Heritage Irish Plants launched by Martyn Rix

What a great day it was! The late autumn sun shone in the Gardens; the gardeners, plantsmen and artists gathered in the Visitor Centre; the paintings looked marvellous and we were all delighted to have Dr Martyn Rix, editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, officially open our exhibition and launch our book. The culmination of many months’ work by the artists who created the plant portraits and by the plantsmen who wrote the various articles, the book was judged a great success (evidenced by the sales on the day) and all there marvelled at the paintings, with some red dots appearing during the opening itself. The exhibition continues until 04 December, with demonstrations by artists on selected days. Check our facebook page for updates. To buy the book, visit our shop or buy it in person at any time at the Visitor Centre in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.

Just before the opening: the beautifully curated exhibition of the paintings created by ISBA artists for the book

L to R: Brendan Sayers, NBG, Lynn Stringer, ISBA, Jane Stark, Chairman ISBA, Martyn Rix


Martyn Rix declares the exhibition open and the book officially launched!

Donegal Days…

Keeping in mind the ISBA’s mission statement “to facilitate interaction amongst botanical artists in Ireland” we decided to run a bi-annual painting weekend in the north west for our members. Here, Oonagh Phillips fills us in on the latest of these weekends which happened recently.

Our Donegal Painting Weekend group has just enjoyed its fourth session, this time at The Glebe in Churchill. This time we welcomed three Donegal-based artists and five others from Wicklow, Kildare and Dublin.

Our day begins at 10am with a walk in the beautiful woodland gardens beside Lough Gartan to choose our plants, and everyone gets down to work straight away.

redCurator Adrian Kelly couldn’t be more accommodating and drops in a couple of times a day to see if we have everything we need and we do!  Each person brings a packed lunch and there is tea and coffee on the go throughout the day so we can have a break to discuss our work and have a chat.

Niamh Harding Millar, professional art teacher and one of our group, kindly offered a watercolour and colour pencil session this time.  She brought colour charts and talked to anyone who had questions on colour theory, thanks so much to Niamh for doing that.

leafOur next session will take place at The Glebe on May 6 and 7, 2017 and is available to all members.  This event is free of charge.

A busy autumn for ISBA artists

It has been a busy autumn for some of our members! Here’s a quick round-up of what’s been happening:

Botanical artists from around the world gathered in Pittsburgh in October for the Annual Meeting and Conference of the American Society of Botanical Artists. The event coincides this year with the 15th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration at the prestigious Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation. We are delighted and proud that Ligularia dentata by ISBA artist and committee member Siobhán Larkin was selected for this important exhibition and we congratulate her.

Ligularia dentata by Siobhan Larkin

Ligularia dentata by Siobhán Larkin. (Photo: Shevaun Doherty)

Siobhán works in coloured pencil and watercolour, and recently won an award at the Irish Watercolour Society exhibition in Dublin.  Another ISBA artist, Shevaun Doherty, is among the artists invited to the ASBA Conference to demonstrate ‘Mastering Beautiful Bloom on Fruit in Watercolour’. Mary Dillon is also attending and spreading the word about botanical art in Ireland. Thanks to Shevaun and Mary for sending us photos.


Siobhan’s work on display at the Hunt Exhibition. (Photo: Mary Dillon)


Teasel for finches, November by Yanny Petters

Congratulations also to ISBA member Yanny Petters whose Teasel for finches, November will join the prestigious art collection of Dr Shirley Sherwood at the Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew, London. The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is the first gallery in the world dedicated solely to botanical art. This painting is part of Yanny’s very successful solo exhibition–“Come with me, I’ll show you something beautiful” / “Komm mit mir, Ich zeig’ Dir ‘was Schönes”–at the Olivier Cornet Gallery in Dublin, featuring her exquisite Verre Églomisé paintings. The exhibition continues until 6 November, so if you are in Dublin, do make a point of viewing the exhibition. You can see photos from the exhibition opening on Yanny’s Facebook page @YannyPettersBotanicalArtist

Another ISBA member, Ida Mitrani, is one of the artists whose work features in the Lines of Negotiation exhibition in the Lexicon in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, running until 05 November. Congratulations to Ida, whose work Totality was bought by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Arts Office for their public collection.

Totality by Ida Mitrani

Totality by Ida Mitrani

The second Art in the Garden exhibition took place in October (9th to 16th) in Tourin House, Co. Waterford (the first of these exhibitions was held in the National Botanic Gardens in 2014, featuring art work based on the Kilmacurragh Gardens).  Close to thirty artists had work in the exhibition, in various media; almost a third of the artists were ISBA members. The exhibition was opened by Patricia Butler, Art Historian (who wrote the forward for our own Aibítir catalogue). Well done to all!

DONEGAL PAINTING WEEKEND 23 and 24 April, 2016.

