Ceramicist Alana Wilson

Interview by Eric Hsu

Photography by Phillip Huynh


** Her exhibit “T:  Exploration & Experience of the Teabowl”- with Romy Northover (pictures featured here) goes until  November 26 at FLOATING MOUNTAIN 239 W72nd St, New York NY 10023. Pieces are available for purchase and can be viewed at https://www.floating-mountain.com

`                    Photo Credit: Alana Wilson

Swimming brings one’s body with the water’s buoyancy, yet the process of molding and shaping clay is an anchoring force with hands. Where do you see the cross dialogue between the two activities?

Both are very meditative, predominantly done in solitude and combine physical movement and awareness of the body with a required mental acuity to work through a repetitive process. Both connect with a natural element – earth and water – which I find quite calming and humanly intrinsic. Over time, the wiring between brain and body becomes so ingrained that you can let your mind wander whilst the body is in automatic mode of a learnt technique. Both activities require a sense of technique, which is similarly soft, efficient, streamlined, responsive to the least amount of touch, and both techniques rely on a sense of flow and refining the surface resistance of the body against the elements.



Your work belies the exacting but unpredictable process of overlaying different substances and glazing. What do you find fascinating about the alchemy?

There are endless parallels between the ceramic surfaces and surfaces and textures that exist in nature. Of course, ceramic materials all exist and are derived from natural resources but the process of firing results in a more compacted environment with the kiln’s heat and the firing speed. Scientifically, all of these ceramic results exist somewhere in nature that have occurred through varying means and all natural surfaces and materials will depict a chemical story of creation and destruction, as do the ceramic pieces.

As a child I would get lost in observing rock pools full of geological and marine life, collecting seashells and interesting rocks to study. This childhood fixation has informed my interest in the minute details of elemental decay and natural observation. Over time I have come to recognize stronger analogies between the natural destructive process and environments comparative to those in the medium of ceramics.

Within the ceramic process there are numerous aspects left to chance and susceptible to variation. Different materials will have specific reactions within the firing – how it transforms through heat exposure, how fast it is heated, its melting point, vaporisation point, oxygen content in the material and the atmosphere and its reaction with the other glaze ingredients it is mixed with.




In its elemental form, the vessel projects functionality that people have difficulty divorcing when it comes to appreciating ceramics as an art equal to painting or sculpture. How do you hope to have someone see your piece beyond its basic purpose?

I used to look at this viewpoint as a hindrance, always trying to prove something with the vessel. There is an inherent conditioning when dealing with the vessel throughout anthropological, art, and social history. Functionality not only alludes to a use but also to a relationship to the human body and human life. I now embrace the steadfast connotative functionality of my work and prefer it over purely conceptual art (in terms of what I create myself, not necessarily as to what interests me as a viewer).

Having a pre-conditioned utilitarian context allows a certain scale of intimacy for the works to intersect the viewer’s perceptual / experiential process on a different level. Sociologically the viewer forms some sense of connection to it and hold it in a perceptual realm relative to their everyday life as opposed to a more conceptual work, in which they may feel separate from in terms of anthropological connection and conceptual understanding.




The difficult concept to divorce from the vessel is its ability to hold something, therefore an empty vessel is often perceived as incomplete. I seek to highlight the emptiness and twist the conception to depict the potential to be filled, within which there are various possibilities – both physical and conceptual ‘fillers’. The depiction of the unused or empty vessel allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions based on their individual conditioning. In a sense this conditioning (towards an utilitarian object such as a vessel) is on a different level to the conditioning to comprehend conceptual or abstract art.



Throughout this consistent questioning within my own work, I have looked at and questioned other forms of art, architecture, design etc and its relativity to humankind. I am interested in its ability to intersect with the everyday life of the everyday person, to not exist only in the vacuum of a white box gallery or as a material commodity, financial investment, or interior decoration. Within my work I aim to honor the history of the vessel and the different historical values – emotional, cultural / historical, technical, conceptual – that all correlate to the final result.


There is a consistent duality of logic vs reason, cultural vs individual; but in the sense of attempting to draw attention to the importance of humanity and humankind there is the critical requirement for communication, which is community. The viewer’s perception is a moment in time, yet can be long-lasting in terms of their recollection of reality and how it affects them. The majority of viewers would not be aware of their own perceptual process to this extent but I find the relationship between functionality, physicality, conceptual understanding and conditioning an extremely interesting area to observe and study in relation to my work, art and life in general.

