"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home" (Twyla Tharp)

Natural Diversity ...

There  are few really original ideas left these days and particularly when referring to nature, the arts and creative concepts.  'Natural Diversity' was to be the name of the exhibition we held as it is a collaboration between four very diverse artists working in different styles and mediums.  However apparently it was too similar to the name of another exhibition held at the gallery so we had to create a name in a very short period of time which reflected our ambitions.

The result is 'Framing Nature' - the culmination of years of work for the artists involved.
We are all passionate about our subject matter, the natural world - and the title was quite appropriate as it relates so well to how we each see the subject in front of us, how we want to portray it and ultimately, how we present it to the viewing public.  We all frame our subject in our own unique way and our mutual celebration of the natural world is reflected in the works being exhibited.

Presentation being so important, prior to framing artworks behind glass it was important for me to have a very good digital copy for printing purposes and online promotion.
 I've spent a lot of time researching the best way to get good reproductions of watercolour botanical artworks and after many test runs, ultimately photography gave the most accurate results.
I have taken some photos for my own files but also had a select few professionally photographed. 

Then comes framing!  So much choice - but I went quite uniform for all my artworks.
 I decided this so that in a group exhibition my artwork has its own trademark style and was easily recognised.  My framing is a little more expensive than hoped but in the end it's like dressing up for the occasion ... time to bet the best foot forward.   That was almost more difficult than choosing the subject for the original artworks!

 Who knew so much goes into an exhibition - from framing, labelling, pricing, bios, artist statements, media releases, photography, catering, sponsors, speakers, delivery, wait staff, etc.  Oh and not to forget the artworks themselves - seems a distant memory since sitting in a quiet studio painting to our heart's content.

It has been a great pleasure working on this exhibition - and as we head towards the finish line with all the hard work behind us, I couldn't be prouder!   Joining together to celebrate our interpretations of the fascinating world of nature  has been a great learning experience.


Mixed feelings ...


I will admit to missing the continuity of assignment deadlines when we were in the SBA botanical art distance course.   It's been three months since the last artwork was completed and sent away to London for final marks - and both the artworks and I have done a lot of travelling since. The space and time have been very fruitful though and there are a lot more artwork deadlines up ahead - so instead of being daunted by them I will be grateful to have the motivation and appreciate working towards a goal.

The final of the three diploma works to show here is the Mixed Study - a variety of subjects loosely combined to show flowers, stems, leaves gathered together in different perspectives and angles.    I chose plants from my garden - those that were blooming prolifically as I needed to source them easily.  No time for heading out to the garden centre or florist as the final deadline was looming.  I chose a rose, bronze cottonwood, hibiscus and frangipani - it speaks volumes about the kind of summer garden we have and the plants that survive our intense heat. 

                                                 The first stages of the flower heads positioned.
            I had drawn all the elements onto tracing paper and moved them around to find a suitable
         composition so that the colours worked well together and the placement filled the page nicely.

Much time was spent doing colour studies to match the individual hues ...

I used oasis foam supported in a pot and played with the flower cuttings to see how they would appear together.  Here is an unfurling cottonwood bud which I cut and then next to it you can see where I placed my work in progress artwork behind it to see how it would fit in the composition.

 And here is the 'real' flower below drawn and painted into the composition ...

 I became glued to this art table for many days and nights -

my desk started to become quite overwhelmed with paint charts, palettes of colour, water containers etc!  Not to mention the plants, flowers, cuttings, and chaos all over the house ...

 I always try and turn an image of my artwork into a black and white version to check the contrast and tones in a piece ... I was very happy with this one and actually preferred it to the colour piece...

It's good to step away from the artwork during a break and look at it on a computer screen to zoom in and check for any overlooked elements ...

I also like to walk around the artwork to see if it looks 'real' from all angles - the three dimensionality is what brings a painting to life and if it looks like you could pick it off the page then I'm happy.

 Only a little more to go and the artwork was complete.

And voila - joined the other diploma artworks on the long journey from Western Australia to London.
Thanks for joining me on this wonderful journey in botanical art!
I love hearing from you too - your comments are much appreciated x

                                                             All images © Vicki Lee Johnston

Botanical illustration finale ...

