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Vivir Inky Leaves en Espana – the update!

Dr M is delighted to provide this update on the activities of botanical artist Inky Leaves, aka Jessica Shepherd. Since her botanical selfie for Dr M in July 2014, she has moved from the UK to take up residence – and a new studio – in sunny Spain (sorry linguists and Españophiles, WordPress doesn’t allow the proper Spanish ñ in the title field!).

Over to Inky:

It’s been little over five months since I boarded a boat in Portsmouth Harbour on a typical English sunny day and set sale for Granada, Spain – my second new home.  Time has passed quickly and yet slowly. When I think that it was only five months ago I am left feeling rather bewildered and question if I entered a time pocket on the way down through the heart of Spain. Time is different in Andalucía, the days are longer and everyone walks slowly. It’s easy to be idle and become lazy, especially when you are self employed; this is something I now battle with everyday. I have come to realise that those wet, rainy days, which we all would rather not have to experience so regularly in England, actually have their uses.

New view from the back of our house r

Life as a full time botanical artist has so far been extremely rewarding. I am lucky in that I have a year in which I can play around with ideas without panicking too much about my finances as I am under the protective shield of my parents. I count myself incredibly lucky and feel determined to make the best use of this time.

Already I am busy helping to organise a summer exhibition and am looking for opportunities where I can show my work. I am still trying to push the capacity for botanical illustration to bring greater awareness of the plant world and the only way to do that is to get it out into the public domain whilst also tweaking its formula. At the moment I am busy experimenting in my studio, something I thought I could never do before when living in London, as I had so little time and wouldn’t give myself permission to waste materials and make mistakes. Now I try to embrace moments like these – to learn how to take pleasure in confronting my own perception of botanical art and how it sits within the larger scope of the visual arts. I feel that I might be starting to stray away from botany ever so slightly.

Rory_Jess_Grabs_1 changed

Alongside the time I have spent in my new studio I have been involved in a number of other projects, the most exciting of which was to do some filming for the BBC. For this I had to fly back to London. They wanted to film me painting on vellum (calf skin) in the Chelsea Physic Garden for a programme about the exceptionally talented artist and musician Rory McEwen. In order to have everything ready for the production team in time I not only had to learn how to paint on vellum, but I also needed to have a painting that was close to completion so that it would look enticing on camera. Luckily, the way I paint lends itself well to vellum as I don’t tend to use much water, so I actually found the entire experience incredibly satisfying. Vellum is such a beautiful medium to work on because the watercolour paint sits on top of the skin and you don’t loose the intensity of the colour as you do with paper. This allows the artist to achieve great depth and almost makes the painting almost ‘glow’.

Conkers resized 2

For the BBC piece I ended up choosing a couple of conker shells from my back garden here in Granada. I was drawn to the shifting textures and colours and felt that it would be something that Rory himself would have liked to have painted. I decided to paint two pieces of shell and placed them close together until they were almost touching, but not quite. I liked the intensity of that space between the spines. I have written a couple of blog posts about capturing the conker shells on vellum here and here if you are interested in the painting process.

rory trio

The documentary In Search of Rory McEwen was aired at 7.30pm and again at 11.45pm on Friday 13th February 2015.

If you are interested in reading more about the day of filming can see more here and here.

rory mcewen slide


Dr M watched the Rory McEwen documentary and was utterly blown away by the intense and exquisite beauty of his paintings, and especially transfixed by the late series of paintings of leaves in various stages of decay, never has decay been so movingly portrayed.


It’s only a pity that it is well nigh impossible to get to see McEwen’s paintings live, there was an exhibition at Kew in 2013 (which Dr M missed!) but few if any are in public exhibitions now, most are in private collections. A small consolation is this volume “The Colours of Reality” a must have for any lover of botany and botanical illustration.

colours of reality


Watch the video “a portrait of Rory McEwen – artist and musician:


Painting credits: The conker by Jessica Shepherd, leaf, fritillary, onion and tulip by Rory McEwen.


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