Pot Plant, which was curated by John Tebbs for the Garden Edit, and Lilies of Forgiveness, placed your work in relation to ephemeral plant material. Did either exhibits re-center the focus on how florists utilize your ceramics?

As discussed in the above answer, I primarily look for highlighting an emptiness and the potential of completion based on societal conditioning towards and empty vessel. However, I love working with ephemeral plant material as it truly represents natural beauty and its decay, and takes away that sense of ownership or forever-ness that so many people crave. These ideas are constantly embedded within my work, so with the right people who appreciate these ideas I am always keen to collaborate. John Tebbs from The Garden Edit, Simone Gooch of Fjura, and Alia & Ezra from Regime des Fleurs all create beautiful work, utilizing nature as creator and transcending nature as decoration or pure product.


There is an old Chinese saying ‘滴水穿石’ which translates to ‘dripping water eats away the stone’. It alludes well to how your pieces bear the corrosive effect of water almost to the point of close disintegration. Is it a mediation on the transience of humankind and material goods?

Absolutely. More so an exploration of the innate impermanence of everything and attempting to break down the societal attachment to completed or beautiful things; to encourage an acceptance of the process of continuous transformation and inevitable decay, in all things – physical and otherwise.

The marine environment is unforgiving to terrestrial plant life, but what would be an Alana Wilson ceramic personified as a plant or garden look like? 

This is an interesting question, and each ceramic piece has its own identity in a way … possibly a rockpool or reef, could that be classified as a garden?

Thank you Alana for the interview!

5-10-5: Kate Blairstone, Illustrator and Print Maker

In a twist of fate, I had not realized that the Kate who had waited on our table during my February trip in Portland was a talented artist herself! Only a month later did I happened on her floral prints in her Instagram account. Her webpage is as colorful and cheerful as her personality, and Kate recently launched her online shop selling a few prints (I particularly like the Euphorbia print).

IMG_4173Please introduce yourself.