I have been a bit slow updating my blog because life truly has gotten in the way - and then some!  So much has happened I can't begin to tell you ... so instead I guess I had better play catch up with the past few months and post the remaining diploma artworks to round off the completed SBA Distance course.  This one being the botanical illustration - which I touched on in an earlier post during the height of the madness.

Rough leaf rubbings in graphite on copy paper to study venation ...
plus a lot of close work to observe the reproductive elements

It took forever to work out the composition for this artwork - so many components came into play ...

The best way for me to compose is to have final drawings of each element on various cuttings of tracing paper and then move the pieces around until they fall into place in a pleasing arrangement.

Love the flowers of the Bauhinia variegata, starting to come to life ...

I quite liked the design with these two flowering stems ... but so much more to go!!

Really enjoyed the palette ... all my favourite colours came into play ...

There was so much detail to include on this illustration - I wanted the page to be very informative - showing the flower front, side and back view - bud, calyx, unfurling bud, leaves from all angles - ripe  and dehisced seed pod - and of course the dissections which were rendered in graphite.

 Watercolour work completed ...

 This was the most difficult and time consuming piece of all three diploma works due to the research and accurate observation and detail required.  I chose the Bauhinia variegata as it was flowering profusely at the time and I had already completed colour studies to include in my mixed floral composition - once again I worked on a few artworks simultaneously to ensure I was able to complete the course on time!
I was rewarded for my hard work when I saw this artwork hung in London at the annual Society of Botanical Artists (UK) Exhibition.

 Bauhinia variegata var. 'Variegata' - Butterfly Tree
Botanical Illustration with graphite dissections
© Vicki Lee Johnston

Quandong ...

The Home Farm

Santalum acuminatum - Quandong - has long lasting fond memories for me.   
My childhood was spent in the country on a wheat and sheep farm in Western Australia.  The environment and weather conditions were often very trying and the landscape was quite barren at times, especially during the drought periods.  
My parents were incredibly hard working and my sisters, brother and I grew up with a great awareness of the environment and the effects that weather had on the surrounding landscape.
While it was not a lush vegetation there were times when the surroundings were overwhelmingly beautiful - you can see in a previous post wildflowers of Western Australia.


We spent a great deal of time in sporting and outdoor activites and were very fit and healthy kids.  My brother and I rode our bikes to school and would often investigate the vegetation and interesting creatures encountered on those journeys.  One of our favourite places to explore was at the windmill near our home where a large Quandong tree grew.  We would pick the fruits and eat the bitter flesh - the seeds were wonderfully knobbly and curious looking - which I would collect and turn into all manner of creations!   We were always out amongst the countryside which I guess was our playground, a great way for children to explore nature.

Recently my artist friend Alison showed me a photo of a subject she had found - I was surprised to see it was a Quandong and asked where in the city I could find such specimens.  Amazingly the location of this plant native to Western Australia - was directly opposite the boarding school I attended in my teenage years ... they were not good memories of having to leave our beloved farm,  so it was a full circle moment to be heading back to my high school to collect samples of a fruit so connected to my childhood and such happy memories. 

 I remember thinking as a child they were like ornaments on a Christmas tree and perhaps the fascination with colour, shape and form began while observing closely these unique fruits.  The Quandong was traditionally an important source of food for Aborigines and were much valued for their medicinal properties.

At the time of discovering they were fruiting I could think of nothing better to use in my Diploma Portfolio as my fruit artwork.  However this was well before the diploma works were due to commence so I did all the drawings, colour studies and composition well before time.

As I was also working on my mixed flower study at the time it made for a very busy period for the art desk.  Thankfully I managed to get all the relevant information, detail and artworks drawn with reference photos as a backup ... 

I then had to put them aside while I completed assignment twelve and was quite excited to get back to them a few months later.  

The Quandong painting formed one of three diploma artworks submitted to the Society of Botanical Artists for final judging earlier this year.    I was overjoyed to receive my marks and see that the painting was selected to be hung at the annual SBA exhibition in London.
 Quite a thrill for a kid from rural WA ...
Another watershed moment for me ...  thoughts of my parents and siblings and those special times.
 I hope to do a series of Quandong paintings for a future exhibition ...

Santalum acuminatum - Quandong
© Vicki Lee Johnston

For my dear Dad -  Mum, Craig, Linda and Christine ....
Our memories will last a lifetime xxxx

                                                           All images  © Vicki Lee Johnston