a lot of water, but I tend to paint quite dryly. I use Winsor and Newton series7 brushes, the sable miniatures. I love working with tiny brushes- I have a 000 which I would use the most. I draw out my subject with a HB pencil. I use big sheets of paper, even if it’s a small painting. I tend to dive straight in to the painting!

I use white plates for my palettes, for example I have a plate for greens and a plate for reds, pinks and purples, depending on the subject.  (You can see them in the studio photograph) I use mainly Schmincke paints, tubes not pans. I keep a little sketchbook of colour charts, mainly charts of pure colour. Occasionally if I come across a good colour mix, I will make a note of that too. For example I found the perfect mix for an azalea recently- Opera Rose + Winsor Orange.

Holly's sketchbook of colour charts

Holly’s sketchbook of colour charts

Once set up, it’s time to observe the plant and to look for the light. I do a layer of all the lightest washes, reserving the highlights. Then I look at the plant and notice the darks. The next layer of washes would be to establish the midtones. I slowly continue building up the layers until I am happy with the painting.

Hip, Haw. Holly, Elder. Sloe  by Holly Somerville

Hip, Haw. Holly, Elder. Sloe by Holly Somerville

My favourite green mix would be Aureolin + French Ultramarine, with maybe some Burnt Umber added. When painting white flowers, I would use a grey of Viridian + Alizarin crimson.  Winsor Orange + French Ultramarine also makes a nice smooth grey. A big mistake of beginners is to use Viridian as a green… don’t!! It works best as a shadow colour.

My regular palette of paints would be Aureolin, French Ultramarine, Winsor Orange, Winsor Red, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Umber, Viridian, Blue Violet and Purple Magenta.  I never use black!”

Holly’s Painting Day will be held at her beautiful studios in Mount Slaney, Co. Wicklow on June 9th from 10:30-4pm. The fee for the day will be €50 including a delicious lunch, which is a special reduced rate for ISBA members. Numbers are limited. Please contact Holly to reserve your place at

Mary Rose

The summer brief for the ISBA Painting Project is Hot Petals, given by Holly.


 Time to heat things up after that chilly grey winter!

 Find the warmest-coloured petals you can and paint them scattered on A5 paper:  Orange azaleas, magenta rhododendrons, scarlet tulips, winsor red primulas, whatever is available and hot.

Or paint a whole flower or floret.  Concentrate on capturing the vibrant strong colours rather than perfecting shape or tone.  Have fun with the brightest colours in your palette.

 We will have a Show&Tell for the completed works at our next gathering on September 19th.


If you are still seeking inspiration, then please come and visit the Bloom Botanical Art Exhibition at Phoenix Park, running from May 26th until June 9th 2013, where paintings by a number of ISBA artists, including Holly’s will be on display.



Wendy Walsh

I wonder how many of the artists in the ISBA had their interest in botanical art whetted by the wonderful work of Wendy Walsh? Now 98 years old and still ready to graciously receive guests, Mrs Walsh has been an inspiration to many artists on this island and elsewhere. To meet her and her family in the beautiful surroundings of her home, the early 18th Century Burtown House, was a memorable occasion for a group of us earlier this month.

On 17 May–an astonishingly sunny Friday–about 20 of us gathered in the courtyard and café of Burtown House to be fortified with delicious home-made scones, cake, tea and coffee before our tour of the house and gardens. Seated in our midst was a slight elderly woman with a shock of white hair, accompanied by her daughter Anna who provided care and oversight for her mother as we all gradually overcame shyness and met the artist, asked her to sign treasured editions of her Irish Florilegium and other works, and just generally looked on in awe (or maybe that was only me).

Wendy Walsh signs a card for Mary Dillon

Wendy Walsh signs a card for Mary Dillon

As well as patiently signing the many and varied books and cards, Mrs Walsh agreed to go outside for a group photograph, spurning the offer of a chair and standing with the group between the spreading limbs of an old cherry tree and the grace of a magnolia.

ISBA members with Wendy Walsh

ISBA members with Wendy Walsh

What a happy crew we were, and this was before we had the opportunity to see so much of her work! All through the house, up the stairs, in the various bedrooms, in the hallways, were paintings and drawings from, it seemed to me, most episodes of Mrs Walsh’s long and productive artistic life.