My name is Kate Blairstone – I’m 33 and live in beautiful North Portland, Oregon with my husband, dog and two cats.
Summer pink on pink: herbaceous peonies swim among rock rose (Cistus), a combination feasible in climates like that of Portland where Kate is fortunate to reside.
Summer pink on pink: herbaceous peonies swim among rock rose (Cistus), a combination feasible in climates like that of Portland where Kate is fortunate to reside.
The arts or horticulture? 
Both! I find that my many creative outlets inform and pollinate one another – it just depends on how much time there’s left in a day.
The 'Beware of Wisteria' should probably replace 'Beware of Dog' sign', and the juxtaposition, intentional or not, speaks a certain cheekiness, which Kate expresses somewhat in her work.
The ‘Beware of Wisteria’ should probably replace ‘Beware of Dog’ sign’, and the juxtaposition, intentional or not, speaks a certain cheekiness, which Kate expresses somewhat in her work.
Did your interest in gardening develop simultaneously with your professional development in art? 
Yes, in that they developed next to each other – it’s only recently that they’ve really overlapped. I’ve always been an artist, but it’s only since I’ve become a homeowner that I’ve been able to call myself a gardener. You have to have a garden to garden, right?
Like most creative types, you have a full time job at the Portland institution Besaw’s that pays your bills while you are able to produce your artwork, namely prints. How do you juggle the demands of a full time job that can limit creative output? 
When I first started at Besaw’s, I used to feel like the work depleted my creative energy available for my own outlets. In the last year I’ve been focusing more on my creativity as a practice, which really means that I can compartmentalize my output in proportion to the activity I’m working on. I’m much better at allocating only a certain time frame to a work project. I’m more efficient.
I’ve been successful at building my art practice at home by creating parameters for my work: a consistent format, process, and schedule. I feel the same way about my garden – it takes ongoing maintenance. It’s always evolving, and if you don’t stick with it it can get away from you. My husband is also an artist, so we’ve made our studio time something we do together.
Creativity can be capricious – funneling it into a productive and lucrative endeavor is always a challenge facing creative types. It’s all too easy to elapse into a dilettante when priorities divert commitment. Do you set aside blocks of time closed off to interruptions and obligations? 
I try very hard to limit my social obligations, which has been a funny transition as I’ve come out of my 20s. I used to worry over not having enough time to do everything; now I’m just much better at scheduling my time. I’d love to build my practice into a sustainable career, but at this point I’m happy to be able to create consistently. It’s gratifying to be able to see your own progress and track it over time, rather than waiting for inspiration to strike.
Artists sometimes take years to refine their techniques before they are almost confident of them. At the same time their styles evolve with age. Sometimes mastering a new tool that can bring a new dimension to your work can add to the development process. What did your education in printmaking teach and did not? 
I have a funny relationship with art school. I’ve always been someone who’s taken to lots of interests, so in some ways my choice of Printmaking as a course of study was a bit arbitrary. I transferred to art school because I wanted to take more art classes. I started out in Photography but decided I didn’t like that because it wasn’t hands-on enough, and the Printmaking department at the time had the most agreeable faculty.
I didn’t use any printmaking in my work for years after college, and still don’t print my work myself, but I think it shaped my way of image-making. I tend to think in terms of surface design and flatness; I love textiles and folk art, the way craftspeople have been interpreting the world around them for hundreds of years.
A solitary Coulter's Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) peeks forth from the chartreuse Euphorbia amydaloides var. robbiae; such surprise combinations inspire Kate's graphic prints.
A solitary Coulter’s Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) peeks forth from the chartreuse Euphorbia amydaloides var. robbiae; such surprise combinations inspire Kate’s graphic prints.
How often do you play around with colors and spacing until you are satisfied with the resulting print? I find it overwhelming to pick out colors that really complement or scream the personality of the plant whenever I set to depict it in paintings. 
I usually start out with a realistic color portrayal, and then stray from there. It’s funny – some pieces are much easier than others. Sometimes I get the color relationships where I want them right away, and sometimes it takes hours. It doesn’t help that I tend to like unexpected color combinations. I love the filters in VSCO – I like to play with screen shots of my work on my phone. Sometimes the filters will tweak colors in interesting ways that I hadn’t considered. Placement is much easier, as I try to work within the same format every time.
Kate's ceramic vessels play host to enthusiastic, unrestrained bursts of floral arrangements.
Kate’s ceramic vessels play host to enthusiastic, unrestrained bursts of floral arrangements.
You enjoy collecting antique Asian ceramics. I detect a similarity between the floral motifs on these ceramics and those of your work – sometimes the juxtaposition of colors recall Asian pairings rather than Western ones. They seem lurid in the mind but they always turn out beautiful and contemporary. The Austrian-born Swedish artist and designer Josef Frank’s work comes close in the Western world. 
I love both those comparisons, thank you so much! I work often in ink, so I look at a lot of Asian porcelain, which often has a very similar line quality. I also find that the flowers and foliage depicted are often of actual plant species, rather than imagined ones. As I get to know different plants through both horticulture and drawing, I feel that I’m connecting to a long history of botanical surface design. I enjoy recognizing the plants others have drawn as well – peonies, dogwood, bamboo, chrysanthemums & bonsai – especially on antique pieces.
Josef Frank’s surface design has a similar feeling of flatness and layering, partially because we both use similar production methods. I love love love his overgrown and colorful aesthetic.
Lately I’ve been digging 60s and 70s illustration and surface design – the psychedelic color relationships remind me of golden hour in the garden.
The Swedish-Austrian designer Josef Frank's graphic botanical prints have a lot in common with Kate's work, and it isn't surprising to discover how she enjoys their playful feel.
