Coming out of my Covid creative quagmire


My watercolour of Heliamphora heterodoxa
at the National Gallery of Ireland

It looked like it was going to be a good year. As 2020 dawned, the future looked bright, and news from Wuhan, China on New Year’s Eve about a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown origin appeared to have little relevance here in the west of Ireland. In a year that was to include a number of exhibitions, the highlight was to be the Drawn From Nature exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland – an exciting look at the history of botanical art in Ireland, with the work of eminent artists such as William Kilburn, Ellen Hutchins, Lydia Shackleton, Raymond Piper and Wendy Walsh appearing alongside the work of some of Ireland’s best known contemporary botanical artists. I was honoured and delighted to be included amongst the latter, and looked forward to the opening, which would take place on Friday 6 March.

As the day of the opening approached, it became clear that those pneumonia cases were, in fact, linked to a new corona virus, and would have far-reaching global consequences. The world held its breathe and waited for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a pandemic. The opening took place as planned – a happy and memorable evening, but we were all anxious about what might lay ahead of us. By then, Ireland had several cases of the virus and Italy had about 3,000 cases and 100 deaths. On 12 March, schools and colleges in Ireland were closed and on 24 March the country went into full lockdown. The National Gallery closed, along with all other museums and galleries. A year on from those momentous days, we are in lockdown again in Ireland as a second wave of the virus sent cases soaring.

Visitors at the opening of the Drawn from Nature exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland
At the opening of the Drawn from Nature exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland

Looking back at those early days of the pandemic feels quite surreal. The spring of 2020 in Ireland was unusually warm and sunny, and for those who were having to stay home – at least if you had a garden or access to nearby countryside, and if you had some kind of income – lockdown didn’t appear to be such a terrible thing. It seemed like a great opportunity to do some gardening, catch up with reading, listen to music, cook delicious meals . . . and for me, as an artist, it looked like a chance to paint all day without interruption – a luxury indeed!

Well . . . it didn’t turn out that way at all. It started out fairly well – I finished off a project that I had been working on, and I started another painting that I had wanted to do for some time. I designed a new book – Sceitse: Irish Botanical Sketchbooks for the Irish Society of Botanical Artists (ISBA), spent quite a lot of time gardening, stayed up late reading books, and changed to a whole food, plant-based diet. But somewhere along the way, it all went pear-shaped.

At first, I told myself that it was OK, that taking time to just chill out and do nothing was quite acceptable. I would like to say that it was a time of reflection, and more recently that would be true, but there were long months of nothing – no inspiration, no sense of purpose, no creativity, no joy. Sleep was elusive as one day merged into another. At some point, I began to realise that I was slipping into depression. It had happened to me before, many years ago, and I recognised the signs. I tried to fight it, and had some degree of success: I ate regular meals, got up in the morning (albeit often quite late) and showered, dressed and put on some makeup. It saved me from sinking deeper into depression, but each time I sat down to paint – if I even got that far – I felt paralysed. I would sit and reorganise my tubes of paint, or sort out my brushes, or look through one of my botanical art books, hoping that inspiration would strike.

I have tried to understand why I went through this period of existential gloom. I know that I was not the only creative person to feel like this, but I also know of others who were able to create in abundance. My efforts to figure it out have come to nothing, and to be honest, I am not sure that it is completely behind me. But I have started on the road back, and I have my daughter to thank for that. In addition to looking after her family, home-schooling two daughters during lockdown, developing her own fledgling craft business and learning new skills, she has also found time for us to talk and to share thoughts and ideas. She has allowed me to shed tears, made me laugh, and boosted my self-esteem when it was at low ebb. On a practical level, she helped me to declutter my space and to plan out my new studio, which has helped to clear my head and to give me a sense of freedom and new possibilities.

My new studio – a calm and sunny place in which to create.

As spring 2021 takes hold, I am ready to go forward and have plans for a number of paintings – more carnivorous plants, some Irish wildflowers, garden plants. There is no shortage of material. It is very tempting to try to make up for lost time by immediately plunging into a large painting, but I know that I am more likely to succeed if I begin with baby steps – some smaller watercolours, perhaps some graphite or pen and ink drawings. I have always been inclined to jump in at the deep end, spending long hours drawing and painting, and then running out of steam due to sheer tiredness. But one of the things that I have learned from my daughter is that I will get much further by breaking my day into manageable chunks, and taking breaks, going for a walk, spending some time in the garden . . .

Starting small . . .