Early painting of white flowers in a vase by Wendy Walsh

An early painting of Wendy’s

Wendy Walsh was born in Cumbria in 1915. Educated at home by a governess, she painted from an early age, encouraged by her mother. In 1941 she married John Walsh and moved to Ireland with him and their family in 1958. Wendy had spent time in Japan after the war, where she learnt ink-techniques and the Japanese philosophy of painting a subject: “They want to capture the soul of a flower, not just an image; that’s why they watch it, understand it, have it in their head and see how it behaves in the wind”. Looking at Wendy’s work, it’s clear she took this philosophy to heart and hand: the delicate petals on her apple and hawthorn blossoms have clearly opened to the spring sunshine and felt the tug of cold May winds.

A Painting of Hawthorn by Wendy Walsh

Hawthorn by Wendy Walsh

Her work throughout the 70s and 80s included a series of images of Irish flora and fauna that were reproduced on stamps. This was not her only work of course and it was in 1980 that she received her first of many RHS medals. The awards continued throughout the 80s and 90s, but according to her daughter Lesley Fennell (also a wonderful and accomplished artist), it was her Doctorate from the University of Dublin, Trinity College—conferred upon her in 1997—that pleased Wendy the most. Having been excluded from formal education during her childhood, she placed great value on it and was honoured and delighted to receive formal recognition for her achievements.

In 1983, the book for which Wendy is probably best known was published. The Irish Florilegium – Wild and Garden Plants of Ireland contains 48 colour plates of Wendy’s watercolours, many of which show plants first introduced by or in some other way connected to some of our intrepid plant hunters, gardeners and botanists. Dr E. Charles Nelson (at the time a horticultural taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens) and Ruth Isobel Ross (a horticultural journalist) contributed the words to accompany and provide context for Wendy’s exquisite paintings.

A painting of Viola 'Molly Sanderson' by Wendy Walsh

Viola ‘Molly Sanderson’ by Wendy Walsh

Wendy has continued to work through her 90s–an inspiration to us all–and it seemed more than right that the budding ISBA should use its first ‘official’ outing as an opportunity to acknowledge the debt we owe her and to thank her for marvellous work over the years.

A painting of Wendy Walsh, painted by her daughter Lesley Fennell

Wendy Walsh, painted by her daughter Lesley Fennell

Today, Wendy’s family continues the artistic tradition, both through their own work in photography, painting, jewellery and garden design, and through their support of other artists in their own endeavours – currently the meadow at the front of the house provides an idyllic setting for sculpture of various kinds. According to Lesley Fennell, they welcome artists to come and set up in the gardens to paint at their ease. She may well be receiving some more visits from ISBA members in the future for who could resist such an offer?

More here:

Thanks to Shevaun Doherty for information for this article and the photo of Lesley’s portrait of Wendy. Thanks also to Lesley Fennell for her most informative tour of the house, the garden, and her mother’s work. Any errors here are mine!

Fionnuala Broughan

Yanny Petters Floral Alchemy Exhibition


Taraxacum officinale ~ Dandelion
Verre Églomisé/painting on glass 42cm x 39cm

“My work is inspired by the minutiae of nature. I explore the detail, colour and form within the realm of nature and the environment. My wish is to share with the viewer my fascination with the beautiful and bizarre, in a world which we all too easily take for granted.”             Yanny Petters

Yanny Petters’  Verre Églomisé panels are beautifully crafted and exquisitely rendered, drawing attention to those humble plants that most of us consider to be weeds. She says,

Vicia sepium ~ Bush Vetch painting & gilding on glass  Verre Églomisé   42cm x 39cm

Vicia sepium ~ Bush Vetch
painting & gilding on glass Verre Églomisé 42cm x 39cm

“Wild plants are an essential part of the symbiosis of the earth, giving humanity the basis for medicine, food, dyes and garden flowers as well as many other uses. I have always had a particular interest in Irish wild plants; the act of exploring paint techniques to depict these plants has been both fascinating and educational.”

It was whilst training as a signwriter that Yanny first came across the technique of Verre Églomisé and fascinated by the possibilities, she began to experiment and to develop her own unique style. Verre Églomisé involves painting on the back of glass using opaque colours and gold leaf and dates back to the Middle Ages. At that time, the typical subjects were religious icons and depictions of significant figures. The frequent use of gold leaf often made these panels very valuable and as the glass was hand blown, paintings on glass were restricted to small dimensions.

