Botanical art worldwide · Information · Preparation guidelines

Botanical art for ABBA

ABBA will be presenting the UKs contribution to the Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition in May 2018. The UK title is ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’ and the subject matter is plants that are indigenous in the UK.

What do we hope to achieve with this exhibition? It is to raise the general awareness and knowledge of the multitude of beautiful and interesting plants that surround us in our everyday lives in the UK. Additionally it is to highlight the work of botanical artists and their ability to bring pictures of these plants into our homes at any time of the year, or to help scientists document the details of a species.

Iris foetidissima (Stinking Iris). Watercolour. © Gaynor Dickeson 

The plants that every country will be focusing on are the plants that are indigenous to their own country. Many artists in the UK have already found the species that they want to focus on and it is important that the portraits they paint or draw are from native plants and not cultivars (i.e. further developed or enhanced from the native plant).

So far, so good: It is clear that as ABBA has been so specific about the plants that are acceptable, they obviously have to be presented in a specific manner. But what do we mean by the term ‘Botanical art’?

I like the way that Coral Guest in a recent interview, has defined ‘Botanical Art’ as:

  • “An umbrella term, which embraces many forms of fine and applied arts that involve the plant kingdom”.

She felt that it was up to the artist to “describe and entitle themselves according to their specific characteristics and their modus operandi”.

Coral calls herself a ‘Flower painter’ (flower being a simple and unpretentious term), and works as an observational painter hoping to reveal the purity of flowers, though she also sometimes paints bulbs and roots from where the next year’s flower begins its journey into life.

Cirsium arvense (Creeping Thistle) Watercolour. © Martin Allen

In any form of botanical art, a botanist should ideally be able to identify the plant to species level in the picture created. It is important that the actual identifiable detail of each very specific plant is clearly differentiated from its next closest relative. The picture style can be from one end of the botanical art scale, a contemporary portrait of a flower to the other end, a scientific illustration.

Whatever genre you decide to choose, your work will be judged for the exhibition according to that genre.

Galanthus (Snowdrop), Pen and ink. © Lucy T. Smith

As an aside, if all the pictures entered into the exhibition were exactly the same style, it could be hugely boring.

I have had many queries as to what can be included in a botanical painting for submission to this exhibition. To help I have listed what can and can’t be included.

One or more aspects that can be included in a picture submission:
  1. Flower and leaves
  2. Fruit
  3. Seasonal changes
  4. Stems, branches and buds.
  5. Roots, bulbs, rhizomes etc.
  6. Habitat (secondary to main subject – South African style is a good example with ethereal habitat in the background with subject in situ. Or mosses, lichens and fungi normally associated with the main subject)
  7. Growth habit
  8. Dissections
  9. Enlargements with scale.
Not acceptable:
  1. Landscapes
  2. Additional plants that are not considered to be typical of the habitat of the main subject.
  3. Background drawing or painting that is not clearly definable.
  4. Painting that is not botanically correct.
  5. Three-dimensional artwork
  6. Reproductions
  7. Photography
  8. Digitally generated work

Finally, bear in mind that the panel of judges will be judging according to the overall criteria of scientific accuracy, aesthetic quality and artistic proficiency.

Examples of different styles in botanical art

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4 thoughts on “Botanical art for ABBA

  1. The habitat in the background which is acceptable is of the type done by Lynda de Wet whose work you can see in her RHS exhibit (2014) which won her a Gold Medal

    Lynda paints the foreground plant and dissections in watercolour – and then shows the background habitat in a fine drawing in graphite.

    I think I discovered after the show that she was following a model developed by Bauer.


    1. Yes Katherine I remembered that exhibit when writing the blog. I have since understood that this is a very typical style used in South Africa. The pale background picture delicately showed the main subject in situ as part of its habitat. It was a good way to show growth habit and give a good idea of size.


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