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by Asuka Hishiki, posted by Deb Shaw

Flora Japonica opened mid-September, 2016 at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London. Before the opening, I personally felt very overwhelmed and was worried about how we would be received. It turned out GREAT! The people at the Kew were so nice and friendly. When Dr. Shirley Sherwood congratulated us at the opening speech, I felt so honored to be a part of the celebrated show.

There is so much to tell about the exhibition. There are, however, so many good writings about the show already available. Instead of summarizing those good reads, I thought I would make a list of the links for you to visit. Meanwhile, I would love to share my thoughts on several specific artworks. This are just my opinions and maybe rather boring ones at that, but I hope you enjoy walking with me through the show.

I have mentioned that these are just my opinions. Keep in mind, my bold statement is this: I think that most Japanese endemic plants are rather unflattering. Meaning that they are not obviously gorgeous like roses, tulips or tropical plants. Maybe this is the case not only with Japanese native plants; perhaps many endemic plants appear very humble looking. Well, really? It could be because these plants are not looked at properly.

Idesia polycarpa, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Akiko Enokido.

Idesia polycarpa, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Akiko Enokido.

Take a look at the watercolor Idesia polycarpa by Akiko Enokido. I think the actual plant (not her painting!) is very modest looking. Its male and female flowers are especially small and plain. However, if you look at it up-close as Akiko did, it is obvious that the flower clusters are very gorgeous! Akiko successfully converted the modest look of the plant into a dynamic figure using her vivid and strong color. The beauty is sometimes there in front of us, but it doesn’t reveal itself until we open our eyes properly. I think as artists we have the wonderful power to help open the secret door, clearing the smoke that hides nature’s beauty.

Speaking of color, I thought many of the artists’ subjects held a very clean but pastel color. I wondered how they achieved their shades. On first look, I thought perhaps the artwork was done in color pencil, but no, it was watercolor. In some parts, I saw tiny, tiny brush strokes. Instead of washing those stitches out, the artists kept them, floating them onto white paper, like a Georges Seurat painting. I couldn’t get an answer about this technique from my fellow artists, so I will tell you when I find out.

Magnolia obovata, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Mieko Konishi.

Magnolia obovata, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Mieko Konishi.

You may have the same question I have: how to portray something huge like a whole tree, or a plant like Magnolia obovata, which has leaves that grow up to 45 cm long and 25 cm wide? Two fantastic artists had the answers for me in this show.

The way Mieko Konishi portrayed Magnolia obovata was awesome! She positioned a main flower right up the center, and from it huge leaves spread in all directions. The leaves are cropped off in the middle. Only the two front leaves show almost the complete leaf shape, but even these leaves are cropped off at the tips. This is a huge painting already, but Mieko uses cropping and composition to indicate that the plant is too big to fit the paper. Her image reminded me the surprise I had when I picked up a Magnolia obovata leaf from the ground. I knew it was big, but seeing the actual leaf and holding it gave me additional amazement.

Pinus x densithunbergii, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Masumi Yamanaka.

Pinus x densithunbergii, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Masumi Yamanaka.

The other example is done by Masumi Yamanaka. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see her Pinus x densithunbergii in person. It was planed to be exhibited at the Japanese embassy in London a few weeks after I visited. This tree is known as the “Miracle Pine”, which survived the devastating tsunami that accompanied the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and somehow remained standing, even though the entire 70,000-tree pine forest along the beach was uprooted.

I had a privilege, however, to visit her studio in Kew Garden where she works with other official botanical illustrators of Kew. I could go on and on about the visit, but I would like to go back to her tree painting. I wondered how she created the tree painting without the actual tree in front of her. I watched her short documentary about the painting. Yes, she had many many references of the tree. Yes, she visited the actual tree and made the color samples at the site. But if she had had only those references, the tree would not be portrayed as accurately as it is in her artwork. What her painting contains is her experience and knowledge as a botanical illustrator. She has studied hundreds and thousands of plants with her keen observation and has painted them. This wisdom is laid on underneath the image.

I think the time we spend on a painting is not only spent on that specific artwork, but the knowledge we gain remains and accumulates in us as wisdom.

When I walked in the Kew garden and bumped into one of the trees Yamanaka had portrayed, I had a warm sensation as if I had just run into someone I knew.

Lastly, I couldn’t pass up telling you about what I do not know how to explain. Confusing, yes.

Cercidiphyllum magnificum, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Mieko Ishikawa

Cercidiphyllum magnificum, watercolor on paper, © 2016, Mieko Ishikawa.