  Papaver rhoeas~ Common Poppy Verre Églomisé /painting on glass  42cm x 39cm

Papaver rhoeas~ Common Poppy
Verre Églomisé /painting on glass 42cm x 39cm

Yanny’s love of the illustrated Herbals of the 16th century has also influenced her creative path. These early illustrations of plants, used to identify medicinal varieties, were printed from engravings or wood cuts. Just as with the traditional Verre Églomisé, paper and vellum were very expensive and limited in size, so the artists had adapt the shapes of the plant into the available space to give a pleasing design, whilst still conveying accurate information, although sometimes with artistic licence. A couple of better known examples of these would be Tabernaemontanus whose prints are in John Gerarde’s ‘The Herball’ (1597) and Petrus A. Matthiolus (1565) whose cuts were copies from Leonard Fuchs (1545).

Yanny’s work is the product of many long hours of careful observation in the field. From these field drawings Yanny designs each panel on paper. The glass is then etched with acid, and in some pieces, she also engraves elements of the design giving the artwork a soft line and sparkle. Colour is applied in a series of carefully selected layers with the highlights being applied first. Gold leaf is applied to certain parts of the design giving a reflective quality to these areas. The finished painting is sealed with a layer of varnish or paint effect.

Trifolium pratense~ Red Clover painting & gilding on glass  Verre Églomisé  42cm x 39cm Yanny Petters 2013

Trifolium pratense~ Red Clover
painting & gilding on glass Verre Églomisé 42cm x 39cm
Yanny Petters 2013

Her work can be found in many important collections, including Dr. Shirley Sherwood’s Gallery at Kew Gardens, London, and in the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin.

Yanny’s exhibition of Verre Églomisé panels, Floral Alchemy is currently on at The Olivier Cornett Gallery until May 24th 2013.  Just like an Alchemist, in her hands weeds become as precious as gold, and pictures of wild plants become as valuable as icons.

For more information and how to get to the exhibition, go to   

Her work can be seen on her website

A very interesting essay comparing Yanny’s painting of ‘An Irish Meadow’ to Albrecht Dürer’s ‘The Large Turf’ can be found here



Galway Garden Festival 2012

Galway Garden Festival 2012

Since 2010, the annual two-day Galway Garden Festival has been held within the grounds of the beautifully restored 15th century Claregalway Castle. From modest beginnings the festival has grown into a major attraction drawing large crowds from around the country. In addition to specialist nurseries from all corners of Ireland, the festival includes live music, a series of talks by well-known speakers, children’s entertainment, a specialist bookshop, food stalls and much more. In 2012, the first annual Botanical Art Expo was held at the Castle in conjunction with the Garden Festival.

Galway Garden Festival 2013 at Claregalway Castle

Galway Garden Festival 2013 at Claregalway Castle

Botanical art exhibitions have been sadly few in number in the west of Ireland in the past, in spite of the many artists who have found inspiration in the flora of two of Ireland’s botanical jewels: the Burren and Connemara. The intention of the organisers is to offer botanical artists a new and attractive venue to exhibit their work, and to provide visitors with an opportunity to experience first-hand the high standards that prevail in Irish botanical art.expo121

Since last year’s Botanical Art Expo, we have seen the development of our fledgling  Irish Society of Botanical Artists, and this year it is hoped that more of our members will take part in the exhibition. Last year’s exhibitors included Grania Langrishe, Yanny Petters, Susan Sex and Lynne Stringer.

This year the Garden Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, 6 and 7 July, and the Botanical Art Expo will run from 6 July until early August (closing date tba). The exhibition will be opened during the evening of 6 July by Brendan Sayers, who is also one of the guest speakers at the Garden Festivalexpo122

As an integral part of the Garden Festival, the art exhibition attracts many visitors and potential buyers. During the summer, the castle is open to visitors daily from 11.00am until 4.00pm, during which time the botanical art exhibition will also be open.

