I originally graduated in Environmental Engineering, but instead of this, I chose an entirely different path for my life and have been working full time as a botanical artist for over 10 years. I am very glad I made this decision, though as the child of a botanist father and growing up surrounded by wild nature my decision was made easy.
I can confirm that being a botanical artist is very exciting, fascinating and engaging, as well as challenging. To develop such skills requires constant and dedicated practice, followed by more and more practice to hone my techniques. This I have done and am still doing. One of the most fascinating aspects of the work with plants is that each and every plant is different, so in effect this makes you start all over again with every different species.
For every painting I do, I might need to develop a new technique to apply just for that particular subject, prepare a new mix of pigments to match the colour of a plant you have never seen before or figure out how to apply the texture accurately. Each plant requires a different approach, and this makes me feel that I will never get bored with this work. It is truly endless and delightfully easy to get lost inside the intricate details of nature.
HOW MY LIFE EVOLVES
My early exploration in the botanical world started with some of the bulbous plants of Turkey, such as, Iris, Fritillaria, Colchicum and Crocus. During these early times I have started to explore watercolour and develop my drawing skills, but much more important was, I was having so much fun!
So to carry this joy and my skills further, I looked for inspiration and I found it at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. I first visited this amazing garden in my early 20s and since then, I have never stopped visiting! I remember one time, when I was just practising on watercolour, a man came into the room and threw a flower on my desk, and asked “Would you like to paint this?” The flower was Lapageria rosea, the national flower of Chile, and the man was Martin Gardner.
He trusted this young artist and gave her a very exciting opportunity to really develop her skills and to be part of one of the biggest projects and commitments of her artistic career to date – ‘The Plants from The Woods and Forests of Chile’. This first painting was one of thirty-nine illustrations I prepared for this book and now after eight years of hard work, we have achieved the completion of a truly extraordinary and fascinating book that reveals (at least a part of) an amazing flora! The project was in effect my graduation in botanical illustration.
During the life of the project, my life has changed significantly and I have started to live with a giant portfolio, a suitcase full of only my art materials, and my camera. Then a journey starts with endless traveling. All this time, I was going on and on again between Scotland, Turkey and Chile, and it was not easy to have a proper schedule of all these journeys, because they were entirely dependent on the flowering times of the species that I was going to work.
So quite a bit of time, I was using emergency exit of the country to catch the flowers on time! For one of the species, Gunnera tinctoria, it took about 3 years only for the preparations, I had to go to three different locations in the world to find the proper flowers, fruits and leaves. It was a great effort, but every moment was worth it!
During these great years in Edinburgh, when I was developing my skills, improving my technique and learning a lot about botany, some other wonderful opportunities were coming my way. In 2010, my paintings were selected by the Royal Horticultural Society ‘Botanical Art Exhibition’, and this was very exciting! I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was very young when I first visited RHS exhibitions in London. Since then I have had an interest in art, in botany and in science.
The exhibitions blew my mind. They inspired me and I looked wide-eyed at every painting. Even so, I wasn’t planning to be a botanical artist. After all, I was going to be an engineer! But then there I was after all those years, ready to exhibit my own work at the same exhibition. I also exhibited in 2014 and in both exhibitions, managed to win not only a coveted gold medal, but also ‘Best in Show’ awards for my paintings of ‘Araucaria araucana’ (2010) and ‘Gunnera tinctoria’ (2014). I have also exhibited at the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (BISCOT) several times and was twice awarded with the prestigious ‘Mary Mendum Medal’.
EDUCATION AND ART TOURS
During this time I was also developing my skills on education and teaching. Since 2008, I have organised workshops around the world, from Turkey to Scotland and Spain to Chile. My latest was a small workshop in China. My working experience on these countries also makes me develop my skills on teaching three different languages, Turkish, English, Spanish, but not Chinese, I can only order food in Chinese and say Hi! I am one of the tutors for the Distance Diploma Course in RBGE, a three-year course for advanced students and this September we will be accepting our 4th group intake! Exciting!
Now, I am really happy to say, with my sister Basak, I am developing some new art tours around the world and our first trips are to:
We are organizing a series of art tours to discover exciting plants in different parts of the world with our brushes in our hands! And as sisters, we have fun together! My sister was also inspired by our botanist father and followed his footsteps to become a brilliant botanist studying plants around the world. She is also a photographer and recently published the critically acclaimed Flora of the Silk Road (IB Tauris). If you would like to learn about botanical illustration in the field as well as learn a great deal of information about the plant(s) that you are painting, please visit the Vira Natura Tours website for more information.
When I am working on my illustrations, I use watercolour as the medium. For me it is the one and only choice. I love the delicacy and transparency of the colours, which is perfect for creating lifelike nature illustrations. I started my art with this medium and I don’t think I will ever give it up. Perhaps, I am a little too conservative about this, not to even try something else, but for me watercolour is just so perfect for my work.
I often use Winsor & Newton Artist’ Value, I love those pigments. In my paint box, I do have a number of different pigments, including favourites I know well such as Green Gold and French Ultramarine (and although the latter has some unwanted texture in it, we are getting on very well lately. ) And I know very well how they will react with each other, how they will move on the paper, how they will change colour when I gently put more layers of colour on top.
I am writing this post from China, in the middle of an exhibition marathon in various Chinese botanic gardens. You can here see some of my orchid paintings that I have prepared them for ‘The Beauty of the Orchids’ Project – This project focuses on orchid species endangered from over collection. The idea of it is to use the power of art to reach a wide audience to engage emotions and encourage the responsible purchasing of appropriate orchids.
Our plan is that through these exhibitions we will disseminate the orchid information to a great number of people and also survey these people to see what effect if any our botanical illustration has for conservation purposes. Our exhibition marathon has started in south-west, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, and will end in north-east, Beijing. So right now I am travelling from place to place around China, with forty-one orchid illustrations (including ten of mine). You can visit my page to see more details of this collection.
I am feeling free when I am painting, and freedom is priceless. So my future plan is to be free, and produce more paintings and dream about some fresh projects as long as I live in a world with flowers.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for letting me write my words!
Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!