I never quite know when a commission is coming or quite what projects will land in my inbox. Which I guess in a sense can be quite exciting. At the end of summer I had a rather lovely email from TOAST a much admired clothing and homeware brand asking me to be part of their Autumn campaign 'Rewilding'. Of course I absolutely jumped at the opportunity and over the next coming week set about working on some watercolour illustrations of wildflowers to be used in their stores and socials.
An interview with TOAST
T. - Can you please describe where you are based, what the landscape is like? How does it inspire you?
SJ. - I live in Falmouth a town in Cornwall, we have an eclectic community here of Artists, Sailors, Academics and visitors from all around the world, so there is a magical variety of interesting and friendly people. I think due to our geographical location being so far from the buzz of a big city, people are very entrepreneurial carving unique careers and innovations to suit their lifestyles. Here on the south coast the landscape is spectacular, where you will see pine trees that meet the edges of a cliff and and wild coastal flowers in drifts down to the seas edge, it is incredibly inspiring. We also have many exotic plants that thrive here, which also make for beautiful studies.
T.- How did you start creating botanical drawings?
A lot of my portfolio on leaving university was natural history based, I had always had an interest in illustrating plants and flowers, but the turning point was a commission from The Eden Project in Cornwall. After working with them and seeing an opportunity to specialise into quite a niche genre of illustration I gradually built a body of work and began approaching different clients.
T. - What was your process for creating the illustrations for TOAST?
I am incredibly fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the country where wildflowers grow in abundance. When the brief arrived from TOAST I could immediately think of where I could source each one of these plants. I also have a fairly extensive library of my own photographs to work from of different plants which is particularly useful if a flower is coming towards the end of its season. I tend to use living plants where I can, but often will need to photograph these or use another source of reference whilst painting them. As botanical illustration can take many hours, weeks or months to complete, my flowers will invariably wilt or alter so I always need to make sure I have great reference materials. Once all of this is in place I make a drawing and then begin painting in watercolours.
T.- What research is involved?
Back in the studio, I use a mixture of images I have researched for myself. These can come from books, online, or my own photographs and I also like to work from life where I can. It is incredibly important to cross reference your subject matter prior to beginning a painting to ensure you are keeping true to the nature of each species. This also gives me as the the artist more freedom to choose the best composition to illustrate each plant.
T.- What materials do you use?
My preference is mostly Arches Aquarelle, hot pressed paper which is beautifully smooth and an excellent surface to paint upon. I always make my initial drawing using a very sharp neutral coloured pencil, and then begin painting in watercolours. I love to paint with Sennelier
watercolours which are honey based. They have a distinct smoothness and radiance to their pigments and are made using traditional methods which sits beautifully with how I like to work.
T.- Can you please describe your studio/workspace?
My studio is at my coastal home here in Cornwall, where I am incredibly lucky to have a view of the sea. It is small, but flooded with light and full of many different finds from past projects – from seed pods to dried seaweed and coral. You will also see many stacks of reference books and nature journals and of course sketchbooks. I mostly paint from my drawing board which overlooks the sea, and my drawings and research work all take place on a beautiful wooden table which is quite sentimental as I bought it from the coffee shop where I wrote my book.
T.- Do you reference historical botanical drawings, what inspires you?
I always turn to historical botanical drawings in my research, I think the compositions and skill in many of those illustrations is an invaluable source of reference. The illustrations by Ernst Haeckel or Joseph Banks are absolutely exquisite as are those by Pierre- Joseph Redouté. I am constantly inspired by all kinds of artists and nature, and the endless possibilities to create.
T.- Which is your favourite TOAST illustration and why?
It would be the Yarrow. I really enjoyed illustrating all of the tiny details in each flower. As a plant it is quite lovely how many different colours you can find growing in it. I love looking out for these in my local wildflower meadow.
The 'Rewilding' campaign runs throughout this Autumn across the TOAST
London stores, expect beautiful floral installations from Fox & Thorn
and look out for my illustrations which you will find on their postcards.