The Swedish-Austrian designer Josef Frank’s graphic botanical prints have a lot in common with Kate’s work, and it isn’t surprising to discover how she enjoys their playful feel.
Do you have a preferred medium or media in which you render your prints? Are graphic design programs or digital printing part of the process?
I love working in ink – that’s how much of my work starts. It can be loose and heavy, or light and scratchy. I build up parts of each plant in layers of ink on tissue paper. Then I scan each layer, and colorize them in Adobe Illustrator. It’s instant gratification, but also keeps my work hands-on for much of the process.
Bright colors always tickle Kate's aesthetic senses - her photograph of these red chairs against the green foliage of cosmos reflects that preference.
Bright colors always tickle Kate’s aesthetic senses – her photograph of these red chairs against the green foliage of cosmos reflects that preference.
Retro prints are enjoying a revival as people crave bright colors as an antidote to our modern, monochromatic styles. Have any of your prints been reproduced for wallpapers and home decor? 
I’ve sold work for home decor, and would love to produce a line of wallpaper. That’s my dream! If I could have wild prints everywhere I would.
Unexpected sights, such as swags of red roses gracing the front facade of this modest house, always inspire Kate to pause and take photographs.
Unexpected sights, such as swags of red roses gracing the front facade of this modest house, always inspire Kate to pause and take photographs.
No plant seems to escape your attention – orchids, succulents, euphorias, and even temperate woody plants have been immortalized in your bold and colorful patterns. Where are you likely to seek plants for floral and botanical inspiration? 
I help with social media for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, so when I get a chance, there are many fabulous open gardens throughout much of the year here in Portland. I also take tons of pictures everywhere I go. I often pull off the road when driving to take pictures of plants!
Irises are a favorite of Kate who favors their brilliant colors and sword-like leaves.; here a few iris flowers really steal the scene here.
Irises are a favorite of Kate who favors their brilliant colors and sword-like leaves.; here a few iris flowers really steal the scene here.
Portland has a vibrant horticultural community that benefits from its ideal climate for plants. What are some of your favorite gardens and nurseries to visit in Portland? 
I love to visit Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose and Cistus Nursury on Sauvie Island. On a sunny day, that beautiful drive (plus free chocolate chip cookies at Joy Creek) is my favorite day trip. This year I went two weekends in a row to Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. I am now a huge huge fan of iris. I love getting to see a huge variety of the same species all together like that. I also love the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden and Pacific Bonsai Museum outside Seattle. So good.
Any advice you wish to impart to those seeking to blend their artistic ambitions with plants and the greater natural world? 
For me, making art is about seeing, observing. It is also a practice. Going out and looking at plants, working with plants, studying their structure and growth season all contribute to understanding how they might translate artistically. I favor illustration and printmaking as well as folk art when looking for inspiration (and comparison); it’s not about realism, it’s about style and mood.
An unlikely combination made possible in the maritime Pacific Northwest climate: Tetrapanax papyrifer with Cornus.
An unlikely combination made possible in the maritime Pacific Northwest climate: Tetrapanax papyrifer with Cornus.
If you do have a garden, could you say that it is an extension of your personality you confidently exhibit in your prints? I imagine a garden full of graphic architectural plants paired with softer romantic ones – such as the dogwood with Tetrapanax you posted on Instagram. 
My garden is two years old, and started as a very weedy patch of grass. Much of it is still that way (we’re gradually working on that), but it’s now much more colorful. My husband and I got married in our backyard last August, so I spent a lot of time last year creating my “wedding garden”: brugmansia, Yucca rostrata & lots of kniphofia. As Mexican as possible! I think you’re right, though, my favorite combination is my Tetrapanax and white Japanese anemone. As my friend Kate Bryant says, they’re gonna fight it out!
Your desert island plant? 
Can I lump all the poppies together as one plant? If not, I’m in love with Lewisia. #OregonNative!
We creative types never cease to have something coming along shall our interests flag. What projects do you have in the pipeline? 
My husband and I recently went to Croatia for two weeks! I saw and drew as many unusual Mediterranean plants as I can. After that, I have plans for some limited run screen printed editions and hopefully some wallpaper!
Select 6 prints and explain briefly their inspiration behind them. 
Peony & Wisteria
Peony & Wisteria: Honestly I was surprised that these bloomed together this year. Am I crazy? I was looking at vintage Uzbek Russian Trade Print Cotton fabric at the time – which is loud and bright and floral and retro: a fun eBay search when it pops up.
Itoh Peony: My Coral Charm bloomed, and it was amazing! I was playing with grass textures, and enjoyed the juxtaposition. One of my favorite design challenges is “Vintage 70s Tea Towel.”
Poppies: I often work in flat, digital color, so I’m always looking for ways to imply texture. This was another 70s Tea Towel Challenge- but maybe somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Aeonium: For a while we didn’t have a scanner, so I was taking pictures of my ink drawings with my phone, emailing them to myself, and then manipulating them in Photoshop and Illustrator. A pain in the ass, but an unintentional, happy result is the way the layers are offset. I like that hand printed, vintage feel. I studied this aeonium for a long time while drawing; it’s great meditation.
Euphorbia: This Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ was one of those plants I thought hadn’t made it – there’s a good amount of neglect in my garden – and it suddenly reappeared this spring. I love that bright center; the huge clump of it at Joy Creek is one of my favorite things in their display garden.
Peggy Anne:  I love illustrating variegated plants. It’s a way to gradually convince myself that they’ll be cool in my garden. I spotted Peggy Anne on my visit to Schreiner’s. Adelman Peony Garden is just down the road, which made for a fabulous nursery trip. Those splotchy Itoh peonies were a natural pair – I wish my yard were that adventurous!

