Here’s something a little different, a landscape that’s not really a landscape. This is ‘Pink Waterlilies in Sunlight’ – it’s quite a large painting, 26 x 32, with a beautiful classic white gold frame.
Here's the photo that I used as the material for the painting.
I’ve been visiting glasshouses and exotic gardens for decades now, as there’s something really fascinating about the abstract shapes of plants – cacti, succulents, the shapes and reflections of leaves on water.
I’ve painted in the cactus gardens in Barcelona, the glasshouses at Kew in London, Duthie Park in Aberdeen, the Botanics in Glasgow (the orchid house was a particular favourite), the lilies in the ponds in Central Park in New York and the glasshouses at Edinburgh. Wherever I can find them, in fact. When I was starting out painting, I used to go twice a week to the Botanics in Glasgow to study the plants and paint , and the rest of the time to Kelvingrove to draw the animal specimens, even being allowed access to the collection in the basement.
Painting plants is a discipline, as it is all about observation – something which was very much drummed into my biology science class at university. You need to constantly look, and observe. To understand the importance in art of knowing the basic principles of design in the natural world and botany, I’ll point you in the direction of fellow Glaswegian, Christopher Dresser .
Of course, it’s a bit of a cliché to paint waterlilies – Monet managed it so much bigger, more extravagantly, more audaciously than anyone else could possibly ever do. Of course, he had the money, and the estate, and six gardeners, and a diverted river to feed his lily ponds, and exotic plants bought in, and vast canvasses and giant studios and good weather. And the talent. No-one is ever going to top that.
But there is still something fascinating about watching the patterns changing on the surface of things, of the reflections and the light and the colours. You are painting exactly what you see, but it is all about abstraction and pattern-making, as there are no longer the usual reference points for reading the painting, a lack of easy means of measuring distance and depth. You are looking down at the sky. It is a world of invertions, where nothing is quite as it seems.
In the photos, I have included at the end some of my paintings of waterlilies from 30 years ago, along with a sheet of botanical drawings. I have few photos of early work, which, because they are studies, lie in piles in my studio, unphotographed.