I just had a “wow” when I saw Mieko Ishikawa’s Cercidiphyllum magnificum. The plant itself is again, very humble looking at first glance. Yet it grabbed my attention immediately. What captured me the most is the perfection of the drawing, The leaves look soft and slightly rounded, and the male and female flowers are delicate, yet lively. It is extremely realistic, yet informative. Even though she includes many details in various sizes and different angles, everything fits fantastically into one frame. In her illustration, I think that Art and Science meets in a precise middle point and keep a golden balance. Well, to be honest with you, I have no background nor knowledge of the science of botany, so I may have no idea what I am talking about. There are just so many things in this one painting to gaze at, to be amazed by, to learn, and questions to pose and think about.

“Good artists copy; great artists steal.” This is a famous quote by Picasso. I simply wish he also told us how to steal it.

The Flora Japonica exhibition is open from 17 September 2016 to 5 March 2017, 10 am to 5:30 pm in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, London, UK. Price is included with entry to the Gardens.

This exhibition includes about one hundred Japanese wild, native, endemic plants, portrayed by 36 of the most eminent contemporary Japanese botanical artists. The exhibition also features historic drawings and paintings by some of Japan’s most revered botanists and artists such as Dr. Tomitaro Makino (1863-1957), Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato (Edo period artists 1603-1868).

Additionally, works from Kew’s Illustration and Economic Botany collections also are on display, including an early Japanese botanical illustration, Honzō Zufu by Kanen Iwasaki (1786–1842), an illustrated encyclopaedia of medicinal plants from 1828, and Japanese wood panels by Chikusai Kato (1878), which are made from the wood and framed with the bark of the trees that they depict.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is located at: Kew, Richmond TW9 3AB, United Kingdom, +44 20 8332 5655.

Find information about Flora Japonica on Kew’s website.
Two press releases about the exhibition can be found here, and here.

Purchase the Flora Japonica catalogue.

Read the DAIWA Foundation article about the exhibition.

Read about the Flora Japonica exhibition on Asuka’s website and view Asuka’s artworks and exhibitions.

by Deb Shaw

Icon for the "Weird, Wild & Wonderful" Symposium keynotes, available for free from iTunes U > The Huntington.

Icon for the “Weird, Wild & Wonderful” Symposium keynotes, available for free from iTunes U > The Huntington.

The keynote lectures from the “Weird, Wild & Wonderful” Symposium have been made available in audio format by The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens for free, via iTunes U > The Huntington. To listen, go to: This link will take you to the iTunes U where you can hear all of the keynote talks from the symposium unedited, including:

  • Jim Folsom’s opening remarks
  • Dr. Jodie Holt, “Do you ‘see’ plants? Using Art and Technology to Teach Science”
  • Mieko Ishikawa, “Painting the Wonder Plants of Borneo”
  • Dr. Phillip Cribb, “The Art of Orchids”
  • Dr. Alain Touwaide, “Plants, Artists, Languages: A Sense of Time and Places”

If you are having trouble connecting with the link above, go to The Huntington’s website, scroll down to the bottom of the page to the social media icons on the lower right side, and click on the iTunes U icon (the music notes). While there, take a look around at all of the free lectures offered by The Huntington.

The “Weird, Wild & Wonderful” Symposium was held this summer in conjunction with the southern California showing of Weird, Wild & Wonderful: The New York Botanical Garden Second Triennial Exhibition, Botanical Illustrations of Remarkable Plants, a traveling exhibition curated by the American Society of Botanical Artists.

by Cynthia Jackson, posted by Deb Shaw

From the New York Times article post: Hardwicke's woolly bat, flying into a pitcher plant, Nepenthes hemsleyana, where it roosts. The plant attracts the bats to feed on their guano. It does not eat the bats. Photo credit: Ch'ien C.

From the New York Times article post: Hardwicke’s woolly bat, flying into a pitcher plant, Nepenthes hemsleyana, where it roosts. The plant attracts the bats to feed on their guano. It does not eat the bats. Photo credit: Ch’ien C.

BAGSC member Cynthia Jackson forwarded a link to a New York Times article, Plants that are Predators, posted online September 14, 2015.

The article highlights numerous carnivorous plants, including the Nepenthe pictured here.

During the “Weird, Wild & Wonderful” Symposium, Mieko Ishikawa gave a workshop on painting Nepenthes, and also discussed them in her lunchtime keynote about painting the plants of Borneo. She showed photographs of one Nepenthe that serves as a toilet for a rodent.

More stories and photos about the “Weird, Wild & Wonderful” Symposium will be posted soon.

