Natural Inspiration

My Botanical Art Journey

Since my childhood in the 1960s and 70s I have been aware of  man's effect on nature. My parents were keen nature observers and shared their love and concern for our natural surroundings. At that time Acid Rain was very much in the news and my parents pointed out the evidence of its effects on  forests in Europe. They would have been very familiar with the effects of industrialisation as they both came from Germany, leaving behind the rush to recover after the war to make a new life in idyllic rural Ireland.

 

They became practised gardeners, cultivating fruit and vegetables organically before this was a common practice in Ireland. They were very aware of the relationship between what we do to our environment and what it will give in return. Their philosophy was to care for the little things and my mother was especially fond of the wild plants even if they made gardening difficult at times. She instilled in me a curiosity and love of wild plants and animals and their intricate micro environments. This has lead me to explore how we interact with them and how all creatures and plants are interrelated.

From my study of how plants have been used as food and medicine and of the recording of plants via botanical illustration from the earliest herbals to the present day, I have been fascinated by how this important way of connecting with our natural world can teach us much about our place in the environment. I have explored a variety of media, from traditional watercolour through to developing my own technique in Verre Eglomisé or Reverse Painting on Glass. In between I've experimented with Nature Print, which I have recently incorporated into my glass paintings. 

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Nasturtium  watercolour

90cm x 66cm  2002

Private collection

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Bluebell   Verre Eglomisé

68cm x 39cm    2012

Private Collection

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Light through the Brambly Hedge

Nature print on glass

33cm x 23cm  2019

Private collection

Since the early 2000s I have had themed exhibitions where I have highlighted native wild plants in my glass paintings. I was originally trained in the technique of Verre Eglomisé when I worked for a traditional signwriting firm in Dublin in the 1980s.  It was employed to create decorative mirrors and panels for pubs and restaurants. In my career as an artist, I have developed this technique to capture the essence of the delicate, intricate and wonderful aspects of Irish wild plants which we all too easily dismiss as common or even loathesome. The richness of colour on glass and the ability to have a subject suspended in space, casting its shadow on the surface behind thereby giving it a three dimensional feel, is an important aspect of my practice.

My aim is to raise awareness of the wonders which are all around us in our country which is still largely  rural. In recent years, as climate change has become an ever more urgent issue, I have incorporated commentary about our care for habitats into my artwork. In my first solo exhibition 'Salubrious Plants', held in 2002, I exhibited Paintings on Glass of plants with medicinal properties.

Dandelion  Verre Eglomisé  45cm x 45cm  2002

Private collection

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Cotton Grass  Verre Eglomisé

101 cm x 50cm   2003

Office of Public Works State Art Collection Ireland

By the time of my next exhibition, 'The Living Bog', a two person show with landscape artist Michael Gemmell at the Davis Gallery in Dublin in 2003, I had become aware of the struggle to save and preserve our peatland bogs. I painted a series of bog plants and their habitats in connection with the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, a group established in the 1980s who were part funded by conservationists from The Netherlands, which had already lost all its precious bogs.  Some of these works were acquired by the Office of Public Works State Art Collection for the National Park Headquarters in Co. Wicklow.

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Common Moss  Verre Eglomisé

45cm x 45cm  2003

Dr. Shirley Sherwood Collection UK

In 2005 I was exploring the theme of meadows and was delighted to have 'An Irish Meadow' exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as part of ‘A New Flowering' 1000 years of Botanical Art, as part of the Dr. Shirley Sherwood Collection of Botanical Art in the UK. This is the largest collection of botanical art in the world and is housed in Kew Gardens, London. 

shirleysherwood.com

An Irish Meadow   Verre Eglomisé

79cm x 41cm   2005

Dr. Shirley Sherwood Collection UK

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I chose wetland habitats for my next exhibition in 2008, working with Wicklow County Council and BirdWatch Ireland, exploring the nature reserve at Blackditch in Co. Wicklow. I created large scale drawings of trees and wetland plants, working to life size, so some works are over 2.5m high. These works were also part of a two person show at Castle Espie Wetland Centre in Co. Down, Northern Ireland in 2010.

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Downy Birch & Grey Willow 2008

Pencil and watercolour  2.8m x 1.5m

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Yellow Flag Iris  2008

Pencil and watercolour  2m x 1.5m

Also in 2008 I exhibited a number of oil paintings of plants in their habitats for a major solo exhibition in Arklow, Co. Wicklow. The painting of Flag Irises is now in the Office of Public Works collection at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin.

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Yellow Flag Iris

Oil on board 130cm x 90cm   2008

National Botanic Gardens Collection, Dublin

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Common reed

Oil on board 100cm x 70cm   2008

Health Service Executive Community Nursing Unit, Clonskeagh, Dublin

I have been looking at different techniques with which plants were depicted in the past. Before the advent of photography, Nature Print was an important way of recording plants, especially for medicinal identification. One of the earliest nature prints was made by Leonardo Da Vinci and the method was developed and refined right up to the 19th century. I created a series of nature prints from wild food plants for an exhibition in 2012. Again I wished to raise awareness of plants which are so often ignored, and only in recent times have been 'rediscovered' for their value for culinary purposes as foraging has become popular. 

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Blackberry  Nature print/monotype

22cm x 26cm  2012

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Elder Berries  Nature print/monotype

26cm x 24cm  2012

'Floral Alchemy', an exhibition at the Olivier Cornet Gallery, Dublin in 2013, was inspired by ancient herbal manuscripts which tell us of the early uses for wild plants. I illustrated a number of common plants, interpreting them to highlight their value using the Verre Eglomisé technique with gold leaf and engraving. My purpose was to make precious that which is considered insignificant, to draw attention to the beauty of that which we might disregard.