Like many artists, I am not great at promoting and selling my work, which doesn’t help if you have bills to pay! My engagement with social media has always been somewhat half-hearted, but during the pandemic I discovered that for craftspeople and artists, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can provide not only a supportive network of friends and fellow creatives, but also a way of building a positive, more personal relationship between producers and customers. I have always enjoyed knowing where my paintings, and even my prints and cards, are going – how they will be displayed or used, whether they have some special meaning for the buyer, what prompted someone to buy my work. The process of making a drawing or painting is so deeply personal, and it really matters that each one brings pleasure and even joy to its new owner.

With that in mind, if you would like to purchase anything that you see on this website or on my Instagram page, please do email me at or send me a DM on my Instagram page janestark_botanicalartist. All payments by PayPal, but you do not need a Paypal account to make a payment. I am in the process of putting together a catalogue of paintings, prints and cards that I have for sale. If you would like a copy, please feel free to email me, or watch my Instagram page for more on that.

If you, too, have been struggling and need someone to talk to, please feel free to email or DM me, sometimes just sharing the thoughts you’re having is enough to help you start feeling better.

All images are copyrighted by Jane Stark
and may not be reproduced without written permission

Stapelia grandiflora – a work in progress

Tourin House & Gardens Workshops


It’s a great pleasure to announce that I will be joining garden photographer Bernard van Giessen and watercolour artist Signe Weka for a day of workshops at the beautiful Tourin House & Gardens in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford on Saturday 14 September 2019. The details of the workshop are in the invitation below. You can choose between the three workshops, which will run concurrently, depending on whether you prefer photography, watercolour painting or botanical illustration. The overall theme of the workshops is ‘Autumn in the Garden’ and no doubt the gardens at Tourin will provide us with plenty of autumnal subject matter. If you haven’t visited the gardens before, do have a look at the Tourin website at for a preview (the stunning photos are by Bernard van Giessen). The fee of €80 includes tea/coffee and lunch.

Please do book early to ensure a place. This can be done by emailing Payments should be made by bank transfer as indicated on the invitation. If you have questions about the botanical illustration workshop, please don’t hesitate to contact me at



Looking ahead


Botanical Painting in Ireland
Workshop and Pre-workshop Southern Ireland Tour
July 8–19, 2019

Wildflowers in the Burren, Co. Clare, Ireland

Wildflowers in the Burren, Co. Clare, Ireland

My old friend and colleague Nancy Walsh, whom I have known since our days at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), now runs a very successful travel tour business in Canada, offering a wide variety of specialised group tours. For 2019, I am delighted that Nancy has invited me to play a part in her Irish tour: ‘Botanical Painting in Ireland’. The tour will begin with a six-day tour of Southern Ireland, visiting such popular destinations as Glendalough, Waterford Crystal, the ancient town of Kilkenny, Blarney Castle, Killarney, Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, ending up in Galway, the City of Tribes. For the following five days I will be conducting a botanical art workshop for the tour participants in the beautiful setting of Claregalway Castle. This is suitable for beginners and those who would like to improve their skills in botanical drawing and painting. Although Nancy is based in Canada, the tour is available worldwide, with participants meeting in Dublin on Monday 8 July. Full details, including prices, are available HERE. Anyone who would like more information or to book a place on the tour should contact Nancy via her website. She is a very experienced tour leader who will ensure that your trip is truly memorable. Book soon, because this is a popular tour. The deadline for registration is 31 January 2019.


Wiener Schule der Botanischen Illustration
Vienna School of Botanical Illustration
12–19 May 2019

Vienna Botanic Garden (Wiki Commons)

Vienna Botanic Garden (Wiki Commons)

I am delighted to have been invited to teach a one day workshop in my favourite city, Vienna. In a week filled with workshops and many other activities, my own workshop will be held on Friday 17 May, and will focus on Drawing Skills, with reference to the teaching of John Ruskin. The workshop is suitable for beginners and those who wish to improve existing skills.

‘GET TOGETHER 2019 is  where botanical artists can meet, exchange ideas, and work together over an entire week so that there is sufficient time for participants to participate in practical expert-led workshops, and to visit museums and archive collections. During a field trip to the Donau-auen National Park attendees will also have an opportunity to sketch.

Portfolio showcases will be given by botanical illustrators and the workshop instructors; these will last about one to two hours in the morning, and will be followed by a discussion. The emphasis of the meeting will be on the varying approaches of traditional scientific botanical illustration. all components of the programme are independent, so attendees can decide on their level of involvement themselves.

