Billy Showell is a botanical painter who works tirelessly to produce exquisite works alongside her work as a tutor to other budding botanical artists. Her roots lie in an fashion design and illustration background but a few years ago she decided the pursue a path that satisfied her curiosity in painting, illustration and teaching. Billy has collaborated with 2 internationally reputable art material manufacturers to produce the Billy Showell Sennelier Watercolour Set and the Billy Showell Raphael brush set. To commemorate the launch of these products we sat Billy down to ask her all about her practice.
Lisa: What made you decide to become a botanical artist?
Billy: I became a botanical artist by accident. I had started to teach watercolour painting for adult education and a slot came up for a botanical painting tutor and I was offered the post. When I asked ‘what is botanical painting?’, they said it was what I was doing. I went home to investigate this art form and saw that it was similar in style to the way I was working, I loved it and meeting the students, everything slotted into place and the rest is my history as they say.
Lisa: Could you describe your picture making process – from the initial idea to the final brush stroke?
Billy: I gather ideas, from fashion to design, to what I love and then jot everything down in a small note book. When I am back at my studio I fit the flowers to the ideas and then the painting builds organically, extra flowers here and there to make a good composition. Some paintings just happen and others take months, sometimes due to complexity, others because I am waiting for the plant to come back into flower.
Lisa: How has your work developed since your first botanical painting?
Billy: Sometimes I shudder at my early work and sometimes I am quietly pleased that I achieved such a nice picture, but mostly I notice that my botanic work is taking longer as there is a pressure to constantly improve. Mostly I am always wanting my work to get more precise to keep up with the amazing work that others do. I try not to compare what I do with others but every year another great botanical painter appears so there is no time to relax.
Lisa: Are there any artists working today that you particularly admire?
Billy: I adore the work of Martin J Allen he is a true master and I love Fiona Strickland’s paintings and those of Robert McNeill. The artist that really inspired me at the start of my journey was Pandora Sellars, she is the queen of composition. Her work truly inspires and I would dearly love to meet her and watch her paint.
Lisa: You offer online tutorials on your website (http://www.subscribe.
Billy: I got together with a photographer, Roddy Paine to make a new DVD. We got on very well and I enjoyed the making of the DVD so much that we thought it would be great to have regular films for people to follow online. As with all great ideas, it turns out that other artists were thinking along the same lines, so I wanted the quality of the filming to be top notch; I had an idea that my site would be a resource of technique rather than a ‘copy this’ sort of site but actually it is easy to forget how nervous beginners are and sometimes the best way to learn is by walking through the steps a study at a time.
It is very hard work and much more involved than I had anticipated as we have a new tutorial every 2 weeks but I love to get the feedback from the students, they seem to love the lessons and their pictures show me that they are taking the plunge but also interpreting things in their own way.
The one thing the online students need to know is that you don’t have to complete a study every two weeks but use it like a library of ideas, do the first two chapters of each project and then revisit them later when you have gathered some confidence.
Lisa: Can you talk us through the colour selections you have made for the new Billy Showell Sennelier Watercolour set?
Billy: Oh my goodness, I love the Sennelier watercolours they are so smooth and vibrant; It is so difficult for students to know what to buy and they often end up with a vast quantity of tubes and pans; more than they could ever use in their life time, so I thought ‘how nice to make a set that has the main colours that I use, a floral set of paints that will compliment the basic sets that most students have already’. With this set they can start painting straight away. I matched the colours that I used to use with the more transparent colours in the Sennelier range, so they can still paint from my books with the use of a conversion chart available on my website.
Lisa: Raphael have also worked with you to produce some new watercolour brushes. What sets these apart from other sable watercolour brushes?
Billy: Well they are the best brushes ever! These brushes have an extraordinarily fine point, essential for the fine detail. The extra fine point should be treated with care to make sure that they last for years. I always recommend that students mix their colours with an old brush, that way their best brush is protected from breakage. I have a small synthetic brush which I call ‘The eradicator’. It is so good at removing mistakes but also working into detail to make it look natural. These little brushes are a favourite of virtually all my students and some fellow artists have fallen in love with them too.
Lisa: Do you have a favourite subject to paint?
Billy: I love Lilies but any large bloom is attractive to me. I like dramatic flowers and have just finished working on two paintings of Arisaema flowers for an exhibition on poisonous plants.
Lisa: What is the most important piece of advice you have ever received on making art?
Billy: I always say to people that can’t get started that you should paint what you love. If you know and adore a particular flower or fruit then you won’t tire of repeating your studies to get it right. Love what you paint and you will love what you do.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
Billy: I don’t sell with a gallery so you can really only see my work online or by appointment at my studio. I have many commissions on the go as well as books that I am writing so I don’t have any energy left for solo shows but it is my ambition to make time – not sure how to do that but there is no harm in trying! I also usually put work into the annual Society of Botanical artists show, held in the spring at the Central Westminster Hall in London. You can find the dates on their website.