The paintings for The Smallest Kingdom began with extensive field trips to see wildflowers at some of the sites visitied by the early plant collectors and where they discovered new species. Plants were sketched and painted in the field and specimens collected, with permission, for more detailed studies.
I also obtained plants from collectors and specialist growers, and grew many of them in my Cape Peninsula garden. Having so many friends who are botanists or bulb growers was invaluable, as they were always keen to offer me subjects to paint. One of the most exciting would have to be the rediscovered Serruria foeniculacea,thought to be extinct! Bill Liltved provided some stunning orchids that he discovered on his travels, such as Disa spathulata.
Back in Scotland, I concentrated on painting some of the popular cultivars descended from Cape species. As keen gardeners we grew many of these ourselves including pelargoniums, agapanthus, nemesias, streptocarpus and gladioli. Friends visiting from the Cape were always instructed to bring boxes of cut flowers, such as proteas and restios!
At the Natural History Museum, London, a highlight was being able to view and handle the original pressed specimens and the collection of paintings, sent back to Kew in the late 1700s by Francis Masson. I also had the opportunity to view the original exquisite paintings of Cape plants by Francis (Franz) Bauer, Kew's resident botanical artist, and Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin.
My paintings always begin in A3 sketchbooks, with rough charcoal sketches (see examples below). I like using a charcoal pencil because it stops me becoming overly fussy about capturing detail and makes me focus instead on capturing the "jizz" or character of the plant first. I love the drag of the charcoal pencil across the paper, it makes me feel connected to what I'm drawing. I might add some colour notes, but at this stage I'm more interested in the structure of the plant. For the final paintings I switch to something like a 4B pencil and work mainly in acrylic on HP paper. I use da Vinci sable brushes which have a good spring and hold their shape beautifully.
The endpapers (a detail of which is in banner image at the top of this page) in The Smallest Kingdom reflect a shift in my work towards the use of mixed media. This is something I plan to explore and develop.
I'm not a botanical artist in the traditional sense. Screenprinting has become something of a passion since attending a course as part of my Millennium Forest for Scotland Award in 2000. The Edinburgh Printmakers workshops and the Leith School of Art courses have been inspirational.
This last year has been entirely focussed on book production, proof reading and web design, not to mention my full-time job as a secondary-school teacher. I'm now looking forward to getting back into my studio and painting and printmaking again.