For further details and to download application form, please CLICK HERE


Classes and Workshops
at Áras Uilinn, Moycullen, County Galway

Ophrys apifera Bee orchid ©Jane Stark

Ophrys apifera Bee orchid ©Jane Stark

As we move towards a new year, all indications are that it will be a busy one! Before 2018 comes to a close, there will be one more Basic Drawing Workshop on Saturday 1 December – part of a series of day-long classes that concentrate on basic drawing techniques. Subject matter is not exclusively botanical, and the exercises featured in the workshops would be useful to anyone wishing to improve their drawing skills. Absolute beginners are very welcome.

The next 8 week botanical art course will take place at Áras Uilinn in Moycullen, Co Galway on Thursday 27 January. The class is almost fully booked, so if you are interested in joining us, please email me at as soon as possible. The class takes place on Thursday mornings from 10 to 12.30.

Another Basic Drawing Workshop will be held on Saturday 29 January – details to come.

Catching up

The front cover of Éireannach: Native Plants of Ireland

The front cover of Éireannach: Native Plants of Ireland

It has been a very busy year, and I have been woefully neglectful of my website, so in an effort to catch up, this post will take the form of a newsletter.

Éireannach: Native Plants of Ireland is the latest project of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists (ISBA) and was part of exciting Botanical Art Worldwide project initiated by the American Society of Botanical Artists. Irish artists painted native Irish wild plants and exhibited the paintings at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin last May. A high quality book containing all the paintings was launched at the opening of the exhibition. While all of the paintings were featured in the book, it was much more than a catalogue. Each artist wrote a short piece about their plant(s) and a number of Irish conservation groups wrote articles and supplied photographs. Sharon Greene of Wild Irish Foragers contributed a lovely article about traditional uses of some Irish wild plants. In addition, each of the 25 participating countries supplied a representative painting from their own submissions to Botanical Art Worldwide, along with information about their native flora and how it is being portrayed by botanical artists.

The book and the exhibition were very well-received, and sales of books and paintings were brisk. You can still order the book (a great Christmas gift !) at For more information about the ground-breaking Worldwide project, see – well worth a look at some of the wonderful artwork and stories relating the project.

Arum maculatum Lords and Ladies. ©Jane Stark

Arum maculatum Lords and Ladies (watercolour). ©Jane Stark

My own contributions to the project were paintings of Arum maculatum (lords and ladies),  and Eriophorum angustifolium (bog cotton).  Please scroll down the page for a picture of the bog cotton painting. Also included in the exhibition were paintings from two of my students, Anne Burns and Hataitip (Tim) Walsh) who were exhibiting for the first time as botanical artists.

Botanical and Floral Art in Bloom
As the Éireannach exhibition closed, the annual Botanical and Floral Art in Bloom exhibition was beginning at the Phoenix Park in Dublin, in association with Bloom in the Park. For this exhibition I submitted a watercolour of an Anthurium hybrid, and was delighted that it was awarded a silver medal.

Anthurium hybrid (watercolour) ©Jane Stark

Anthurium hybrid (watercolour) ©Jane Stark

Claregalway Castle Botanical Art Expo
The annual Claregalway Castle Botanical Art Expo was held in July in conjunction with the very popular Galway Garden Festival. This is the largest botanical art exhibition in the west of Ireland, and many visitors to the Garden Festival find their way in to the gallery. A number of the ur pop-up shop in the gallery featured Éireannach paintings were on view, along with a selection other works by Irish botanical artists. The pop-up shop, which offered botanical cards, prints, and other products, was very popular and sales were brisk.

A small selection of paintings on view at Claregalway Castle Botanical Art Expo in July 2018

A small selection of paintings on view at Claregalway Castle Botanical Art Expo in July 2018

A lovely surprise!
Autumn brought a lovely surprise when my painting of Sarracenia leucophylla found a very good home with a collector in the United States. Three of my limited edition prints also accompanied the painting. It is a huge pleasure to know that the painting has gone to someone who shares my own passion for carnivorous plants!

Looking to the future
Although 2018 is drawing to a close, there are still classes and a workshop to look forward to, and next year is shaping up to be another busy year. My next post will give more details on my classes, workshops and a couple of special events coming up in 2019.

Thank you to those who follow my blogposts, and for your great patience with the long periods in between them. I will try next year to make them more frequent!