 Thank you Kate!
~ Eric

“I found I could say things…”

Plinth et al. J.McGrath

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

5-10-5: John Pastoriza-Piñol, botanical illustrator

John and I were introduced through a mutual acquaintance when I was living in Australia. Funnily enough I first saw his work exhibited at the RHS London Flower Show a few years ago prior to our meeting. We bonded over our love of the arts and plants, and even caught up during his trips to United States. John has exhibited widely throughout Australia and internationally, including New York and Pittsburgh, Kew and London and Berlin and Madrid and has received numerous awards for botanical art including the American Society of Botanical Art Dianne Bouchier Award for Excellence in 2013. It’s no easy feat to fulfill these artistic obligations while holding down a daytime full-time job in Melbourne, Australia!

A close-up study of a Nymphaea flower and its bud.
A close-up study of a Nymphaea flower and its bud.

Please introduce yourself.

John Pastoriza-Piñol, botanical illustrator

The arts or horticulture?

Both, can’t decide.

How did you parlay your scientific background into a career as a botanical illustrator?

When my interest in plants and gardening led to study botany at Uni, I was given the opportunity to travel to the University of Vigo in Galicia, Spain to complete my doctorate course. I studied the environmental impact of Eucalyptus globulus subsp. globulus in agroecosystems in northwest Spain. This tree, the Tasmanian Blue Gum, is native to Australia and been naturalized widely, including to Galicia. When I returned to Australia, I began studying botanical illustration with the renowned Jenny Phillips and haven’t looked back since.

Botanical illustration is a scientific discipline that portrays accurately the minute details of the plants. For clarity and simplicity, the plants are set against stark negative space, leaving little room to improvise. I can only think of Marianne North and Raymond Booth whose work went to incorporate the subject’s habitats and Robert Thorton who took stylistic liberties to convey a romantic mood in the Temple of Flora. How do you surf between scientific precision and your personal creative touch?

The centuries-old art form of botanical illustration is highly specialised – where plant portraits combine finely observed detail with artistic expression. Today, botanical art is experiencing a resurgence of interest, and artists are adopting more contemporary interpretations, pushing the boundaries. Rich luminous hues and gorgeously exotic and rare botanical specimens define my work, however these are more than mere flower paintings. Closer inspection unearths a certain ambiguity of form and intent towards a dark and complex narrative. The familiarity and pleasure we derive from looking at a depiction of a beautiful plant or flower is somewhat challenged, and I like to urge viewers to look beyond the aesthetic and move into slightly more uneasy territory. While I want to encourage an appreciation for contemporary botanical art and accurate realism, I tend to aim for an exploratory narrative in my choice and composition of subject matter – the unusual and macabre always fascinate me.

Black hellebores tends to John's taste for the unusual and macabre.
Black hellebores tends to John’s taste for the unusual and macabre.


Given your full-time daytime job as a college administrator, how do you set aside blocks of time to devote to painting?

I have been teaching intermediate/advanced classes at the Geelong Botanic Gardens since 2005 and I have expanded my teaching circuit to include interstate and international Master Classes, educating my unique approach to the art form. In addition, I have a “day job” at RMIT, a university of technology and design, as coordinator industry Engagement and Events for the college of business, which allows me to use the other hemisphere of my brain! This leaves me with little time to devote to painting but I manage to fit it in.

How do you cajole the horticulturists into giving you the rare plants to paint? It’s hard to part with a rare or unusual plant one has devoted to propagating and growing.

