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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. We caught up with Vivienne for a chat about her work, the Orchid festival and her love of gardening.

Hi Vivienne! 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 specialising in printed textiles for home furnishings. Geometric pattern has always been a passion 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 designed 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. 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 did Search Press discover you?

Commissioning editor, Roz Dace had seen me and my work at the annual Patching’s Art Festival and had invited me on a few occasions to do a book with Search Press. I had turned down the opportunity because I did not want to give readers step-by-step instructions as I do not teach like that. I prefer 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? Do you have a studio?

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 to draw regularly, every day if possible, even if it’s a snatched five minutes.

What’s your relationship with 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 and 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 hours access.

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

In February of this year, Kew’s 25th annual orchid festival celebrated the incredible wildlife and vibrant culture of Indonesia. Housed in the amazing Princess of Wales Conservatory the festival is a must visit when we can get out and about again freely.

Before I knew of this commission, I had visited the annual Orchid Festival earlier in 2017 and was staggered by the beauty of orchids, a species I hadn’t paid much attention to in my painting. The colours were stunning, the displays spectacular not to mention the numerous varieties.

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

I’m so looking forward to seeing yet another spectacular display next year.


Do you have any exciting plans for 2020/1?

Covid19 and the resulting lockdown has been a difficult time for creatives to be productive. All events planned for 2020 have been cancelled with some still hanging in the balance for the latter part of the year. The Artist’s Support Pledge, initiated by artist Matthew Burrows, has been a saviour in helping me and fellow artists to find their mojo again.

Having worked hard on my book, I’d neglected my garden and it was lovely therapy getting my hands dirty again and, after all, my garden is my inspiration. I look forward to continuing with that never-ending project!

I was due to visit Morocco in March and was really looking forward to the inspiration I would get from this country. Sadly, it was cancelled, but hopefully I will make that visit in the near future. I would like to try my hand at painting in oils again and saw this as an opportunity.

My workshops too have been cancelled for this year. I was so looking forward to spending time with those returning and, welcoming new people. Stewart, my husband and ‘resident chef’ always makes a splendid lunch and I’m making sure that he continues to practice his culinary skills so that he’s ready for workshops next year!

I have extended my range of products with new designs from my orchid paintings on cards, ArtCards and cushions and am in the process of designing beautiful silk scarves. My 2021 calendar will feature orchids, of course! My online sales have rocketed during lockdown with packs of cards selling particularly well. I am very grateful to those of you who have supported me during this time.

Most of all I do hope life will return to a more normal state in 2021.

If you would like to keep in touch with my latest news about events, paintings, products and workshops,  please sign up to my monthly newsletter which you will find at the bottom of each page on my website www.viviennecawsonart.co.uk.

You can also find me on social media.

Instagram - viviennecawsonart

Facebook - viviennecawsonart

Twitter - @vcawson

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