Blog 30 : Painting for climate change

Jackie Isard BA (Hons) SBA Fellow CBM ASBA

The PNBA (Pacific Northwest Botanical Artists) asked me to write an article for their newsletter and I thought I would share this as a blog with you too. I hope you enjoy it.

The reason

This Autumn COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, was held in Glasgow Scotland. It brought together the nations of the world for one of the most important international meetings about the future of our planet. The conference had six major themes and the theme that was relevant to the ABBA (Association of British Botanical Artists) ReflectionS exhibition was:

Nature – to safeguard and restore natural habitats and ecosystems to preserve the planet’s biodiversity

Inspired by COP26, ABBA has released an exhibition focused on the crucial role that plants play in preserving the planet’s health and biodiversity. ABBA’s slogan for the exhibition is  ‘No plants – no planet’.

Thirty-five juried artists’ submissions are being exhibited in digital form in the prestigious Shirley Sherwood Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). The exhibition is also online until March 2022 which includes all sixty-six artists’ entries, http://www.britishbotanicalartists.com/reflections-1. At present the Shirley Sherwood Gallery is featuring an exhibition by Sculptor Zadok Ben-David called ‘Natural Reserve’ and the ReflectionS digital exhibition can be viewed on a large screen within the same building.

I am very privileged to have had my work selected by the judges to be shown at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. This blog is about the painting I made and why I felt it was important to show. The Southern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza praetissima) is a British wet meadow wild orchid. This orchid was restricted to southern UK but due to climate change, recent records now find it as far north as Newcastle upon Tyne. A warmer climate may result in this orchid declining or disappearing from southern UK altogether. Wetland is one of our essential habitats for small mammals, insects, birds and wildflower species. 

My working method

I like to find wild plants in their own habitat to make an accurate drawing and study the plant botany first. Working in this way allows you to understand everything about the plant before you start to draw. If I am able to, I will pull a plant apart and examine each individual bit before I start my composition. I make study drawings of all these parts and note measurements too. With a head full of information and notes I will start to plan out the composition. For this wild orchid, I wanted to show part of its living habitat too, which is why I included some grasses and insects in the composition. These were Grass Vetchling – growing nearby, a common blue damselfly – an insect flying around in the area and a solitary mason bee – a bee which pollinates early flowering wildflowers. I feel by including these details the plant and its story are being told.

My workspace whilst working on Geum rivale (Water Avens) for my RHS project

The journey 

I was having great trouble locating this orchid locally when the University Bristol Botanic Garden called me one day to say they thought they had a specimen growing that I could borrow. I was delighted! Having a specimen right next to you on your desk is such a benefit when drawing and painting. However, the specimen was not a true Southern Marsh Orchid but a very similar hybrid and so my hunt went on. I have a lot of experience in hunting down wildflower species as I have had to do this for all the plants which feature in my RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) botanical exhibition work. It isn’t easy sometimes and involves a lot of research, driving around and walking! 

This is the plant that was very kindly loaned to me by the University Bristol Botanic Gardens,
growing in a pot with another shrub!

I was disappointed but kept on with my research in the hope that I could find one before it was too late. There was a tight deadline! By chance whilst chatting to a local walking friend (Simon Harding), who works in the area recording wild orchid and flower species, I was told that he knew exactly where I could find plenty of specimens to study in the field. Excited and so very grateful, I followed his map to a place about 20 minutes from my home, see image.

There I found hundreds of Southern Marsh Orchids living quietly in a damp field on the nature reserve. I measured, made colour studies, sketched and also made a note of what other plants were growing nearby. I also noted insects visiting the area too. This was a typical wet meadow environment, the type I love, as all my RHS exhibition species are wet meadow plants too. My initial sketches were raw and I found the inflorescence very tricky! 

