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Floral Fiesta

Essentially an attempt to replicate a beautiful representation on the canvas, I hope to convey the character of different flowers and the unique feeling they can create in a space words Anne-Marie Butlin

I like painting flowers – I have tried to paint many things in many different ways, but my paint brush always gives a tremor of pleasure when I let it paint a flower – and I think I know why this is so….to me they are the secret of the cosmos’.

This quote from the renowned painter Winifred Nicholson perfectly sums up my fascination with flowers and plants. They may be decorative, but they are strong and complex structures with a key function; they symbolise the rhythm and continuity of the natural world, but also its transience. My painting aims to capture some of this joyous but fleeting presence, in some cases narrowing my gaze and looking intensely at the flower structure, in other cases, trying to capture the flowers in their unique setting.

A key inspiration for my work came when I visited the home of a garden-designer in North London where I live. A dense mass of newly opened spring flowers and buds in the central part of the plot seemed to personify hope and optimism. The apparently wild beauty of this planting was of course very carefully constructed and maintained, but I loved the messy complexity of the leaf and flower shapes. My ‘Wild Garden’ painting was a turning point in my artistic development and over the past few years I have embraced this theme.

I now find myself spending a great deal of time in spring and summer travelling around Southern England visiting gardens and landscapes to draw and photograph. All cultures are familiar with the symbolism surrounding the garden, and the relationship between the natural landscape and these formal, nurtured spaces. I think these patches of safe enclosure are in some way a foil to the difficult world we live in.

As a response to this, and probably with climate change as a factor, garden design is increasingly naturalistic in its use of plants and flowers. I reflect this in my paintings. Piet Oudolf’s drift planting produces lush fields dotted with jewel like flowers and seed-heads. In the same vein, Sarah Price employs a subtle, painterly use of colour in her designs for the Olympic Park and Chelsea Flower Show, whilst the strong, exuberant colour explosions of Sarah Raven’s cutting garden in East Sussex are a great inspiration. I was delighted to be commissioned to paint Fiona Cadwallader’s stunning Poetry Lover’s Garden at the 2017 Chelsea Flower Show, with its glorious colour scheme of cool blues, fresh greens and white.

My painting process is very traditional. I use oil paint on linen or canvas. To start, I always apply a coloured ground, Burnt Siena, Cadmium Yellow or sometimes Indigo which gives the painting a mood and a unity from the outset. I also work directly into this wet ‘base’ so that all the colours I apply blend into it, and continue the feeling of cohesion. I often leave little patches of this underlying colour showing through, which gives the painting a sort of glow.

Strong draughtsmanship underpins my work and I always begin by drawing freehand with paint. This ensures an intensity and vigour in the mark-making. Working on a fairly large scale is quite a physical process; I need plenty of energy to keep a steady momentum and to maintain a rhythm in the brushwork.

Having mapped out the entire composition, I begin to carefully mix and add colour, trying to establish a balance of colour and marks all over the canvas. I gradually build up the detail, switching between large and small brushes. I think of the paintings almost as a tapestry of marks, so that I am weaving and stitching with the brush. Square edged brushes give the marks and lines a distinct shape and flow.

At its best, painting becomes a sort of meditation. I become immersed in all the tiny nuances of shape and colour in a patch of stems and leaves, finding a way to translate it into paint. I’ve realised I work most efficiently when I almost switch off my conscious thought and become absorbed in listening to music or the radio.

The challenge is not to over-work. In fact, the key to success in any painting is knowing when to stop; I have to prevent myself from ‘tidying up’ too much. As my interpretation of the flower/garden theme develops, I find that I am more concerned with providing an immersive image for the viewer. The work


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