Our painting weekend was at The Glebe in Churchill this time and what a real treat that was in the Highlands of Donegal.  We now have a growing Donegal membership, all established artists who love nature and plants and become botanical art enthusiasts, thanks to Sarah Lewtas.

The Glebe Gallery

The Glebe Gallery

Painting weekend participants

Painting weekend participants

The light was perfect at the tea room, our studio, and there was ample space for each one to spread out.  We walked the grounds to choose our plants, azaleas, skunk cabbage, skimmia, marsh marigold and more.  There is a coffee machine and we brought along our lunch.  Curator Adrian Kelly popped in and out to see if we had all we needed, we did!

Niamh Harding-Miller and Grainne Carr

Niamh Harding-Miller and Grainne Carr

Martha and Sarah Lewtas

Martha and Sarah Lewtas

We had been generously invited to dinner by Kerry Pocock who owns a gorgeous little cottage across the road from The Glebe, all attended.  Her cousin, Derek Hill, lived here for a number of years before he died.  Kerry comes here with her family.  We had drinks in front of a roaring turf fire in the sitting room when we arrived and lots of good chat and laugh over a delicious dinner.  Kerry had invited a local artist friend who brought Valencia orange almond cake which she had topped with sugared primula to mark the occasion.

Thekla Dunne

Thekla Dunne

Everyone was back painting at their table in the morning and we broke up around 4.30pm. It’s satisfying when an event is so appreciated, one member said that the weekend had rekindled her love of watercolour, another said it restored her faith in nature and womankind!  We’ve already booked a date for early October, members say they’re already looking forward to it.  Curator Adrian Kelly has offered us a tour of the house next time.

Dinner at Kerrys'

Dinner at Kerrys

AGM and Billy Showell Presentation and Workshop

The ISBA AGM took place on Saturday the 5th March in the Auditorium of the National Botanical Gardens. Outgoing Chairperson Alex Caccamo opened the meeting. Nominations for new committee were presented to the meeting.

The new committee members elected are

Jane Stark – Chairperson

Lynn Stringer – Vice Chair

Colette Roberts – Secretary

Breda Malone – Treasurer

Cathy Giles – Communications Officer

Helen Noonan – Committee Member

Marie de Lacy – Committee Member

A presentation of honorary membership was then awarded to Colette Edwards, retired assistant librarian at the NBG, whose enthusiasm, help and and support was so instrumental in the formation of the Society.

Presentation of honorary membership to Colette Edwards by Oonagh Phillips

Presentation of honorary membership to Colette Edwards by Oonagh Phillips

Billy Showell 1

The guest speaker this year was artist Billy Showell. Billy is based in Tunbridge Wells in the UK and is a renowned botanical artist and teacher. Billy generously shared her experience supported by a presentation of slides. We were very grateful for Billy to attend as she is terrified of flying but we were delighted she did as we thoroughly enjoyed her talk and later some of us got to attend a compositional workshop with her.

Billy’s aim through all of her work is to inspire people to get painting. We learned that Billy originally trained as a fashion illustrator and how she inherited her skills from her graphic artist father. She has always loved drawing and sketching but soon discovered although she gained a Degree in Fashion Design and Illustration from St Martin’s School of Art that she really had no interest in fashion. When she realised she wasn’t happy working in her fashion job she starting working with her husband who was a mural painter at that time. Through this work, Billy soon discovered how she loved painting flowers.

Workshop 1

Billy started painting things from her garden and used effects she had learned from her husband in mural painting. She was encourage by her parents-in-law who were artists themselves to start exhibiting her work. She sold her first paintings in Lincolnshire and her first show was of still life in oils painted on board – her inaugural show was a sell out! Time was of the essence for Billy was rearing her young children at the same time her painting career was taking off, and would wait for her children to sleep before getting a chance to pick up the paint brushes.

Billy decided to start teaching oil painting in a local adult education class but was disappointed when nobody turned up to her first class. She sought advice from her artist Mother-in-Law, a watercolour artist who told her to do watercolours instead of oils and who gave her the lessons and tools to start painting in watercolours. Billy said she found having the right tools made all the difference. She soon got her first watercolour commission to paint Tulips. Later on Billy would take on various projects and commissions including the humungous task of a commission of 60 apples which shows how Billy is not afraid of challenges and actually thrives on them.

It wasn’t long before Billy started to experiment with different compositions and enjoyed adding a touch of comedy to her paintings. The balance of objects is an important element of Billy’s compositions and she has enjoyed working with big flowers, graceful lines and long stems. Billy said sometimes she feels she is like a flower arranger on paper. Her paintings have gone through different phases and Billy is not afraid to experiment and said she didn’t mind if things went wrong. Her bravery and creativity is evident in all of the different compositions and styles she has painted through the years, including her much loved shoe, necklace and flower cup portraits. Taking inspiration from many sources Billy has great admiration for the Shirley Sherwood collection of botanical art at Kew Gardens and also Scottish artist Rory McEwen.