Burren College of Art Summer Workshop

Dactylorhiza-fuchsii-fuchsii-0025The Burren in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland is a breathtakingly beautiful place in any season, but never more so than in May – the time of year when so many of the rare plants that make this landscape so special are in bloom. The starkness of the limestone pavement comes alive with the colours of orchids, gentians, burnet rose, mountain avens, bloody cranesbill and many more. The Burren College of Art is located in the heart of the Burren, just outside Ballyvaughan. Superb studio space, combined with a friendly, encouraging atmosphere, superb homemade food in the café, a well-stocked library, and a wide variety of accommodation – not to mention the stunning surroundings – make this a perfect spot for an intensive five day course in botanical art, without the interruptions of home and business. If you have never been to the Burren in springtime, this is an ideal opportunity to immerse yourself in a very special experience. For more details, visit: or ring Julia Long at +353 65 707 7200 (email: to sign up for this year’s course which runs from 14th–18th May. 


Botanical Art Workshop at Burren College of Art

14th – 18th May 2018

A demonstration on painting leaves at the Burren College of Art

I am delighted to be returning to the Burren College of Art in May to teach a workshop in botanical art. This five-day workshop is designed for those who have some experience in the basics of botanical art and flower painting and would like to further develop their skills through an intensive five days of drawing and painting. Emphasis is on individual tuition and allowing students to work at their own pace and level of experience.

Burren College of Art

There are many places in Ireland that can simply take your breath away. Others inspire you. Some make you feel energized, creative and refreshed, while others bring out all that is best in you. For many people though, only the Burren can sum up all that. The college is located very close to the village of Ballyvaughan.

For more information about the course, please have a look at

Information on accommodation and an application form can be found at

or you can contact Julia Long by email at



Some Goals for the Coming Year


No matter how experienced and skilled we are as artists, there is always room for improvement. Most of us, at sometime or other, feel that we could do better, and the beginning of a new year is a good time to look at some ways in which one might make a few changes.

Being realistic . . .

As with any other new year’s resolutions, it’s important from the outset to not take on more than you can realistically manage. Even the smallest of steps, taken often enough, will eventually lead to improvement.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

Vincent Van Gogh

Finding time . . .

Without doubt, one of the most widespread complaints from artists is that they never seem to have enough time. Other commitments so easily get in the way of artistic endeavour, often to the point where we simply give up and put away our brushes, pencils, paper, paints etc. In reality, almost everyone can find some amount of time to draw and/or paint, but if it isn’t already part of your daily routine, it may require some effort and adjustment.

Some suggestions . . .

Painting regularly will only happen if you set aside time specifically for that purpose. Saying you will use your leisure time means that you will only draw or paint when everything else is taken care of . . . and by then you are too tired!

Decide on how much time you can realistically set aside – 15 minutes, an hour, a morning or afternoon . . . and make a commitment to include that in your regular routine. For me, it works well to set aside time in the morning, before I work on more mundane tasks. Ideally, I like to paint/draw for several hours, but sometimes that isn’t possible, so I spend as long as I can. Even 15-20 minutes spent on work in progress will bring me a little closer to my goal. As far as possible during that time, I avoid telephone calls, emails etc.

“Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.”

Napoleon Hill

If you can only manage a very short time each day, set aside a ‘painting day’ now and then. It can relieve some of the frustration caused by lack of time if you can look forward to an extended painting/drawing session every now and then. Write it down in your diary and stick to it as you would any other appointment.

Make sure that you have a spot set aside where you can leave your work in progress, so that you don’t have to waste precious time setting up. At the very least have a box/bag/drawer where you can keep all your art materials together. Using fold-over palettes or palettes with lids will allow you to have colours already mixed from one session to another.


Choose your subject matter according to the amount of time you can afford to spend on a daily basis. If your time is very limited, look for small subjects – seedpods, a single flower, a leaf etc – or something that will not wilt or decay in a hurry.

Finding inspiration . . .

Sometimes it is hard to feel inspired, and lack of motivation can result in just not bothering to get out your art materials. Some days we feel more motivated and creative than at other times, so a little forethought can help on those days when the muse just doesn’t seem to be with us.


If you use a computer, keep a folder of images that inspire you – it might contain a mixture of work by other artists, stunning photos you come across on-line, photos that you have taken yourself etc. You might find it useful to join, where you can find endless inspiration and also store your own images. Boards on Pinterest don’t have to be ‘public’ – you can set them up so that only you can access them.

If you feel more at home with ‘hard copies’, consider setting up a scrap book or a series of folders that can hold your own photos, images that you find in magazines or that you have printed out from the internet.


Other sources of inspiration . . .


Books about art can be very helpful in stimulating creative juices. Read about some of the great botanical artists of the past and present – Marianne North, Margaret Mee, Maria Sybilla Merian, Mary Delany, Franz Bauer, Rory McEwen etc – or spend time reading one of the many excellent ‘how-to’ books that are available. But don’t limit yourself to botanical art – read about Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, the Impressionists, John Ruskin, David Hockney . . . the possibilities are endless.

