The Eden Project and Botanical Painting

For years my favorite book for teaching Botanical painting has been, Botanical Illustration Course with The Eden Project, by Rosie Martin and Meriel Thurstan.  The ease of following the book’s guidelines, the abundant illustrations, and demonstrations have made it my go-to textbook.  Sadly, I have just found that it is no longer in print and will soon be very difficult to get.  

Barnes and Noble found two copies for me.  Amazon still has a number of them available in new, used and hardcover. British bookseller, The Book Depository also has some copies available. Get one while you still can. It’s a great book for methods and materials of botanical watercolor painting in a simplified and easy to follow format.  Currently, I am in the process of finding a substitute that will work in its place.  In the meantime, I’ll keep using it until all available copies are gone.

One of my dreams has been to visit The Eden Project in Cornwall in the U.K. with a group of botanical artists.  From all accounts it is truly a remarkable place.  The amazing story as told on the website is of the transformation of an abandoned porcelain quarry repurposed to provide habitat for an array of plants from all over the planet.  Biosphere domes shelter the plants in two basic climates: rainforest and Mediterranean.  

Along with the plant life, The Eden Project provides educational opportunities for all ages in wide ranging topics from gardening tips to university degrees in subjects such as Horticulture, Land and Ecological Restoration and Sustainable Tourism. Many recreational opportunities are also available. You can opt for a Zip wire adventure, a visit to the Myth and Folklore garden where you might encounter a fairy or two, or spend time taking in the scents from the perfume garden.  Concerts and festivals are held frequently throughout the summer months.  A trip to The Eden Project includes lots activities for the kids and even an adventure for you and your dog. 

Someday I may make it to The Eden Project.  If you are fortunate enough to go, please share your adventure with me. I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, happy painting!

A Favorite Theft Target

Pink Calla Lilies

“All art is theft,” David Shields from BrainyQuote

After discussing in a previous post about the importance of artists stealing from other artists, I took a look at my favorite targets and why I chose to steal from them. 

Artistic theft is the truest form of flattery.  We learn from those who have gone before by copying their technique. The Old Masters would have called that an apprenticeship.  Artists learned by apprenticing to a master to learn from that master by copying his or her technique.  And having mastered the master’s technique, a real artist would strike out on his/her own to forge new trails from what was learned from the master. And that is what real artists continue to do.  Since we no longer have apprenticeships, we learn from different people, taking a bit from this artist and a bit from that one to make something completely new.

One of my favorite artists to steal from is Billy Showell, a delightful botanical Illustrator from the UK.  I bring her books to all the classes and workshops I teach because there is so much to learn from her.  My desire is not to copy her, though I am quite envious of her work, but to take bits and pieces and incorporate them into new works.  Two techniques I particularly love are her design layouts and her semi-dry brush use to make veins in flowers, leaves and stems.  When painting the above painting, I got stumped and went to one of my Billy Showell books and looked at how she approached calla lilies. There I found the help I needed to complete the painting.

No one would ever mistake my painting for a Billy Showell painting but a closer look and someone might say, “She used one of the techniques Billy Showell uses.”  I would be quite happy with that and pleased with myself!  My painting is not a Billy Showell because only Billy Showell can do a Billy Showell, but I stole some of her technique from her book and made something new.  Perhaps Ms. Showell has written her books to invite us to steal.  She also has some wonderful videos on YouTube.  Check it out and maybe like me, you will want to steal from her too!  Go ahead!  I’m sure she won’t mind.

You can find her at her website: Billy

Her books are available on Amazon:

Painting without a Fight

The generous application of a warm color to the red of the birds created an unexpected and unplanned vibrancy. The paint took on a life of its own.

Cardinals in the Snow

After posting this painting on my website, Mary Gwyn’s Art, I was looking at it in the web format and seeing things I hadn’t noticed when looking at the actual painting.  Sometimes a painting will surprise me when I observe it from a different angle.  This was one of those times.  What struck me was the warmth in the birds.  I had set out to paint a cold winter scene but these guys don’t look all that cold to me, in spite of the falling white stuff.

The warmth didn’t bother me.  It just puzzled me.  I had to go back and think about what I had done.  Indian Yellow!  I love that color and sometimes I just get carried away with it.  It warms up everything, no matter what it is.  Recently, a pear came alive from the generous application of Indian Yellow.  That pear was flat out glowing.

These birds could have become a little more chilly, like the weather, if I had added a bit more Hooker’s Green or Payne’s Gray to the red.  But I didn’t.  The Indian Yellow just jumped onto the brush and away it went. Like the pear, these birds are glowing.  Maybe they are supposed to. Cardinals can be like that in a harsh winter landscape.  That bright shock of red flitting by in the cold gray light. It wasn’t planned in this painting. It happened because that pesky Indian Yellow was bent on taking over. Some colors do. It is usually better not to fight when a color is determined to dominate. 

(This painting is for sale at Heart and Hands on Main Street in Franklin, Tennessee.)  

Franklin, Tennessee is a great vacation place if you, “aren’t from around here!”

Treasuring Fall Risks

autumn leaves (1)

Fall appears to be taking its sweet time this year.  The colors have been changing for about four weeks or so, as far as I can tell. I picked up the first red leaf I saw weeks ago and brought it home to press in my favorite leaf presser book, Art Through The Ages.As the weeks have progressed, more and more leaves have found their way into the pages of the book.  Fall leaves are like seashells.  You can’t pick up just one. There is always another beauty to be brought home.  I keep going until the book won’t close well anymore. Then I have to switch to pine cones, acorns and other fall treasures.  My intent with all of these treasures is to make paintings and drawings of them. Some of them, I actually get the time to make the painting!

