If you’re reading this somewhere other than Chiswick, you will find when you come back that the place is awash with pink tulips, in anticipation of the opening of the Chiswick Flower Market on Sunday 6 September 2020.
Artist Liz Butler RWS has been kind enough to let Chiswick Flower Market use her beautiful watercolour of a Gisella Jacqueline tulip for a specially commissioned poster to mark the market’s opening.
Liz has been a member of the Royal Watercolour Society since 1996 and as well as studying art at Liverpool College of Art and the Royal College of Art, has spent four years studying the history of gardening at Birkbeck College. She is well known for her miniature paintings of gardens, and her use of pure watercolour.
She lives in Chiswick and paints the trees from her studio window at different times of year, and in different lights. She also teaches watercolour painting. She currently has two of her pictures on show at the Bankside Gallery and has been invited to take part in an exhibition there about the Chelsea Physic Garden, to be exhibited in 2021.
Images above: Ballet, lily flowered tulip; Gisella Jacqueline tulip
A passion for watercolour
Mention ‘watercolour’ and what comes to mind unbidden is often as not something pale and insipid. Liz Butler would like to disabuse you of that idea. For her, the choice of watercolour as her medium is precisely because of the intensity of colour an artist can achieve.
“You can create colours which are fantastically deep but rich with a level of intensity and radiance you can’t get with oils, I don’t think” she told me.
“You can get watercolours which are delicate and subtle, but I don’t use them in that way, except where you need them to be subtle and pale; sometimes you do.
“I love the versatility of watercolour and the fluidity of it. It can have a life of its own. You go away and it carries on seeping, creating very natural effects like you get in the sky; but most of all I love the incredibly intense, dark, rich colours you can create”.
Images above: Peonies (Karl Rosenfield); Peonies (Sarah Bernhardt)
Watercolour is particularly suitable as a medium for painting flowers, she says because of the glow, the luminous effect you get from it being transparent.
“I like it because you can be very precise; you can get exactly the right colour by overlayering transparent washes of different colour”.
She first discovered watercolour at the Royal College of Art and decided it was the medium for her partly because she’s allergic to oil paint. “I can’t cope with oil paints at all” she says, but she reckons it’s harder to paint with watercolours.
“It’s hard to undo. You can’t be thinking of anything else while you’re doing it, so I find painting with watercolours quite meditative”.
Images above: Flora in the garden at Cliveden; Clipped hounds at Knighthayes Court
‘Hooked on historic gardens’
When she left the Royal College of Art in 1973 she worked as an illustrator and was commissioned to create a set of stamps depicting historic gardens, a subject she has always found interesting.
“I used to visit gardens a lot” she says. “I love the idea of nature that’s been tweaked. Gardening is interestingly manipulative and gardens often have a strange presence”.
She started working with the Francis Kyle gallery in 1978 having three exhibitions there, mostly of gardens and botanicals. It was working with him that gave her the passion for painting gardens.
Francis Kyle had an exhibition showing the collaboration of the artist Edwin Lutyens and the gardener Gertrude Jekyll and insisted his artists get out and see the famous gardens which were the subject of their collaboration.
The best known is at Great Dixter, near Hastings, the family home of gardener and gardening writer Christopher Lloyd, but there are many others, including Hestercombe in Somerset and Munstead Wood in Surrey, which was Gertrude Gekyll’s home and the first garden in which they collaborated.
“That got me hooked” she says. “They were incredible”.
Images above: Garden at the Fujiya I (Japan); Barcoo, (Queensland, Australia)
Liz paints other subjects; she’s travelled in Japan and China, drawing inspiration from the landscape and local flora, and in Australia from the patterns in the land as seen from the air when she spent a whole day flying over it. She paints landscapes and patterns but always comes back to the precision of painting plants:
“looking and seeing and trying accurately to record what you see”.
So meticulous is her recording that she was once commissioned by the Daffodil Society to draw their species and subspecies. I asked innocently why they didn’t just take photos. The answer was that in any photograph there will be bits out of focus. Drawings are much more precise when it comes to documenting the structure of a plant apparently. She never paints plants from photos either, requiring the real thing.
“You have to look at it from all sides to understand the structure”.
She enjoys gardening, which she does “badly” she says, sharing an allotment with a friend.
Images above: Spring Sunshine with Forsythia (allotments); Greenhouse
Liz shows her work with the Royal Watercolour Society at the Bankside Gallery, the society’s home, and also with the Small Paintings Group. Her work is held in several major collections including the Government Art Collection, Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal, the Royal Collection, Harewood House, Qingdao Art Museum, China, and the National Postal Archive.
You will also be able to see some of her flower and plant paintings at The Chiswick Calendar’s Chiswick In Pictures exhibition at the Clayton Hotel Chiswick from Monday 31 August to Saturday 7 November 2020.