Mary Ellen Taylor

Contemporary Botanical & Nature Art

New botanical exhibition opens today

Amicus Botanicus - The Art of Cultivating Hope

The Chelsea School of Botanical Art

Chelsea Physic GardenHaving spent the better part of the past 10 years either studying or working within the walls of the Chelsea Physic Garden . . I am delighted to report that classes in botanical painting and illustration will once again be offered at the Chelsea Physic Garden by the Chelsea School of Botanical Art.

From January 2014 the course offered by The Chelsea School of Botanical Art REPLACES the Diploma Course in Botanical Painting originally offered by the English Gardening School.

The NEW course will be led by respected artist and Principal of The Chelsea School of Botanical Art, Helen Allen BA, PGCEd, Dip EGS, FLS. Helen was Course Director at EGS for eight years, taking over from the formidable founder of this internationally renowned course in 1994, Anne-Marie Evans.

Bramble - Sally PondHaving had Anne-Marie Evans as my course director in 2004 and working alongside Helen for the next 8 . . I have watched the course go from strength to strength under Helen’s careful eye, bringing it into the 21st century but always keeping a strong hold onto Anne Marie’s foundation of scientific and traditional depiction of plant life through art.

I am delighted to be working alongside Helen once again managing the two-year part-time diploma course and will have regular updates on what we are tackling: twigs and sprouting green as winter creeps into spring . . perspective using the daunting daffodil, botany lessons from our Kew botanists and illustrator and strawberries just in time for Wimbledon and summer hols.

The Chelsea School of Botanical Art
Chelsea Physic Garden
66 Royal Hospital Road
London SW3 4HS


Iris germanica

I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge . . but Irises ?? I have purposely avoided painting these beautiful and incredibly complex flowers since beginning botanical painting 10 years ago.

My instinct would have been to decline the commission but was thrilled to be asked and for a very discerning client for whom the iris is named! No pressure then . . .

Scary iris facts:

  • IrisFalls – falls are not only velvet in texture but a secondary intense colour exudes from within
  • Standards – crepe-like and transparent . . they add real character to the plant but must get it right
  • Colour – never straightforward. . deepest violet blue almost black in falls with violet red undertones . . colour lighter in standards because of transparency and often a completely different colour all together !
  • Texture Velvet: how to maintain the inner colour coming through with all those layers in order to obtain ‘velvet’??
  • Crepe: fabulous buckles and overlaps . . transparency, subtleties in hue
  • Buds – never have the red undertone that is later seen in mature plant (at least in this particular species)
  • Leaves – grey/blue, yellow/green . . strap leaves with barely perceptible veins from certain angles and distance

All this would be intimidating enough without adding:

  1. No live specimen of my particular beast available until month after the deadline. ONE photo from National Collection of Irises was provided for my use, nothing more available. Colour in photographic images can be distorted and ‘redder’ than is true. Details of growth and structure very hard to determine . . many botanical resources required to provide details of complex structure, not to mention phone calls and emails between the lovely Anne Milner of Bliss Nursery (holder of collection) to decipher details!
  2. The VIP status of client and fact that the painting would be used as logo/branding for them. Cold sweats and panic at the thought of my inexperienced handiwork blown up poster size and all the blips and corrections magnified beyond belief.
  3. Tendonitis in my right (painting) hand after a nasty trapezectomy operation last September . . requiring cortisone injections in the soft, underside of my wrist and a stiff (unattractive) splint up to the elbow to be worn 24/7. I was ‘allowed’ to remove it to paint as my consultant saw the horror in my face when this all happened . . ‘but I have a commission!!’ I said.

So . . . . where do to begin ?