We enjoyed hearing how Billy built an art studio at her home which can cater up to six students at a time. She also offers online tutorials and has a new website coming out soon.  Billy travels far and wide through her work as a botanical artist and teacher and as a member of the Society of Botanical Artist and Society of Floral Painters. As well as teaching and painting Billy has released her own paint range with the renowned Sennelier brand and also her very popular ”Raphael Billy Showell Brush Range”.  We were also very excited to hear about Billy’s new book “Billy Showell’s Botanical Painting in Watercolour” which has been published this Spring with Search Press. Billy’s other books “Watercolour Fruit and Vegetable Portraits”, “A-Z of Flower Portraits” and “Watercolour Flower Portraits” are favourites of many botanical artists.

Overall it was a lovely day spent in the company of existing and new members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists, with great anticipation for what the year ahead will bring for the Society.

Plandaí Oidhreachta, Heritage Irish Plants

The Irish Society of Botanical Artists and The Irish Garden Plant Society have joined forces in a project titled Plandaí Oidhreachta, which celebrates our Heritage Plants. It highlights the wealth of good Irish Garden Plants and celebrates the beauty of botanical illustration. In late 2016, the end product of the collaboration will be an exhibition of original paintings and the publication of an accompanying book.

The book will feature articles on a variety of plant themes that highlight Irish Garden Plants, especially those that have come into being since the year 2000. Our latest snowdrops, dahlias and sweet pea will be featured along with primroses, iris and daffodils, as well as other groups of plants, including garden plants selected from the native Irish flora.

As of August 2016, much of the work is complete: the paintings are finished and scanned, the sections on different plant groups have been written, and the design and layout of the book are well underway. If you’d like to find out more, including how to order a copy of the book, which will be published late this year, click here.

The book is now available to purchase online, please click on the following link Heritage Irish Plants: Plandaí Oidhreachta.

HORTICULTURAL TOUR OF DUBLIN ZOO with Curator of Horticulture Stephen Butler


*** Please note this is an ISBA Member only event. If you would like to become a member please visit our membership page ***

DATE: Friday 10 June: 6,30 pm sharp

This very special tour of Dublin Zoo should be a treat for artists and gardeners alike. Plants are extremely important at Dublin Zoo, providing the animals with naturalistic habitats and allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the animals’ world. Stephen Butler is a knowledgeable and entertaining guide.

6.30 pm Coffee, tea and biscuits at the Meerkat Restaurant
7.30 pm Tour begins and lasts approximately 2 hours


Cost: €20 per person – pre-booking and payment in advance. 

Since this is an ‘after-hours event’, security rules at the Zoo require that we submit a guest list in advance. If you would like to attend, please let us know as soon as possible, but no later than Sunday 15 May, whether you plan to attend and also whether you wish to bring one guest. Since priority will be given to ISBA members, we would like to get a rough idea of numbers before confirming guest bookings and asking you to make any payment. Once we have a clearer picture of how many wish to attend, we will get back to you regarding payment methods, deadlines and any special instructions.

This will be a ‘rain or shine’ event, so please be prepared to bring rain gear!


All photographs courtesy of ©Grainne Stark and Jane Stark

‘A DAY AT THE NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS’ – Tuesday 10 May: 12.30 – 4.00pm


*** Please note this is an ISBA Member only event. If you would like to become a member please visit our membership page ***

May is a delightful time at the National Botanic Gardens, with many favourites in bloom – peonies, wisteria, the handkerchief tree and many others. It seems like the perfect time to have an informal, relaxed day simply enjoying all that the Gardens have to offer and an opportunity for those who wish to have lunch together. There is the added bonus of an excellent exhibition, Irish Ceramics at the Gardens, in the upstairs gallery area of the Visitor Centre. Artists may sketch in the Gardens if they wish, but not in the glasshouses.


While this event carries a ‘weather permitting’ advisory, there is plenty to do indoors in the event of rain, so don’t be put off by a few showers.

We would especially like to welcome our new members – this is an excellent time to meet other members and to get to know one another. Committee members in attendance will wear name badges, so please come and introduce yourselves.


Although you are welcome to arrive as early as you wish, we suggest meeting in, or just outside, the Teak House (the glasshouse beside the car park, near the Visitor Centre) at 12.30. Depending on the number of general visitors, it may be necessary – or at least polite – if we don’t all invade the café at once, but this can be determined on the day. If it is crowded in the café, some of you may like to view the ceramics exhibition first. Weather permitting, a walk around the gardens will begin around 1.30pm (starting at the Teak House), after which there will be time to take in some of the glasshouses if you wish. The afternoon will end around 4.00pm – the Gardens close at 5.00pm.