Thank you Cynthia for the link!

by Melanie Campbell-Carter

Nepenthes! The very epitome of Weird, Wild, and Wonderful was the subject of a three-day pre-symposium workshop led by Mieko Ishikawa, a featured artist in the Weird, Wild & Wonderful exhibit currently on view at the Brody Botanical Center at The Huntington and also a Keynote Speaker at our symposium.

Mieko Ishikawa graciously traveled across the Pacific to join us here in Southern California. Her first event of the Symposium was her three-day workshop on Nepenthes. The Huntington botanical gardens staff kindly cultivated and provided living Nepenthes plants for the workshop, and Mieko provided Reindeer Vellum for her students’ paintings.

Meiko Ishikawa and Akiko Enokido unroll Reindeer Vellum to show the class what a whole skin looks like.

Meiko Ishikawa and Akiko Enokido unroll Reindeer Vellum to show the class what a whole skin looks like.

First Mieko treated us to a wonderful presentation about her adventures finding and painting the very special plants of Borneo. We then enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of The Huntington greenhouse where the Nepenthes were grown. Robert Hori of The Huntington and BAGSC’s very talented Akiko Enokido provided interpretive skills for the workshop.

Meiko demonstrating her techniques.

Meiko demonstrating her techniques.

After three days of intense study, graphite drawing on our vellum, and very careful application of watercolor on our drawings with extremely tiny brushes, we all had a much greater understanding of the stunning talent and achievements of Mieko Ishikawa. Her mastery of the structure of the plants, as well as her breathtaking artistic talent, gave all of us an enormous dose of inspiration to continue learning and painting!

Many, many thanks to everyone who made the workshop possible – including The Huntington gardens’ staff, the ASBA, the amazing BAGSC women who organized the symposium, and especially our tireless and patient instructor, Mieko Ishikawa.

Workshop participants with their Nepenthes paintings.

Workshop participants with their Nepenthes paintings.

by Beth Stone
The LA Times dubbed the weather WEIRD, while plant lovers call it WONDERFUL!!

Symposium week is finally here! There are two great workshops underway — Mieko Ishikawa and Elaine Searle, and attendees are getting a preview as the Banta Hall displays are being assembled.


by Akiko Enokido, posted by Deb Shaw

Mieko Ishikawa with her watercolor, “Amorphophallus titanum”. © 2012, all rights reserved.

Mieko Ishikawa with her watercolor, “Amorphophallus titanum”. © 2012, all rights reserved.

I was lucky to be able to attend the exhibition of Mieko Ishikawa’s work, 9/1 to 9/9/2012 at Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku, Tokyo.  Approximately 60 pieces of her work from the past ten years were exhibited. Included in the exhibits were the cherry blossoms series that received the gold medal at RHS, the plants of Borneo, and Conifers.

On the weekend, Mieko had a special event with lectures and photos from her trip to Borneo. From her fascinating lectures, we learned how she found and sketched the plants in the wild rain forest.

Her most recent work is this huge flowering plant Amorphophallus titanum. This originally grows in the rainforests of western Sumatra, Indonesia. The bloom normally reaches up to 8 to 9 ft tall there.

Mieko drew this particular piece at Koishikawa, Botanical Gardens, Graduate School of Science, the University of Tokyo. Since the one there was only about 6ft tall, she decided to paint it in its actual size. The flower died in two to three days. While she was sketching it, she couldn’t help but notice the terrible smell of the blooming plant. When I visited her studio last March,  she was working on 6.5 x 3.2 ft stretched Arches paper.  The final work was so beautiful it was hard to imagine that it could give out a terrible odor as she described.

Mieko Ishikawa presentation about painting the plants in the wild rain forest of Borneo.

Mieko Ishikawa presentation about painting the plants in the wild rain forest of Borneo.

Mieko has visited Borneo more than ten times. In the rainforest, you can’t take any specimens to confirm the specific plant species. But she became good friends with the guide, and one day he gave her one dead pitcher with a plant. And another time, when the director of the national park gifted her a huge acorn from the herbarium, she trembled with joy as if she was presented with a diamond.

Mieko Ishikawa with painting at Exhibition at Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Mieko Ishikawa with painting at Exhibition at Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku, Tokyo.

We generally are not able to go to the rain-forest; we just have knowledge through photos and videos. The plants in Mieko’s works are drawn actual size and look so lively, it makes you feel as if they are going to move right in front of your eyes. She also taught botanical painting to the people who work at the national park, but the papers were so moistened due to wet weather. She said it was extremely difficult to paint.  Mieko hopes that botanical art will spread throughout their country. Her works are valuable records of the precious species in Malaysia. Mieko wants to be even more active in drawing Borneo plants, presenting their ecology and fascinating morphology in order to protect the nature in Borneo for many more years to come.

March 2023

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