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Dandelion,   Poppy,   Bush Vetch.    Verre Eglomisé     21cm x 15cm    2013   Private collections

By taking part in themed group exhibitions I have been able to highlight a number of aspects of how wild plants are important to us. 

 

In 2015 as part of VUE, Ireland's National Contempory Art Fair with the Olivier Cornet Gallery, I exhibited a large painting, 'The Plants We Played With', which was aquired by the National Gallery of Ireland collection in 2020. The painting is about childhood memories, showing plants with which we children entertained ourselves, from pea shooters and dandelion clocks to a daisy which told us whether our beau might love us! The idea of this work is to remind us of how, as children, we are close to nature, as adults we have a nostalgia for this emotional attachment to the earth. Through this kind of work I like to help people revisit this important connection. The NGI page about the painting can be seen here .

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'The plants we played with' 

acrylic on gesso panel  134cm x 90cm   2015

National Gallery of Ireland collection

After the death of my mother I created on a memorial exhibition based on her garden, 'Come with me, I'll show you something beautiful', a phrase she often used when she wanted to show me something that delighted her. The show, at the Olivier Cornet Gallery in 2016, depicted a year in plants, all painted on glass. The 'Teasel for Finches' is now in the Dr. Shirley Sherwood collection in the UK and was exhibited at Kew Gardens as part of 'Modern Masterpieces of Botanical Art'exhibition in 2019.

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Primrose and Oxlip  March

Verre Eglomisé  50cm x 35cm   2016

Private collection

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The Flower Border June

Verre Eglomisé  83cm x 44cm   2016

Private collection

'2ºC' was a group exhibition on the theme of Climate Change at VUE, Ireland's National Contempory Art Fair with the Olivier Cornet Gallery in 2017, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency Ireland. I created four glass paintings showing the Wild Relatives of common food plants, namely legumes, root crops, brassicas and grain.

The wild relatives of these now highly cultivated plants might be an important genetic resource in the future if we need to adapt our food crops due to the effects of climate change such as drought, or extremely wet conditions. It is vitally important that we save the seeds of these plants before they become endangered. 

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Teasel for Finches November

Verre Eglomisé  159cm x 48cm   2016

Dr. Shirley Sherwood collection

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Wild Carrot
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Wall Barley

Wild Carrot

Bird's-foot Trefoil

Charlock

Monotype Nature Print and Verre Eglomisé 34cm x 24cm 2017

Continuing on the theme of climate change I started working on Hedgerows, exploring the habitat while on a retreat in 2017 in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, County Monaghan, Ireland. I had a solo exhibition of nature prints and drawings produced there, at the The Séamus Ennis Arts Centre in North County Dublin. I developed this work further for an exhibition at the Olivier Cornet Gallery in 2019, 'Hedgerow' - stories from a linear world. Again I wanted to draw attention to the myriad plants within this iconic habitat which is so distinctive to Ireland. Hedgerows are very much a part of the relationship created by our use of the land, and now are an important aspect of our biodiversity.

Glass panel Cleavers

Hedgerow with Cleavers and Ferns

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Hedgerow with Cow parsley and Vetch

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Hedgerow with Buttercup and

Herb-robert

Gold leaf and pigment  80cm x 40cm  2019

For a group exhibition in Birr Castle, County Offaly, Ireland, 'Birr Castle Demesne through the Artists Eye' in 2020, I painted on convex glass to represent a lens. Birr Castle is famous for its lenses and telescopes. I painted three works showing plants from the wild flower meadow at Birr Castle. These pieces are a combination of painting and nature print on the back of the convex glass. My aim is to reflect the more intimate view we have of our local habitats due to our being kept from travelling due to the Covid pandemic.

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Knapweed

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Common Spotted Orchid

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Pyramidal Orchid

I have also had work exhibited in the annual Sculpture in Context exhibition in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin over the years. The Green Man of the Meadows was a large mask made entirely from grasses and meadow flowers.

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Green Man of the Meadows  80cm high  grasses, flowers, mixed media  2007

In 2020 as part of Sculpture in Context I made 'Hand Fan for Habitats', a fan of which each of nine blades represents a different Irish habitat. We use fans more now as the climate warms, so my fan is a reminder of what may be lost or changed by our effect on the planet. This piece was acquired by the National Museum of Ireland in 2020.

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Hand Fan for Habitats  wood, glass, verre eglomisé   37cm x 62cm   2020

National Museum of Ireland collection

My paintings are slow to make, requiring many hours of painstaking work. I often spend time in a habitat looking at and drawing the plants to capture how they grow together. Since March 2020, with our travel being restricted, I have been looking more closely at the 'weeds' in our garden. I have made this the theme of my new body of work, 'Field of Vision'. Our field of vision is that which we see through a lens or through our eyes. Symbolically this field has been reduced by the Covid-19 pandemic, so I decided to study the plants closest to me.These paintings will form my next solo exhibition at the Olivier Cornet Gallery in October 2021.

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Poppy

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Buttercup

Verre Eglomisé 21cm x 8.5cm 2021

Here is a link to my Verre Eglomisé page where you will find more information about the technique.

Terms for painting on glass.

 

Verre Eglomisé: painting on the reverse side of glass usually including the use of gold leaf. The technique was named after Jean Baptiste Glomy (1711-1786) to differentiate it from stained glass.

Reverse Painting on Glass: term used in Britain and Ireland.

Hinterglasmalerei: German term, translates as painting behind glass.

 

The technique does not require the glass to be fired in a kiln as it would be in stained glass. It involves painting all details first and gradually building up layers of colour or gold leaf behind the design. The image must therefore be well planned and each brush stroke considered.

I employ engraving, acid etching, gilding, painting and print making in my practice.