My primarily focus is rare and unusual plants. Re-introducing less commonplace plants and unusual species certainly engages the audience. I find if you ask nicely and you most often you get the whole plant not just the bloom! Most plantsmen are very proud to have their treasure immortalised as a piece of fine art.

John captures beautifully the translucent texture of the Kiaat seed (Pterocarpus angolensis) as well as its spiky seed pod.
John captures beautifully the translucent texture of the Kiaat seed (Pterocarpus angolensis) as well as its spiky seed pod.


Watercolor is the primary medium through which plants are depicted in botanical illustration. There is no doubting its ability to impart a special translucence or ‘liveliness’ to plants. Have you explored other media besides watercolor?

Not as yet, I would love to work with glass, maybe in my retirement.

What are your current projects you’re working on?

I am in the process of finalising a new series of works to be exhibited at a show titled (Vignettes: Prefatory, Empirical, Mimesis, Brevity) in 2015 at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. The Art Gallery of Ballarat was established in 1884 and is the oldest and largest gallery in regional Australia.

The exhibition is based on the concept of a vignette, which originally was used to describe a small decorative design or small illustration used on the title page of a book or at the beginning or end of a chapter. These small, pleasing pictures or views would have no definite line at the border and often the design would be a small, graceful literary sketch.

My component, titled Brevity, is based on the French proverb à la Chandeleur, l’hiver se passe ou prend vigueur (winter either wanes or gains strength). This part of the exhibition precariously balances several disparate components of botanical documentation and constructed social identity. The literal and subversive elements coexist uneasily on the same plane, while the rendering remains true to the fundamental principle of objective observation of the natural world.

The obvious harbingers of autumn invoke feelings of reflection, melancholy of the transience of life. The careful choice in thickness of each vellum skin is pivotal to the overall narrative, where the thinner clearer skins denote youthfulness and the thicker skins represent growing older and the aging of the body. The underlying tattoos which emerge from beneath the vellum are instantly recognisable to those familiar with members of certain subcultures. These strangers are identifiable by these visible markers and exercise our curiosity in discovering their ‘story’ – often the justification behind the tattoos.

The entire work is presented as a timeline or chapters from a book starting at late summer to late autumn. The fidelity of the underlying tattoo diminishes as if discarding of the troubles of daily life and suffering of the world. The familiarity and pleasure we derive from looking at a depiction of these images are somewhat challenged. Does the tattoo destroy the beauty of the work or do we learn appreciate its symbolism? They suggestively urge the viewer to look beyond the aesthetic and move into a deeper understanding about the reality of life, the choices we make and in the scars we take to the end.


A peony is depicted in its demure, but voluptuous form.
A peony is depicted in its demure, but voluptuous form.


What has been the public reaction towards your work in various exhibitions?

Botanical art has been described as the meeting place between the arts and the sciences; however, many contemporary art practitioners describe the genre as ‘pure documentation devoid of any social context’ and therefore not considered as an art form. Contrary to critique, we are witnessing an increasing interest in botanic art with artists and illustrators continuing the centuries-old tradition of accurately and artistically recording plants.

Surprisingly there is a resurgence of realism in contemporary art practice which has inspired many prominent artists to adopt more contemporary interpretations and therefore pushing the boundaries of this art form into mainstream. More established galleries are showing interest in displaying this art, and subsequently there are more opportunities to study and appreciate botanic art.

My works are designed to engage with the audience on an intimate level. In terms of the subject matter, the viewer’s experience is highly subjective and personal as they stimulates curiosity and allows the viewer to more engaged with each work/ group of works and can interpret in their own way bringing into focus the everyday.

What are some of your favorite influences (travel, fashion, etc)?

I do follow fashion and travel often yet these don’t exclusively influence my work.

You spend an inordinate amount of time teaching botanical illustration nationally and internationally. What are the challenges you face in explaining some of the techniques in botanical illustration?

Obviously with the medium of watercolour, patience and time are common challenges. Accuracy is vital, as the smallest exclusion of an integral plant structure may result in an incorrect identification. One of the downsides to this art form is that we are very critical on detail. If a work is not as detailed or as accurate, most viewers are shy to praise and quick to criticise. You must be thick skinned to deal with critique. The flower is always the first component to be completed as nature waits for no man and is always the first part to change/ deteriorate first. The foliage and bulbs/ root structure can take time as these do change too much.