In addition to the botanical art exhibition, there will also be space for artists to display and sell related items with a botanical theme, such as cards, calendars, prints etc.expo125

Whether or not you exhibit at the Botanical Art Expo, do consider spending some time at the Garden Festival. There is always a good chance of finding unusual plants, the speakers and the music are always excellent, and the castle itself is well worth a tour. For further details about the castle go to, and for more information about the Garden Festival, go to The castle is also on Facebook, and over the coming weeks, more information about the festival and the art exhibition will be found there.

An Interview with Lynn Stringer

Magnolia campbellii, Lynn Stringer

Magnolia campbellii, Lynn Stringer

Lynn Stringer, one of our founding members, recently exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society London Botanical Art Exhibition, winning a silver medal for excellence. Lynn was one of thirty artists selected and the only one representing Ireland. The standard of work exhibited at the RHS is extremely high with a strong emphasis on botanical accuracy, artistic effect, quality of technique and overall presentation.

First of all, congratulations! Thats quite an achievement. How did you first become interested in botanical art?
I’ve always loved illustration of all kinds. I did Fine Art at the Dublin Institute of Technology as a mature student, specialising in painting. A few years later I read an article on Susan Sex’s paintings for “Ireland’s Wild Orchids” and saw that she gave a one week workshop in the Burren every year.  I went down with a friend and was hooked!

Where did you learn your botanical art techniques? Who has been your biggest influence on your career?
Probably Susan. I had good drawing skills from college which definitely helped, but working with Susan, it was like a light going on as she went through the materials and techniques that she uses. Using good materials makes painting a good picture so much easier. I also read every book and article I could find on the subject and still do. The magazine that ASBA send out four times a year is great for hints and tips. Susan recently lent me a great book – Christina Brodie’s book Drawing and Painting Plants. Seamus O’Brien, head gardener of Kilmacurragh has also been a great help.

What paper, brushes and paints do you use to create your art?I use Fabriano hot pressed paper and needlepoint kolinsky sable brushes from Cornellisons in London or from Kennedys in Dublin. I also find cheap small wedge shaped brushes are great for lifting paint and cleaning up the line of a stem etc. After buying different paints over the years I’ve tended to come back to Winsor and Newton and Daler Rowney. I’ve started to become much more interested in the staying power of paints as well and have realised that some paints I’ve used in the past don’t have as much permanence as others and might fade in the future. I’m starting to read labels a lot more. I’m addicted to Rowney’s Olive Green and use it far too much.

What theme did you choose for your RHS submission and why?
Kilmacurragh and the Plant Hunters. A few years ago I decided I wanted to work on a long term project, rather than just randomly picking plants from the garden. Kilmacurragh is nearby in Co. Wicklow and is under the management of the Botanic Gardens. It has recently become a Botanic Garden in its own right and has a hugely historic plant collection. Seamus O’Brien is the head gardener and is so enthusiastic about the plants in the garden. Many of them have links to some of the great plant hunters of the past including Hooker, Lobb etc. Seamus suggested the theme. It’s really something to be handed a bloom to paint which has been cut from an ancient old tree and told that this tree was grown from a seed that Hooker collected in the Sikkim Himalaya and sent back to Kew in the 1840s.

Magnolia delavayi by Lynn Stringer

Magnolia delavayi by Lynn Stringer

Could you tell us a little about your RHS experience? What was the feedback like from the RHS judges?
It was really good. A bit of a blur to be honest as it’s such a rush getting to London and getting set up. The Standard was extraordinary with artists from South Korea, Thailand, Australia, America, Japan etc. Of course I’d love to have received a gold medal (there were eight given out from a total of 29 artists) but to be honest after seeing what the standard was like I was very grateful for my silver! One of the Judges, Gillian Barlow came around everyone afterwards. She’s an artist herself and she gives all the comments that the group of judges made. They very much look on the group of paintings as a whole and the general feeling about my work was that one piece didn’t fit in well with the others and perhaps was a bit overpowering compared to the others. Funnily enough the painting they liked the best – Magnolia campbellii was one I nearly didn’t bring and the one they were less keen on – Magnolia delavayi was one I was very attached to.

