Research: Artists, designers and companies that employ floral and leaf motifs

The aim of this research is to look at at least three examples from the list of artists below. The focus is on finding examples of their floral or leaf-based work and try to determine why these motifs are so important, dominant or recurring in their work.

Elizabeth Blackadder

According to Long in Elizabeth Blackadder (2011), Blackadder focused on depicting nature from the late 1970s when a period of illness made it difficult to work in oils. This work led her to form ties with the botanical community and developed an exhibition with Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden in 1979. Many of her Irises are influenced by conventional botanical recording (complete with Latin names) but other paintings utilise the intensity of the watercolour and delicate washes to represent flower petals. Leaving the background white in many of these works enhances the vibrancy of the paintings.

Image credits: Clockwise from top left Fifeshire Farm (1960) Lithograph on paper, 47.6×67.6 Private collection (p33) Irises (1987) Tapestry 147×217 The Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation (p71) Irises (1983) Watercolour on paper 56.2×78.5 Private collection (p69) Irises (1987) Watercolour on paper 72 x 107 Private collection (p68)

Elizabeth Blackadder Prints illustrates the variety of techniques that Blackadder used to represent a chosen subject. Even just looking at irises as a subject the breadth of printing techniques can be seen below and the show the subtle differences produced in the final image.

Image credits: Top row Irises (1989) Lithograph 61 x 45.8cm, Irises (1994) Etching and aquatint 14 x 17.3cm. Middle row Blue Iris (1992) Etching and aquatint 24 x 20.2cm, Irises (1997) Screenprint 58.0 x 80.5cm Iris – Hermodactylus tuberosis (2001) Etching and aquatint 32x24cm. Bottom row Iris (1985-6) Etching 19x24cm, Black Iris (1989) Etching and aquatint 17.8×13.3cm. All plates from Elizabeth Blackadder Prints

William Morris

In William Morris By Himself (2004), Morris says of his business

Almost all the designs we use for surface decoration, wallpapers, textiles, and the like, I design myself. I have had to learn the theory and to some extent the practice of weaving, dyeing, & textile printing: all of which I must admit has given me and still gives me a great deal of enjoyment.

Morris grew up in a “suburban village on the edge of Epping Forest” and studied history (particularly medieval history) at Exeter College, Oxford in 1853 so the transition to art as he had originally intended to enter the church. These influences can be seen in his early work which depict biblical scenes or are illustrations of Arthurian legends.

Image credits: Plates from William Morris By Himself. Top row: Queen Guenevere, 1858 (p.59), The Virgin of the Annunciation, 1862 (p.63) Design for Trellis Wallpaper found in the lobby at Standen, 1862 (p.66). Bottom row: Woodblock for tulip 1875, design for tulip 1875, Tulip printed cotton 1875 (p122&123)

The images above show the progression from traditional painting and stained glass window design (which incorporate floral motifs), to the trellis wallpaper which has similarities to stained glass leaded outlines and finally later the floral and leaf motifs are much more stylised to create seamless repeats.

According to Parry in William Morris Textiles, his earliest textile creations were embroideries where he was attempting to reproduce “medieval-looking hangings”. To Morris the qualities of the textile were as important as the designs and he “tried, for instance, to make wooden substances as woolen as possible, cotton as cottony as possible, and so on; have used only the dyes which are natural and simple, because they produce beauty almost without the intervention of art”. He also embraced “chances of processes” which is something I had to learn to appreciate when I started working with textiles.

Morris was a staunch socialist and said that he would have become very rich if he “had yielded on a few points of principle” but the focus on natural processes seems to have pervaded his entire philosophy.

Tord Boontje

Although I had never heard of Tord Boontje before doing this task, he makes an interesting contrast from William Morris. Both men are inspired by nature however Tord Boontje takes a far more experimental approach and his pieces can be hand-made or created by robots and employing modern techniques such as laser cutting. Like Morris, Boontje also has an interest in social issues and has applied his designs to installations such as Happy Day (2013) for the paediatric unit of the Royal London Hospital and the 2014 project Herbal Medley creating permanent privacy screens in a new wing at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Boontje says “I set out to create a pattern for the windows that would make you feel good about being in the rooms. The herbs add a botanical, floral and healing quality to the space.” Having spent far too much time in hospital myself, small details like this can dramatically improve your sense of wellbeing.

[All links accessed on 02/12/18]


Allen, C. (2003) Elizabeth Blackadder Prints Aldershot: Lund Humphries

Chapman, S. & Eyres, E (eds) (2004) William Morris By Himself  London: Time Warner Books UK

Long, P. (2011) Elizabeth Blackadder London: Yale University Press

Parry, L. (2013) William Morris Textiles London:V&A Publishing


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