Outstanding! Excellent! Beautiful! Another wonderful project!

Sceitse is the fourth in a series of publications from the Irish Society of Botanical Artists and continues the high standards of material, design and production of Aibítir – The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art (2014), Plandaí Oidhreachta – Heritage Irish Plants (2016) and Éireannnach – Celebrating Native Plants of Ireland (2018) but it has a novel approach, a different slant and a new point of view as it focuses on the workings of the artists, on their preparatory sketches and notes, their development of a work rather on their finished product – a view of the processes which leads to such beautiful illustrations. It brings the reader on a series of interesting and beautiful artistic journeys.

Sceitse is the fourth book from the Society of Botanical Artists and is, once again, a work of beauty which is certain to delight the reader.

There is a challenge at the centre of botanical art, the restriction of portraying plants with perfect accuracy while wishing to present the subject with flair, appeal and artistry. In her foreword, Susan Sex writes, “We may dream of bravura branches of gleaming Magnolia goblets, but we must make sure – how many stamens, is that a bract, are there ridges on that ovary? Is that leaf keeled? It that stem twisting clockwise? We could easily end up like Biblical Martha – ‘Anxious and disturbed about many things’ (Luke 10:41) … But, happily, there is an escape chute we can throw ourselves down – the sketch book. This humble object can relieve us of many problems.”

A sequence from Shevaun Doherty’s sketchbook for her subject, the Bee Orchid. Click on the images to see them in large format.

There is quite a journey between the first viewing of a plant and its final appearance on paper and the sketchbook is ever with the artist through this process. There are those initial sketches, for some little more than a few lines, a grasp at the form of a plant and, perhaps, a suggestion for the layout of the final portrait. Invariably, there will be notes on the botany of the plant – a count and measurement of leaves, petals, stamens etc, on the arrangement of the various parts. Many will contain a line of colour tests, small squares or circles painted while looking at the plant to get an exact colour match and the artist will take note of precisely what was used and what was mixed to get the perfect match – memory can be disappointingly imprecise and notes taken at the time are invaluable for faithful reproduction of colour. Some paint vignettes of their location which are both very appealing and interesting. Later, notes may be added: perhaps, interesting historic notes, comments on people associated with the plants, or the location where observed, other names for the plant, snatches of poetry or quotations, suggestions on how best to portray the plant.

There are forty two artist-contributors to this publication so the variety of approaches is wide and fascinating. With no set theme the artists have been free to show their own individual work methods and we are given a unique insight into the background, the journey, of many works of art. I have found it completely engaging, fascinating and, most importantly I think, very beautiful with images which demand you dwell on them, that you examine the notes and sketches for the sketchbooks of the artists are works of art in themselves.

One section of the book clashed with me, a section towards the end of the book which gave notes on the gardens visited by the artists. It is presented in a commonly used format of photographs and text but it immediately struck me as not being up to standard and this came as a big surprise as I couldn’t understand why the editors and designer would allow such a thing. It eventually dawned on me that this perfectly acceptable and high-quality format simply suffered from comparison with the beauty of the rest of the book. The beauty of the artists’ pages simply outshone them so completely that they appeared to be of a low standard which, to be perfectly honest, they were not. The design of the book is excellent and, so very important for artwork, the reproduction of colour and detail is of exceptional quality. (Sample pages shown here are from my own scans of the book and, while giving an indication of the quality of the book, are poor by comparison)

Yes, the Irish Society of Botanical Artists has done it again – an exquisite and beautiful publication. My compliments to editors, Brendan Sayers and Fionnuala Broughan and designer, Jane Stark and all involved in the project.

[Sceitse, Irish Society of Botanical Artists, 2020, A4 Softback, 128 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9928693-3-5]

This book is available from the Irish Society of Botanical Artists on their website: – click on the “Shop” tag on the top of the page and in person in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway and Howbert and Mays – DYG new shop in the old Greene’s bookshop in Clare St in Dublin.

You can keep up to date with news and events by visiting their website or their Facebook page:

Niamh Harding-Miller’s mother, Maureen, give her a tiny pine tree as a house-warming gift twenty seven years ago. A spring storm in 2020 brought down the eighty-foot tree – now destined for firewood – but Niamh’s painting of one of the cones will remain as a reminder. Notes, such as this, enliven and enrich the experience of reading this wonderful book.

4 thoughts on “Sceitse

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