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Meet the Artist
Cheryl Wren - SBA Strathmore Artist Bursary
- Written by Vanessa Champion Vanessa Champion
Cheryl Wren won the Strathmore Artist Papers Bursary for composition and colour at the Society of Botanical Artists exhibition this year, 2016. The judging was challenging as the standard, subject and range of media was so thought-provoking. You can read about the exhibition here. The winning image has such a delicacy and interesting use of colour to accent the details of the flower studies. We caught up with Cheryl to find out more about the winning image, why she loves flowers and what media she works in.
First of all, congratulations on winning the Strathmore Artist Papers Bursary at the Society of Botanical Artists exhibition this year, such a stunning and interesting piece. Can you tell us a little about it, what the composition means, where your inspiration came from, was it difficult to decide on the layout and how did you decide which flowers to include, were there any significance in your choice?
"Flowers of the Summer Moon" started when I was looking closely at white flowers. Many different varieties appeared to have a slightly pearly surface which contributed to their luminosity and the petals of gladioli, roses, freesias, and even tiny herbaceous geraniums have an opalescent sheen. In the garden they reflect light in the evening to the extent that they appear to be softly lit from within. It was this luminosity which created a visual poem in my mind, and gave rise to the title.
The flowers are all painted entirely in transparent watercolour, allowing the soft, creamy, luminosity of the paper to form the lightest tone, with thin washes of watercolour applied to build up the cool shades of the curving petals and the golden depths of the rose and peony flowers. The background was painted in gouache, because I wanted a more robust, mineral ground to contrast with the light in the flowers.
I have been drawing since I first held a pencil as an infant. My father was an accomplished draughtsman and entertained my brothers and me by drawing intricate pictures for us, so it seemed a natural thing to do. I was fortunate to be taught by the well-known artist Christopher Fiddes, who was inspirational as well as emphasizing the importance of looking and seeing.
What media do you prefer to work in and why? What are the challenges in working in that medium?
I work in a variety of media: my sketch books contain studies in pastel, pencil, watercolour and crayon, but my paintings are watercolour and acrylic. I like working on very heavy paper for watercolour or on primed board for acrylics. Sketchbooks are an important tool: I like the paper to be robust for working in the field, ideally without requiring stretching. A sketchbook allows me to work freely and spontaneously, and allows for the full range of work, from drawings containing a lot of detailed information, or just a thought.
Why botanical art? Have you always had a fascination for plants? Or is it more the technical aspects that inspire you? And why? Do you work in the field to draw studies or collect and take home? What is your process in the main?
I have always loved plants: my mother taught me the names of wild plants so I learnt to identify them from an early age. That was the beginning of a kind of enchantment. I respect plants as co-dwellers on this planet, and never forget that they are living things in their own right, rather than just existing for our pleasure or use. I love working alongside the plants in their own habitat. I go walking in the high mountains and carry a rucksack containing sketching materials.
I remember sitting on a rock in the High Pyrenees drawing beautiful gentians at the edge of a snowfield: such a fantastic blue under a vivid blue sky! In the Cevennes the sun was so hot that I had to shelter beneath a large umbrella, while sketching swathes of narcissus poeticus in the high pastures. The perfume of the flowers all around me was wonderful. It can be very difficult working outside: the sun can dry paint too quickly; the light can be so strong that it is difficult to see colours; the rain can ruin a sketch in seconds, and the wind can peel a page from a sketchbook; but it is a privilege to draw and paint plants in their natural environment, responding to rain and wind and interacting with other species. Although early explorers collected wild plants to identify them and study them, I do not think it is something we should do today.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am working on a series of tree portraits. It is a lovely project! I visit a particular tree and get to know it: an ancient silver birch on a steep valley side in the Lake District; a vast and unruly olive tree in Corsica; a lichen encrusted Lord Derby apple tree in my garden.
It is marvelous to be able to spend hours studying one tree. I look at everything: the way the roots curve up from the surrounding earth; the texture of the bark; the orange glow of the new growth; the dancing of the outer leaves against the sky. I draw in colour and in graphite and I take photographs as a memory aid. The final portrait is painted in my studio using the studies.
Heaven forbid it happen, but if you were to rescue one thing from your studio what would it be?
On the wall of my studio there is a painting by Christopher Fiddes, my former art teacher. It is a painting of trees: very intense and dramatic with deep blues, and a touch of vivid orange and soft green seen in the distance through a tangle of dark, arching branches. I don't view trees in that way but I think it expresses an idea of hope for the future. If I could save only one thing from my studio in a disaster I would take that painting.