RHS Botanical Art Exhibition (photo Julie Whelan)

What advice would you have for Irish artists who would like to submit work for the RHS?
When you have your paintings completed, get another artist who hasn’t seen them before to look at them with fresh eyes. As artists we are so attached to our own paintings it’s really hard to see them objectively. Gillian made a few other comments to me which were so obvious once someone had pointed it out. They also pulled up artists on ‘outlines’ especially on white flowers. She told me they were a special RHS bugbear!

Now that you have won that coveted medal, what are your plans for the future?
To go back for the gold! But I might need a few years rest first!!

Thank you, Lynn, for taking the time to answer these questions. Best of luck with all your future plans.
I want to say a special thanks to Culture Ireland for their support. They provided a partial grant towards my costs – they help people to exhibit in other EU countries. Their website is

More of Lynn’s work can be seen on her website
Lynn will be giving a free demonstration of her botanical art techniques at Malahide Castle Visitor Centre on May 19th. Spaces are limited so booking is essential.
Further information about submitting for the RHS can be found on their website.

Here are some great tips on how to achieve a gold medal at the RHS Botanical Art Show.

An Irish Botanical Alphabet

An Irish Botanical Alphabet 

The Irish Society of Botanical Artists in association with the National Botanic Gardens,

Sample Letter

The Irish Botanical Alphabet project is the inspiration of members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and staff at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.

This exciting project aims to illuminate the eighteen letters of the Irish alphabet with selected native Irish plants. Each plant will be chosen for the first letter of their Irish name with the selection reflecting a balance of plants from the various habitats of Ireland.

Each artist has been given a template to work from and will have a full growing season to complete the work. Alphabets from the completed works will be selected by an independent committee and exhibited at the Visitors Centre at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in 2014. The aim of the Society is that the project is as open and inclusive as possible. It is hoped that a fringe exhibition of all works and preparatory material will be facilitated.

Artists are expected to work in their own style and technique, with the unity in the body of works coming from the letter design and prescribed size.

This innovative project will be a showcase of excellence for the Irish Society of Botanical Artists.


‘Getting to know you……’ Brendan Sayers conducts a ‘botanical walk’ in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin when he introduced artists to the various habits and habitats of the native plants we will be painting.


The project has met with an extraordinarily positive response. Seventy one members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists are committing to the project!

Support Meetings:

When: Friday, May 3rd – 2pm and Monday, June 17th – 10.30 am.

Where: Meeting Room, Curvilinear Range, NBG, Glasnevin, Dublin.

What to Bring: Bring your sketches, designs, plans, any issues you have with your design, or with your plant. Help will be at hand!!!

In order to encourage and inspire all participating artists, Susan Sex and Brendan Sayers will provide both artistic and botanical support at regular intervals throughout the project.


To see Susan’s presentation click on the link below to view on youtube.

The channel is called: IrishBotanicalArt13

Susan and Brendan both made presentations at the ISBA general meeting in early April.


 Here is Brendan’s presentation.


We have allocated plants to people on a lottery basis.


Polygala serpyllifolia Na deirfiurini Milkwort

Included in our selection are:

  • Native speciesNot protected by legislation
  • Relatively easy to access
  • Reasonable length to flowering time
  • Pretty enough
  • Some with a ‘talkative’ Irish name


Dactylorhiza fuchsii 


Primula vulgaris Sabhaircin Primrose

Painting Timescale:

Artists have one full growing season in which to complete their work – from spring 2013 to autumn 2013.


The finished paintings will be within a 30 cm x 30 cm square.



Internationally recognised Irish calligrapher, Tim O’Neil has collaborated with us in the botanical alphabet project. Tim has designed an uncial alphabet of Irish letters especially for our project


Fabriano Artistico, extra white, watercolour paper, hot pressed, 300lb.

Paper has been made available to each artist.

Accepted Media:


Pencil, colour pencil, watercolour pencil, water soluble wax crayons, pen and ink, pastels, water colour, gouache, acrylic when used watered down, fine art print, mixture of these, no digital media.

‘Getting to know you…….!’

So now we have our plants and our paper and letters, let’s enjoy what really matters – getting to know our plants and painting them!!

Mary Dillon on behalf of:

ISBA Irish Botanical Alphabet Exhibition Sub-committee

Alexandra Cacamo, Mary Dillon, Mary McInerney, Yanny Petters,

Elizabeth Prendergast, Colette Roberts, Brendan Sayers, Marie Stamp.