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Vivienne Cawson's stunning title, The Kew Book of Painting Orchids in Watercolour, is a must-have for those who are interested in painting flowers, and is published in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as a celebration of their annual Orchid Festival. More details about the festival follow below!

We took the opportunity to catch up with Vivienne for a chat about her work and her love of gardening and painting.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have always had a keen interest in drawing, painting and design, and went to art college where I specialized in printed textiles for home furnishings. Geometric pattern has long been a passion of mine and my designs were optical, linear and playful, shunning the floral world completely. However, when out in the real world, I needed to be more commercial and I began to design carpets for the European and American markets. Although some designs contained floral elements, these were usually accompanied by some form of geometric pattern and that approach remains evident in my floral compositions to this day. My teaching career in Further Education began when the carpet industry went into a serious decline and, married by then, we started our family. Through teaching I happened upon watercolour, fell in love with the medium and started a love affair with gardening. The rest is history.

How/where did Search Press discover you?

Consultant Editor Roz Dace had seen me and my work at the annual Patchings Art Festival and had invited me on a few occasions to do a book with Search Press. I had previously turned down the opportunity because I did not want to give readers step-by-step instructions as I do not teach like that, instead preferring to let my students experiment after a demonstration. However, when she approached me in 2017 and mentioned the collaboration with Kew Gardens, I couldn’t resist.

Where do you like to paint the most?

I have a purpose-built studio which opens onto the garden. There is nothing nicer than to throw open the doors on a good day and listen to the trees and birds while I’m painting. How lucky am I?

 Do you have any tips for beginners?

I would suggest that beginners learn to enjoy the wonderful and often surprising effects watercolour can give. Learning from others is important for techniques, but allow yourself to make mistakes and discover your own style. Drawing and observation are key to successful painting and I advise beginners to draw regularly: every day if possible, even if it’s a snatched five minutes.


Do you have any exciting plans for 2020?

I’m really looking forward to getting back into the studio after quite a long break. I felt quite ‘lost’ after finishing the book and needed time to gather myself. I’d neglected my garden for two years and it was lovely therapy getting my hands dirty again. So, I look forward to continuing with that never-ending project!

I’m visiting Morocco in March and hope to gather inspiration for painting. I want to try my hand at painting in oils again.

This year, once again I have organized workshops at my studio which I’ve had a break from. It will be good to resume that practice and meet some new people.

As a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) I will be demonstrating and signing my books at the gallery on 18 January, 2:00pm – 4:00pm. The event is free and there is no need to book; for more information click here.

I plan to extend my range of products with new designs from my orchid paintings on cards, ArtCards and cushions, and also produce some lovely scarves on beautiful fabrics.


What’s your relationship with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew?

My personal tutor at college lived close to Kew and occasionally I would stay with her. The gardens hold many happy memories for me as a student – I was particularly fond of the Temperate House with it’s amazing architectural plants and spiral staircases. These were the inspiration for one of my prints in my final exhibition. Whilst working on the book, it was a great privilege to have Kew as my information source. I enjoyed my visits immensely, particularly when I had out-of-hour’s access.

The book is published as celebration of Kew’s annual Orchid Festival, can you tell us about it?

In February this year, Kew’s 25th annual orchid festival will celebrate the incredible wildlife and vibrant culture of Indonesia. Housed in the amazing Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew, the festival is a must-see. 

Before I began the book, I had visited the orchid festival in 2017 and was staggered by the beauty of orchids, a species I hadn’t previously paid much attention to in my painting. The colours were stunning and the displays spectacular – not to mention the numerous varieties.

It’s strange how things happen in life: I hadn’t visited Kew for many years and then, in the same year as I returned, to be asked to do this book seems such an amazing coincidence.

I’m so looking forward to seeing yet another spectacular display at this year's festival.


If you have been inspired by Vivienne's art and enthusiasm, and want to visit the Kew Orchid Festival yourself, the event runs between 8 February and 8 March. This year the festival is themed around Indonesia, and features a display of the region's flora and fauna, and even an erupting volcano created from flowers! There will also be half-term and after hours entertainment, featuring Indonesian food, music and dance – as well as talks from Kew's orchid experts.

You'll need to book ahead – visit the Kew website to choose your ticketed timeslot and buy your tickets. Access to the Orchid festival is included in your entry fee.

If you are booking more than two weeks ahead of your visit, there are a limited number of 'early-bird' tickets available to book, several months in advance.

Vivienne's book, The Kew Book of Painting Orchids in Watercolouris available to purchase from the Search Press website now.

The Kew Book of Painting Orchids in Watercolour

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