John likes to use pomegranates in his botanical illustration lessons for these fruit have such mystical and cultural qualities.
John likes to use pomegranates in his botanical illustration lessons for these fruit have such mystical and cultural qualities.


You seem to favor the pomegranate as a favorite subject for pupils to paint. Why is this fruit a chosen one?

Punica granatum L., pomegranate, is an ancient, mystical, unique fruit borne on a small, long-living tree which is native to the region of Persia and the western Himalayan range, and is now cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region and elsewhere. Pomegranates are considered an emblem of fertility and fecundity, and have a strong affiliation to women. The pomegranate features prominently in myth and religion as a symbol of the seasons of death and rebirth.

If you were marooned on an island, what would be your desert island plant to paint or grow?

I hope that never happens! Most of the plants I like wouldn’t grow there!

Do you have any favorite gardens?

Sissinghurst, Kent UK; Cloudehill, Melbourne; the private garden of plantsman Otto Fauser.


A detailed painting of Camellia flowers, leaves, twigs, and fruit.
A detailed painting of Camellia flowers, leaves, twigs, and fruit.

Any advice for anyone interested in exploring botanical illustration as a career?

I have been a member of ASBA since 2005/2006. The ASBA is the benchmark on which all botanical societies should be based. The running of the society, and the cohesion of both chapters and international artists is extremely well managed. The annual conference is truly a highlight, bringing together artists from around the US and abroad. It is wonderful to be able to present your work on an international platform. ASBA is at this stage the most global society of artists, that is until the creation of the International Society of Botanical Artists!


 John Pastoriza-Pinõl is presented the 2013 ASBA Diane Bouchier Artist Award by the American Society of Botanical Artists (image courtesy of American Society of Botanical Artists at https://www.asba-art.org/about-asba/awards)

John Pastoriza-Pinõl is presented the 2013 ASBA Diane Bouchier Artist Award by the American Society of Botanical Artists (image courtesy of American Society of Botanical Artists at https://www.asba-art.org/about-asba/awards)


Thank you John!

one for light, one for reflection

Girl with a Pearl Earring, c1665, Johannes Vermeer

With freshwater pearls and Shira’s jewellery on the mind, I know that at some point each of us has learned about and fallen for this famous portrait. I came face to face with her once in Mauritshuis in the Hague, while living in the Netherlands, and without saying a word she taught me more than I previously knew.  ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ is an internationally known painting that has a few stories to tell about its past.

The masterpiece was painted c1665 by Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch Painter of the Golden Age. A period in history that spanned the 17th century when the Dutch painters focused on subjects related to historic importance,  portraits, landscapes and still life. Vermeer, born in 1632, created 2 paintings a year and was 33 when he produced this stunning portrait. The title we know it as is not the original one though, and was first called ‘Girl with a Turban’, rightly so due to the Turkish turban she is seen wearing.  There are many incredible aspects of this work the mystery in  the pose,in her eyes and mouth, the colors of her clothes, and the use of negative space to highlight the sitter.  Vermeer was a Master of light on all kinds of surfaces but painted with subtlety, something that is clearly witnessed in this painting.  When he got to painting the earring, Vermeer did it using only 2 strokes of paint for the pearl- a dab of white for light and the bottom reflecting the collar. Those two strokes of paint have helped carry this painting through history, something that I always marvel at when I look at this Vermeer masterpiece..   – James



‘The entire fruit…’

detail of neckpiece by Shira Goldberger and the Negev desert, Israel


 The entire fruit is already present in the seed. – Tertullian


a tête-à-tête

Narcissus at Madrid Botanical Garden
Narcissus at Madrid Botanical Garden

 Mr. Eric,

As I sit at my desk and write this to you, the Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’ that I have planted on my terrace are now fiercely glowing silhouettes, brightly backlit by the sun that is also shining warmly on my face.  The smiling sun is a nice change from the cooler temperatures and gray days and from this late winter flu I have been entertaining these days.  Spring is almost here, I can almost smell it hence this cold, but the last day of winter is officially March 19th, so we are just about out of the woods.  From the windows, I can see the leaf buds of Platanus x hispanica swelling up and pulling away from the branches, just about ready to open.


