Courses with Newbury-based botanical artist Katharine Amies
PUBLISHED: 16:51 30 January 2017
Botanical artist Katharine Amies can take you through the enjoyable experience of producing your own little masterpiece, writes Jan Raycroft
When Katharine Amies tells you she “always wanted to be one of the arty girls at school”, it’s something of a surprise. For while that’s a common enough ‘if only’ for many of us, it’s an unusual admission when you consider the beautiful botanical art in which she now specialises.
Those, such as me, told back in the days of O levels: “You can’t do art alongside biology, physics and chemistry” accepted our fate and so said farewell to some inspirational art teachers. Just what use being able to work out the coefficient of linear expansion (don’t bother!) would ever be when I ended up pouring my creative spirit into words has yet to be established.
And then life itself takes over… you are busy raising children, perhaps building a career and years can pass while that itch remains.
Katharine meets lots of people like me, but is also entrancing those who insist: “I can’t even draw a proper stickman”. They marvel at her intricate paintings of everything from the likes of humble courgettes and beetroot to beautiful show-off lilies.
She now runs courses from her home close to Newbury in Berkshire, and says: “It all started with filling a creative gap, mostly for friends and local people. From there it grew to three-day workshops for beginners, and then a follow-on group. Some are people in their 60s and 70s who finally have time to pursue creative instincts, while others are parents, perhaps in their 40s, who have been bogged down with ‘little people’ and now have a chance to take up art.”
In fact Katharine’s own story will resonate with many – it’s just that she took an earlier chance to follow her own dream.
“Art wasn’t taught particularly well when I was at school so I headed towards languages and after university found myself working in the marketing division of the Arcadia Group,” she reveals. “Then a friend went on an art course and I was entranced ands realised ‘That’s what I want to do’. I’d just married, so it might have surprised my husband a bit, but if I was going to follow the art dream the right time to do it was before we had children.”
Katharine was able to train in her ‘specialist subject’ at the marvellous Chelsea Physic Garden. The earliest botanical artists had been documenting with precision the previously unknown specimens arriving in Britain on ships now exploring the world.
Wealthy patrons built up exotic gardens of these new finds, and wanted to have them painted for books. Recent years have seen a renaissance of the art form. For instance, the Hunt Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh exhibit the finest contemporary botanical art from around the world and Katharine’s ‘Turnip’ has been acquired for their permanent collection, the largest and finest in existence.
A pumpkin painted by Katharine was acquired by Shirley Sherwood in 2014. Her extensive collection of contemporary botanical art is housed at Kew Gardens in the world’s only purpose built gallery dedicated solely to botanical art.
While all this has been going on, it’s clear Katharine found the perfect ‘work-life balance’ and she’s fitted in having three children, the last in 2012, while building this new career.
Now you might not have her natural talent, but Katharine insists virtually everyone will be surprised by what they can produce with the right guidance: “Think of it like tennis… a few lessons and the results can really be seen.” She keeps workshops small so that she can potter around offering advice. No one is left in a corner as she explains how, for instance, you can produce the perfect spherical effect when painting a tomato instead of a roundish orangey blob.
And if you would rather admire this specialist art than produce it yourself, Katharine takes commissions, see katharineamies.co.uk.