Please note: if you would be interested in a tour of the Gardens with a member of the Visitor Centre staff, please contact us as soon as possible – this can be arranged with prior notice. Cost is €5 per person. These tours are most informative and provide an excellent overview of the Gardens.
Other than a fee of €5 for those who wish to avail of the tour of the Gardens, this event is free-of-charge.



All photographs courtesy of ©Grainne Stark and  Jane Stark 


Painting an Irish Rose for Yeats

 A Blog by Holly Somerville

This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats. The Secret Gardens of Sligo, The Yeats Society and Yeats 2015 are launching a brand new Irish rose to be named ‘WB Yeats’ in his honour. It takes up to eight years to develop a new rose, in this case bred by Dickson’s Nursery, so the process is expensive.

In March I was contacted by Lorely Forester of the Secret Gardens of Sligo, who is fundraising to cover the costs of breeding the rose. We came to an agreement that for a small fee I would paint the rose and permit her to print a limited edition. Donors giving €500 or more will receive a signed, numbered, giclée print of the painting of the WB Yeats rose. These prints are gifts to donors and will not be available again, or elsewhere.

Yeats Rose

Lorely had a busy summer which included creating the WB Yeats Garden at Bloom in the Park in May (winning a well-deserved gold medal!) and then recreating it later in Sligo. We finally met at the end of August and I took home a wonderful multi-flowered specimen of the rose, a scarlet floribunda with bright golden stamens.

Yeats Rose 2

I took many photos, as I knew the flowers would not last long, although all the photos do come out much more orange and garish than the beautiful deep velvety-red original. It is generally very hard to reproduce a true red in prints or photographs.

On a large board of stretched Sennelier hot-pressed watercolour paper I roughly sketched the whole painting (A3), using a combination of photos and the real plant. I then concentrated on painting one finished flower entirely from the living plant so that I had all the colour notes for painting the rest of the flowers from photos when they died. (I prefer not to work in this way and would ideally paint the whole work up together using the living plant.) Apologies for the greyness of the close-up photos.Yeats Rose - Work in progress 1

Yeats painting - work in progress close up

I used a size 4 Winsor & Newton Series 7 miniature sable brush for the first layers of paint, and moved down to size 1 and then size 000 for the later fine detail. The colour was SO tricky! I started with Winsor Red, warming it up in areas with Winsor Orange, and using Schminke Horadam Brilliant Red Violet on top of the Winsor Red to get a deeper, more purple colour in places. I also used Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and a tiny bit of Burnt Umber to get the darker areas, but sparingly to avoid the red becoming dirty. The buds were very purple-blue and I added a touch of Cobalt Blue on these in the paler areas.

Yeats painting - work in progress

Yeats rose - work in progress

The leaves had fresh lemony-green young growth (Viridian, Schminke Aureolin, Ultramarine Blue) and the older leaves lower down were more blue-grey (Aureolin, Ultramarine and a bit of Burnt Umber for the darkest areas). I added Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Umber over the green on the stems, and for the thorns. The outer circle of warmer anthers were a mix of Aureolin and Winsor Orange, and the cooler centres of the flowers were Lemon Yellow and Aureolin. Finally, I went back over all the roses and to deepen and enrich the reds and darks. On the undersides of the petals which are curling up I used Brilliant Red Violet and Opera Rose (sparingly, it’s a super bright colour but not lightfast).

Yeats painting - work in prgressYeats painting - work in progress

By the time I finished the painting I had a sort of ‘snow-blindness’ from looking at the red for so long, but I learned so much. In watercolour it is not easy to create intense crimson on fairly large areas, and I would highly recommend everyone paint a red rose at least once for practice and experience.

My A3 scanner also behaved strangely with the intensity of the red, and it took a lot of tweaking to get it the scan as near to the original as possible. This scan is still a little bit dark and a tiny bit orange, so I will take the painting to a professional scanner who will also make the prints.

Finished painting


Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!

Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:

Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;

The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,

Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;

And thine own sadness, where of stars, grown old

In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,

Sing in their high and lonely melody.

Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,

I find under the boughs of love and hate,

In all poor foolish things that live a day,

Eternal beauty wandering on her way.


Come near, come near, come near — Ah, leave me still

A little space for the rose-breath to fill!

Lest I no more bear common things that crave;

The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,

The field-mouse running by me in the grass,

And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;

But seek alone to hear the strange things said

By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,

And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.

Come near; I would, before my time to go,

Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.


WB Yeats, 1893

More information on donating to the Irish Rose for Yeats can be found here:

 Secret Garden of Sligo website

An Irish Rose for Yeats Facebook page



Holly Somerville

October 2015