Stephen RyanThe Art of Botanical Illustration

From 25 October to 9 November 2014, the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne are holding their 12th biennial exhibition of recent works, called The Art of Botanical Illustration, at Domain House in Dallas Brooks Drive just down from the Herbarium. It is open from 10am to 4pm during the week and till 6pm on weekends and you get in for a gold coin donation. It must be about the best value around!

Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin'

Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

About 140 works will be on display and it is one of the best exhibitions of its type in Australia, and they are all for sale.

Botanic art has a long and important history having been a major way for scientists to document and describe plants for centuries so it is as much about science as it is about art and works can cross over both with aplomb when well executed. It can be said that it is one of the few art forms to do so.

Now that I’ve given you all the facts perhaps some personal reflexions on this art form would be in order. Although I have no talent in this way I am a passionate plantsman who happens to live with a botanic artist and have had the privilege to see it being created and to understand how much time and dedication goes into each and every painting.

Botanical art must be one of the best buys in the art world as the price asked is in no way reflective of the skill and hours that go into producing the works and we here in Australia are truly blessed with a remarkable range of talented artists from which to choose.

Chauliognathus lugubris with Escallonia 'Iveyi'

Chauliognathus lugubris with Escallonia ‘Iveyi’

Good paintings are a depiction of the smallest details from veins in leaves to the gloss of a petal but they will transcend mere depiction in the way that the subject is artistically placed and rendered. So you should not only be able to recognise the plant but also to get a feel for it in a way that can’t be done with a photograph.

Watching my own artist in residence at work you might even feel there is a little obsessiveness thing going on, although it doesn’t carry through to a tidy studio!

In Craig’s case he paints from the live plant and this has the benefit of better being able to understand and reproduce the three dimensionality, but the down side of this is the often short life span of the subject. It isn’t unusual for one painting to be done over a period of some years as he waits for the next flowering season.

The pressure can be really on if a work is being done for a particular event and, take it from me, it is important to give support and oodles of space to anyone under the pump to finish a work! I will give constructive criticism when asked and a cup of tea when needed.

So do go and see this exhibition and perhaps not just think how beautiful the work is but also how much dedication, time and talent is needed to create these marvellous depictions of the natural world.

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Stephen Ryan

About Stephen Ryan

Stephen Ryan grew up and still lives at Mt. Macedon in Victoria where he has run his nursery Dicksonia Rare Plants since 1980. He was for 3 years host of Gardening Australia on ABC TV and is a regular on Melbourne’s 3CR. Sunday garden program. He has written 4 books and innumerable articles for magazines both in Australia and abroad and is also a sought-after speaker at garden clubs.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Botanical Illustration

  1. Nice reflection on botanic art Stephen. Good to see you and Craig, and apologies for not catching up again later on Friday evening (I was running out of steam and snuck away early!). Tim

    • ‘Craig’ is the very talented Craig Lidgerwood, botanical artist. Several of Craig’s works (including the ones pictured here) will be in the The Art of Botanical Illustration at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

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