Some of my rough sketching

Research and botany

I was allowed to take a few individual flowers from an inflorescence to help me with my dissection illustrations. Orchids are difficult to dissect and understand but with the help of a botanist friend, I managed to make a perfect dissection drawing. I also painted an enlarged pollinium; a body of pollen grains forming a mass and attached to a sticky pad. There are two of them per flower on this plant. This reproductive part attaches to an insects head as it enters the flower. It is then taken by the insect to another orchid flower or plant and pollination happens. To see all the detail of these flowers I used a microscope. The front-facing orchid flower reminded me of an alien face and the side view of a baby in a bonnet! Below are images of my studies and microscope photos.

Microscope images of the reproductive area
A pollinium enlarged
The dissection and front-facing flower illustrations

Preparing to paint

The colour on this orchid was quite tricky to match. It has a lovely pink/lilac flower, burgundy/brown tinges on green bracts and the stem and foliage are quite a bright green. I tested my mixes using live pieces that had been carefully removed from plants in the field. I also took many reference photos to help me with the final drawing and colouring. Not an easy task, as photos make this plant look so different where colour is concerned, but then, photos generally do!

I decided to make this a long thin painting as the subject was tall and its foliage quite upright. I completed the drawing in outline and left the habitat part at the bottom to finish later. I really needed to start painting!

My original inflorescence sketch was too large so I outlined it in black fine liner and reduced it on my laptop, then printed it out at the correct size. It was tidied up later and drawn neatly before I transferred it to watercolour paper.

Testing colour mixes for the flowers, stem and leaves on a small practice piece

I particularly enjoyed painting the insects. This is the start of the bright blue damselfly. No black paint was used, this black is a mix of Indanthrene Blue, Permanent Carmine and New Gamboge. I prefer to mix my own black as there are many versions of black too, warm and cool! This is a warm black mix that compliments the bright vivid cool blue.

This painting was a mammoth task with such a short time to complete. I really wanted to be involved in this exhibition as the theme is very close to my heart. Protecting all our ecosystems is crucial to human survival and these environments are becoming so rare. In the UK 97% of all meadow grassland has been lost since the 1950s due to modern intensive farming, housing and draining of wetlands. Then there are pesticides that are killing the pollinators of our food plants. Something needs to change….

Extra research

I went back to the nature reserve later on to see the seeding inflorescences. I did this so that if I had time to include this plant in my RHS entry, I would have more information available about its lifecycle. It would be a different style composition to this painting here as I have done my RHS paintings in a more scientific way. I do now have all the necessary information and research to hand though, just in case! The seeds are very small, fine and delicate, almost like dust. see microscope image below.

The finished painting

Dactylorhiza praetissima (Southern Marsh Orchid) with Lathyrus nissolia (Grass Vetchling), Osmia bicornis (solitary mason Bee) and Enallagma cyathigerum (Common blue damselfly)

I was pleased with the result and thrilled that it was chosen to be shown in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery by ABBA judges. It is probably the fasted detailed painting I have ever done!

I hope you enjoyed my painting journey for the Southern Marsh Orchid.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, it’s very close now!






Email address:jackieisard@googlemail.com
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/jackieisardbotanicalnaturepainting/
Instagram: @jackieisard
Blog: https://jibotanicals.com/
Web: https://www.jibotanicals.co.uk/
Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/jibotanicalsGifts

Blog 29 : RHS adventures in 2021

The perfect place

I had a wonderful summer this year with time to concentrate on my RHS paintings. I took myself away to a lodge in Trefeglwys, Wales. The lodge was in a quiet, remote location and it gave me time to focus on my work. The lodge is surrounded by fields, woodland, hills, sheep (I miss the bleating!) and cows.

The wildlife

Wild hares leapt around the fields at night. A pond faced the deck of the lodge and many dragonflies and damselflies frequented it. For the first time, I saw a dragonfly emerge from its nymph. The process took almost 2 days and was fascinating to watch even though I found the nymph a little scary at first! Overhead many Red Kites flew, I’ve never seen them this close up. They are magnificent birds, although a little noisy on occasions as they were nesting!

