This month Awarding winning botanical artist and ABBA member Sally Pond, describes her journey from ballet to botanical art. Sally has been awarded three silver-gilt medals from the Royal Horticultural Society’s, Botanical Art Exhibition, has two certificates of Botanical Merit and a commendation for composition from the Society of Botanical Artists and in 2016 Sally was instrumental in forming the Salisbury Florilegium.
So how did Sally she get from ‘Ballet to Botanical Art ?’
I was a ballet teacher for a good many years before deciding on a dramatic change of direction.
Although I have painted for pleasure since being at school, I came late to botanical painting. In 2009 I joined the Botanical Painting Diploma course run by Helen Allen at the Chelsea Physic Garden. After two years I graduated with distinction. During the same year (2011) I moved to Salisbury and It wasn’t long before I started running botanical painting workshops. I hired a room with a wonderful view of the Cathedral and also travelled to Beaconsfield twice monthly to hold workshops there.
I have always loved teaching and graduated with a licentiate from the Royal Academy of Dance and started to teach dance when I was 21 and I’m still teaching 46 years later.
My botanical art students are now older, like me, but just as keen and enthusiastic as the ballet youngsters I used to teach. They work hard, so much so that last year we published a book of paintings from the gardens of Salisbury Cathedral Close, ‘Secret Gardens of the Close’ to celebrate 800 years since the garden’s foundation, so far we have raised £10,000 from a painting auction and book sales.
In this post I would like to share some thoughts on starting botanical art as a beginner. I particularly like teaching beginners and it’s the class I offer to the first timers that I want to share now.
First steps in drawing
Botanical painting is a slow and careful journey and good habits are essential right from the start.
Observation and understanding are key.
" Look, look again and understand what it is you are looking at"
A deep understanding of botanical science is not crucial at this early stage since I feel there little time to teach botany and drawing essentials in a four hour workshop. However, start with the basic terms which can then be refined as you develop as a botanical artist.
I quite often start with a daisy or rose bud. You might think this is a rather complex subject for a beginner, but in my experience too simple a subject can be just as difficult to draw. A complex structure makes you think and it’s amazing how, out of a few quick sketches, one always looks pretty good.
I begin with simplifying the structure, showing how to stack the ellipses (like petals) that are present in all botanical subjects. Most beginners like to draw an outline a silhouette if you like, but I encourage them to look through and into the structure.
Seeing how things fit together and working out the purpose and physical relationship of each element is really important for botanical art. It’s the ‘joining up’ that’s so important, making sure that all the lines end up where they should, even if you can’t see them.
In Figure 1 you can see the hidden lines for each petal (shown by dotted lines) which ensures each petal is attached to the stem in the correct place and orientation. Rather than drawing in the dotted lines, I suggest lifting the pencil a fraction so no mark is made, just follow the line through with your eyes.
Too many marks on the page can be confusing so try and keep the initial linear drawing as uncluttered as possible.
Getting the flower to sit correctly on the stem is vital for the overall look of the image. With your subject positioned in your composition look for the "axis of symmetry’"which is an imaginary line drawn through the middle of the stem and up through the centre of the flower as shown in Figure 2. Find this "axis of symmetry" and the flower will always sit on the stem correctly, regardless of how the flower is placed.
Another challenge in getting the perspective right is foreshortening, which relates to how an element of your drawing looks with respect to depth.
For example, where a leaf or petal is pointing towards you, you can see all of the object but it is filling less space on the page. For those who can draw with confidence this is not a problem. For those who are not so confident it is a simple case of measuring.
Take a pair of dividers, at arm’s length and hold them vertically in front of the petal (as if there’s a sheet of glass in front of the flower) and measure top to bottom. Put dots on your page to match the height. When the petal is pointing directly towards you it’s only the height that changes, not the width (Figure 3a and b).
Once you have your drawing of your subject it’s a good idea to stand back and view the image as a whole. Check that all the elements of the image are positioned appropriately and they all join up where they should.
If it looks right then the chances are that you have transferred your composition to paper correctly.
Marks carelessly placed just a millimetre out of true can lead the eye in the wrong direction and should be altered before the drawing is transferred onto painting paper.
This is a very simple introduction to transferring your image to paper and the more you practice the easier it will get. Don't forget however "to look, look again and understand what you are looking at".