Meet: Annie Hughes, botanical artist
Photo - Libby Cameron
"I am fascinated by the colours and textures of seeds and fruits." Libby Cameron talks to Annie Hughes about her paintings.
What drew you into botanical art?
Art is in my family. My mother enjoyed painting, and my father loved doing fine work, so the attention to detail that botanical art requires just suited me well. I had enjoyed drawing since I was a child, and when I came to Australia from Chile at the age of 17, a difficult age, I spent a lot of time drawing, making Christmas cards and cake decorating. I then started creating miniatures – tiny portraits and other works. I have studied art, design, fashion and textiles, and worked in many mediums including ink, gouache and fabric dyes.
How do you choose the subjects of your paintings?
My subjects come from everywhere! The main thing is that they attract me. I recently found a wonderful ice cream bean tree (Inga edulis) as I walked down the street. I am fascinated by the colours and textures of seeds and fruits.
Anthurium andraeanum, by Annie Hughes
You won the prestigious RHS Gold Medal last year, with a series of paintings of camellias. Tell us how that came about.
When I decided to paint camellias for the competition I spent time with Bob Cherry at Paradise Plants and he taught me so much. It was hard to choose which of his many flowers to paint, and I started on a series of 12 paintings, although I only needed to enter eight. I managed to finish nine paintings in time.
I painted another camellia that is showing in Botanica this year. It was growing in my garden: a beautiful shrub with large, pure white flowers. I kept promising to paint it, and just as we sold the house, it flowered so prolifically, I knew I had to start painting immediately.
Tell us a bit about your technique.
Watercolour, which is used for botanical art is very unforgiving! So I first do a detailed drawing and then make colour sketches of the specimen. Working very fast, I use a wet on wet technique, flooding the page with colour and mixing colours as I go to create the basic flower. After that I add the details of the specimen. Most flowers have beautiful fine detail – for example, the tiny red and white spots on the Chilean bellflower.
Camelia japonica, 'Elegans Champagne', by Annie Hughes
Do you work in a studio or outdoors?
I love to be outdoors sketching and looking for specimens to paint. There are hazards though.I was recently sitting beside a lily pond making colour sketches for my painting of waterlily buds when I was set upon by an army of ants!
Any indoor hazards in botanical art?
Cleaning challenges! I enjoy painting the Gymea lily, Doryanthes excelsa – they have such rich, beautifully coloured flowers, but they exude tablespoons of nectar, which is very sticky and needs to be blotted up fast. Then there is the pollen, which is green. It can end up everywhere and it stains terribly!
Camelia, by Annie Hughes