Inspiration can be found in many places – art galleries, botanical gardens, garden centres, woodland walks, a visit to the seashore. Do make sure when you are out and about to keep a little notebook or sketchbook for recording ideas. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to do some sketching, take photos and make note of any ideas that may come to you. It is amazing how easily these are forgotten once you get home if you have no written or photographic record!

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

Vincent Van Gogh


Botanical Art at Claregalway Castle during Heritage Week 2015

I’m delighted to be taking part in Heritage Week at Claregalway Castle this year. As botanical artist-in-residence, I will be working in the Farmhouse at the castle every afternoon (12.30 – 5.00) from Monday 24 – Friday 28 August inclusive. On Thursday 27 August, I am also giving a talk at 6.00pm in the lecture hall: Heritage of Irish Botanical Art from 1750 to the present. There is a small admission fee (€5: adult; €3: concession; child: free) for the talk, but there is no charge for visiting the Farmhouse to see my work in progress, as well as the exhibition of botanical paintings by several members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists. If you are in the area, do drop by for a chat and a cup of tea. There will be some free handouts about botanical art, along with some beautiful botanical art books to browse through.

Heritage Week will be celebrated in many different ways at Claregalway Castle and there  is something for everyone. Dr Chris Doyle will be doing his fabulous tours of the castle every day during Heritage Week at 12.30, 1.30, 2.30 and 3.30 – no better way to learn more about the fascinating history of this sensitively restored castle. On Wednesday 26 August, Chris will also give a talk at 6.00pm about Cromwell’s siege of Claregalway Castle. If you are interested in medieval combat, there are demonstrations on Saturday the 22nd, along with archery displays and a children’s bow and arrow workshop. And the following weekend, Saturday 29 August. 6.00pm–10.30pm, there is a celebration of the life and work of Ciarán Bairéad (1905-76), and especially of his work as a folklore collector and recorder of Irish dialect in Claregalway, County Galway.


BLOOM 2015

Heliamphora heterodoxa Sun Pitcher by Jane Stark Silver-gilt award at Bloom 2015. Photo © Bernard van Giessen

Heliamphora heterodoxa Sun Pitcher by Jane Stark
Silver-gilt award at Bloom 2015.
Photo © Bernard van Giessen

Bloom In the Park is Ireland’s largest horticultural and food festival. For five days over the June bank holiday weekend, a portion of Dublin’s Phoenix Park is turned into a festive wonderland of gardens, floral displays, artisan food, entertainment and, for the last three years, the very best in Irish botanical and floral art. The 2015 Bloom Floral and Botanical Art Exhibition featured a total of 53 adjudicated paintings. That 21 of these paintings received awards was a testament to the high standard of the work in the exhibition.

The medal winners were as follows:


Best in Show
Siobhan M Larkin – Iris

Gold Medals
Siobhan M Larkin – Iris
Shevaun DohertyPhoenix dactylifera var. khasab Date palm
Nayana Sandur – Musa acuminata Banana

Silver Gilt Medals
Holly SomervillePapaver rhoeas Field poppy
Jane StarkHeliamphora heterodoxa Sun pitcher

Silver Medals
Shevaun DohertyAesculus hippocastanum triptych
Nayana Sandur – Malus cultivar Red Apple
Holly Somerville – Hippeastrum cultivar Amaryllis
Holly Somerville – Tulipa gesneriana Didier’s tulip
Patricia JorgensonRomneya coulteri Californian tree poppy
Siobhan M Larkin – Larix decidua (cones)
Lynn Stringer – Chrysanthemum ‘Salmon Shoesmith

Bronze Medals
Yanny Petters – Malus Apple
June Wright – Aesculus hippocastanum Horse-chestnut

Category – FLORAL ART

Best in Show
Yanny Petters – Meadow Plantain speedwell

Gold Medals
Yanny Petters – Meadow Plantain speedwell
Nayana Sandur – Allium aflatunese
Lynn StringerPrimula vulgaris

Silver Gilt Medals
Anne McLeod – Delphiniums
Lynn Stringer – Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ Narcissi

Silver Medals
Nicola Lynch MorrinIris

Bronze Medals
Sue van Coppenhagen – Hellebores

I felt very honoured to be included amongst the award winners, receiving a silver-gilt for my Heliamphora heterodoxa, a sun pitcher from the Guiana Highlands of South America, belonging to the carnivorous plant family Sarraceniaceae. Whilst working on this painting, I became fascinated by carnivorous plants, and I look forward to painting more of them.