The leaf painting above is one of my favorites but each leaf presented a different issue to be worked through.  The yellow maple leaves had green still bleeding through the veins and bits of brown in odd places.  The red maple leaves were slightly testy in achieving the right shade of red-orange.  But the Bradford pear leaves were undoubtedly the most challenging.  I prefer using a complimentary color for shading in most cases, but the pear leaves were just not getting there with green shadows on the deep, dark red. Finally, in desperation, I resorted to phthalo Blue.  Bingo!  It was the right color for shading the strong red of Bradford pear leaves. Usually, I stay away from any of the phthalos except in extreme circumstances because their strong staining color is so unforgiving.  Once it’s on, it’s on to stay!  If the phthalo ruined the pear leaves then the whole painting was gone because they were the last leaves. This felt like that extreme moment! I took a deep breath and dove in. Risks can be so fun when they work! When they don’t, not so much.  But then you can’t have the fun without the risk!

As fall fades into winter, the last of the leaves will be dropping.  I took the camera out for one last sweep of the fall colors since the art history book is now overstuffed and there’s no more shelf space for pinecones.  Soon it will be time for the winterberries and glossy holly leaves. I think I’ll take another risk or two with fall treasures before starting on winter.

Happy treasure hunting for “risky” fall paintings!

A Very Humbling Story

four chickadees

Watkins College of Art

This beautiful article was a humbling thing to read but I was also quite proud of the things it highlights.  The Art to Heart Project  was a three year project from start to finish and quite involved. It took another year to see it published.  Even though it was time consuming and arduous, I would do it again in a heartbeat, no pun intended.  Tears still spring up when I think about what a difference art made to patients and staff.  I think the effects on the staff were more meaningful to me than the results of the patient part, perhaps because I was one of them too.

Teaching is a total delight to me.  I love every minute of it and I love to see the progress people make with their art.  If it was up to me, I’d mandate all students be required to take art classes.  Something beautiful happens when art is created. Whether or not anybody thinks they have any talent, everybody can create something when given direction and the right tools.  Some will discover they had more talent than they thought and will continue on to develop that talent.  Others will go on as better creative thinkers and better creative problem solvers for having the experience of art in some form. Most people don’t know that many of our greatest inventors and scientists are frequently artists too.  Albert Einstein kept sketchbooks of his ideas. And he is by no means, the only one to do so.

Many artists take classes to stay fresh and to stimulate new directions.  These artists are so much fun to have in classes.  They stimulate me to try new things and new directions. And they keep me on my toes trying to keep up with them. Watkins College of Art has so much to offer

Chickadeepair6x6-6/18besides lots of fun classes.  I get to meet so many artists from different walks of life and different artistic styles and mediums.


As I head into new directions in my life, I turn to new directions in my art. Birds are becoming an obsession.  All summer long it was the beautiful and elegant waterbirds.  With the approach of Fall, my bird obsession has turned to feeder birds, chickadees, cardinals, titmice and lately, nuthatches.  Maybe a woodpecker or two, will turn into a painting.  Painting is the ultimate goal but following the birds around with my camera is gaining in obsessive territory. As with all artists, I’ll see where the new direction leads.

Happy art making out there!!

An Eye for a Fall Paw

“Without the name, any flower is still, more or less a stranger to you,” John Burroughs

This past Saturday’s Fall Flowers painting workshop featured some interesting flower varieties in the beautiful shades of purple, yellow, and rusty reds that so characterize autumn. The Community Education Department of Watkins College of Art supplies the flowers adding an element of surprise and fun.  Our flower subjects for this workshop came from The Rebel Hill Florist in Nashville, Tennessee. There were purple mums in an unusual shade of reddish lavender, pansies from the “Crystal Bowl Mix” of colors, a pinkish purple and ivory dahlia, rusty red daisy mums and a new one for all of us, “Kangaroo Paw.”

Kangaroo Paw happens to be a favorite of Watkins College of Art’s director of Community Education, who identified it for the group.  According to Kangaroo Paw, as you might expect, is a native of Australia, though it is commercially cultivated in the US, Japan and Israel and comes in a variety of colors. The yellow Kangaroo Paw we had for class is known in Australia as Mangle’s Kangaroo Paw and is the flower emblem for Western Australia. TheFlowerExpert says “The genus name, Anigozanthos is derived from the Greek word ‘anises’, meaning unequal or oblique, and ‘anthos’, meaning flower, an allusion to the division of the Kangaroo Paw flower into six unequal parts.”

Each individual artist’s style treats the same flower quite differently inspiring the casual observer to take a second and third look at a flower that might previously have only warranted a passing glance.  A second look might bring up the thought of how and why an artist saw the flower in that way.  A third look can cause the eye to focus onto points not noticed before like variations in color, texture and shape.   The work of the artist is what inspires one to take that second and third look.   Isn’t that the very essence of an artist’s calling? After taking that third look you might be intrigued or even fascinated by the artist’s chosen subject . Suddenly you might say to yourself, “I really must get a bouquet of Kangaroo Paw with some pansies, mums and dahlias!” You’ll be the envy of all your friends.