I haven’t been outside much the past few days but besides getting enough rest and drinking plenty of teas I have surrounded myself with multiple vases of these little striking yellow blooms to make myself feel better, a little extra sunshine inside. Who wouldn’t smile because of that?! Most everybody loves the Narcissus, for their own reasons, but for many it heralds the triumphant return of spring and an end to the long, cold months of winter.  But why else do we love it and what is it about them? Is it the piercing yellow color that demands the attention of our eyes in an otherwise still drab landscape? The color alone,  reminiscent of the sun,  invokes an uplifting feeling of happiness  and cheerfulness. Is it maybe because the rest of bloom parade is not far behind in the marching procession of blossoms known as spring? So while admiring them from my reclined position, the stories and symbolism of Narcissus started playing out in my medicated head….

Narcissus 'Fortune'


The Narcissus has been a subject for writers and artists for more than 20 centuries, often-symbolizing rebirth, new beginnings and  representing luck and prosperity. Could that be the reference in the cultivar Narcissus ‘Fortune’ as seen above? Giving daffodils as a bouquet  is said to ensure happiness to the receiver but remember to  always present them in a bunch  because though the cheerful flower is associated with good fortune it might forebode misfortune if given as a single boom.  Could this be why they are sold in florist shops in bunches rather than single blooms as other flowers?

Naturalized Narcissus at Great Dixter
Naturalized Narcissus at Great Dixter

There is one story about Narcissus and Echo that I love. I owe my introduction and love for Greek Mythology to  Edith Hamilton, when I purchased her book, Mythology, while doing research for a school report as a young kid.  I still have that same book packed away in New York, and escaped through all of the images those stories painted in my mind. But, yes, the story back to the story….

 Narcissus was a young man of immense beauty who broke the hearts of many lovers along the way, lastly in his mortal life was the wood nymph Echo. Narcissus not paying attention to anyone else and constantly looking at his own reflection in a pool of water, falls in love with himself, thinking of no one else. This is how he spends his time, leaning continuously over the pool and gazing, until he discovered he could not embrace his reflection and soon enough he fell into the water and drowned, with the gods immortalizing him as the narcissus. The story of Narcissus in Greek mythology, is a sad one where the flower symbolizes self-esteem and vanity.

Naturalized Narcissus in the garden of William Robinson at Gravetye Manor
Naturalized Narcissus in the garden of William Robinson at Gravetye Manor

There is a wonderful poem to read of this story, written by the American poet Fred Chappell

Narcissus and Echo, a poem

by Fred Chappell

Shall the water not remember  Ember
my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above  of
its mirror my half-imaginary  airy
portrait? My only belonging  longing;
is my beauty, which I take  ache
away and then return, as love  of
teasing playfully the one being  unbeing.
whose gratitude I treasure  Is your
moves me. I live apart  heart
from myself, yet cannot  not
live apart. In the water’s tone,  stone?
that brilliant silence, a flower  Hour,
whispers my name with such slight  light:
moment, it seems filament of air,  fare
the world becomes cloudswell.  well.

bouquet sketcbouquet sketch in oil pastel and pencil, and mixed bouquet against vintage textile,bouquet sketch in oil pastel and pencil, and mixed bouquet against vintage textile, both by J.McGrath
bouquet sketch in oil pastel and pencil, and mixed bouquet against vintage textile, both by J.McGrath

The meaning and symbolism behind this flower has inspired many writers to artists and will continue to do so for a long time to come.  In Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers –  it is listed twice, once by the common name daffodil where it means regard and in its latin form Narcissus we see it listed as egotism. You choose.   Salvador Dali, Caravaggio, John William Waterhouse, and Poussin, among countless others have been inspired when putting brush to canvas,  using the the subject and the stories behind it as their muse.

display beds at Madrid Botanical Gardens
display beds at Madrid Botanical Gardens

The blooms are out in full force here in Madrid, and hope they are not too far behind for you in Pennsylvania, spring will be banging on your front door    soon enough.   By the way, did you know that ‘tete-a-tete’ means a face-to-face meeting, or a private conversation between two people?  It’s been nice chatting with you and I hope  these images and stories find you well and smiling……      -James