Nature reserve visits

As well as visiting my usual Trewalkin meadow, on the journey, each time I travelled to the lodge, I also visited two other local meadows, Llanmerewig and Pen Y Waun. The latter was such a tiny meadow but full of wildflowers. One weekend my cousin and hubby came to stay and we went to Hafren forest. An amazing place, the atmosphere there is very dear to my heart. It was teaming with unripe bilberries too.

Below are photos of Llanmerewig meadow. It was a very hot balmy day and it was buzzing with bees, hoverflies and I even spotted a nursery spider web. These grassland habitats fill my heart with joy especially so as they are very rare. Let’s hope in the future we will see more of these grasslands appearing and that there will be protection for what we have left – only 2% only since the 1930s!

I visited Pen Y Waun meadow in June. The tiniest nature reserve I’ve ever encountered! However, this tiny meadow was boasting some wildflower species. I went in the hope of finding evidence of Devil’s bit scabious growing there. This plant doesn’t flower until late summer but I would recognise the basal leaves if they were present. Unfortunately, nothing was to be seen. Below are photos of Pen Y Waun. You can literally see all of it in the first photo!

The main meadow for my research, Trewalkin

Trewalkin meadow is en-route to the lodge in Trefeglwys, snuggled down a narrow country lane. A small, damp, flower-rich meadow at the foot of the Black Mountains between Llangorse and Talgarth. I stopped on the way on all my journeys to see how the meadow was progressing. I have visited this meadow many times since I started my plant research. It is home to all but one of the species I am painting. I was delighted to find a lot of them still flowering along with wild orchids when I visited in July.

The process

I took with me all the paintings I have already started in order to do some more work on them. Setting up my workspace at the lodge was simple, there was a huge dining table! The light wasn’t as good as I expected but I had pre-empted this and taken my lamps with me. I moved the table as close to the windows as I could. My car was overflowing as I needed to take reference books, research work and all my equipment too. I didn’t enjoy the packing and unpacking but the place was perfect and idyllic. I also had to take some plant stems from my garden at home for reference.

The painting

I started by working on my Ragged Robin and Greater Birds Foot Trefoil dissection details using my plant specimens as reference. Here are some photos of the work I completed whilst away. The hours flew by…

On my next trip to the lodge, I took a Water Avens plant with me and again checked Trewalkin meadow on the way. Trewalkin was very water-logged in May and the Water Avens plants growing there were very short in comparison to my home-grown Water Avens. I have found it was important to find all my chosen species growing in the wild as they grow more naturally than in a garden. Habitats in the wild are quite different. Because the field was so water-logged, this year the plants had been stunted a little. They were much smaller than last year.

On my final visit to the lodge, I collected Great Burnet specimens (with permission) from Trewalkin to study this plants botany and make preliminary sketches. In August Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) fills this field and looks like hundreds of red lollipops. It’s a sight to see in real life. Hoverflies were enjoying the nectar too!

I had come to the end of my visits to Trefeglwys where I had done a great deal of work. I was pleased with my progress. On returning home I was distracted by other things I needed to catch up on and pressing work for the SBA. It took a little while before I could settle into my studies again. I have just completed a Devil’s bit scabious composition which you may have seen on Facebook. This has taken over three weeks to get the composition and drawing just right. Next, I will be making my composition for Great Burnet. This will be the last one of the six paintings prepared, then all I have to do is complete the paintings!

I have learned a great deal along the way about wildflowers and botany. Thanks must go to a well know botanist who has helped me learn and get my drawings right along the way. I am very grateful to her. I so enjoyed learning about botany that I designed a course for my local students in September. I called it ‘Flower Studies and a little Botany’. They learned so much and made a page of botanical studies on a chosen plant. They were all very excited by what they had learned and are now looking at plants in a new way!

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this blog and I will be back with another one soon.

Take care and happy painting!






Email address:jackieisard@googlemail.com
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/jackieisardbotanicalnaturepainting/
Instagram: @jackieisard
Blog: https://jibotanicals.com/
Web: https://www.jibotanicals.co.uk/
Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/jibotanicalsGifts