The tools of the trade

What paints do you use?

My favourite paints are a selection of Daniel Smith watercolours, Schminkce, a few favourite Winsor & Newton, Holbein and Old Holland. Tubes or pans it matters not, however I do love my enamelled pans and the colours laid out in half pans are most pleasing. I have a wealth of colours and love richly pigmented quinacridone colours, as well as mineral based pigments.

What sort of brushes do you like?

For brushes I like Raphael 8408 sable rounds – especially useful in smaller sizes. My lovely friend, Billy Showell’s brushes – especially her new synthetic rounds painted in glossy green – handle really well. Fine points, ideally sable rounds are the order of the day in my view, but I also like other forms of brush depending on the work at hand. Billy’s ‘eradicator’ brush is great for lifting, and also handy if you want to reinforce an edge.

What papers are best for botanical work?

Traditionally botanical work is on hot pressed heavyweight paper. This sort of paper doesn’t need stretching as it rarely gets wet enough to buckle. Having started on a very white student grade of Fabriano paper, I then used Fabriano artistico for many years. I am lucky to have quite a stock of old papers. I also loved the creamy old Moulin du Roy heavyweight – alas discontinued and am currently enjoying Saunders Waterford heavyweight made at a lovely old St Cuthbert’s mill near to me in Somerset. This mill has been making a wide range of durable and beautiful papers since the 1700s, and it is a privilege to be able to use papers made in a traditional way.

I also use handmade papers of various types and enjoy receiving occasional parcels from the Vintage Paper Company in Orkney.

What is vellum and where do you get it?

Vellum is calf skin that has been prepared for use by artists and other artisans who use it in a range of surface situations. The skins carefully chosen and respectfully and lovingly supplied by Paul Wright at cannot be surpassed. The Old Parchment Works at Newport Pagnell is the last remaining vellum works in England and the workshops there are very special. Once used for writing acts of parliament and other legal documents, calligraphers still use parchment for special documents. It is a pleasure to take completed work to show him and to select new skins personally, as he pulls out the most beautiful, veined and natural coloured skins.

Where do you like to buy art materials?

My favourite on line supplier is for a huge range of competitively priced art materials.  My favourite art shop to visit has to be Heaton Cooper in Grasmere in the Lake District.  Landscape painting usually follow after a scenic drive to this special place.  The light and the colours of the hills, lakes and valleys here are sublime.  Although this is many miles from where I live, I usually manage a trip each year, combined with a road trip collecting inspiration and views. I have to combine my visit with a tour of Great and Little Langdale, which are literally breathtaking.

What equipment do you like to use when painting acrylics?

I love Golden, Liquitex and the odd Daler Rowney.  I like Jacksons’ panels and really enjoy prepping these with a smooth white (or sometimes tinted) gesso. Jacksons’ Onyx brushes are lovely as well as some lovely very old hog Winsor and Newton inherited from my lovely Uncle Aubrey.  For abstract work I like the flexibility of canvases, usually a medium linen, which have a bit of bounce and which respond well to building up rich and buttery colours.

Where do you sell your work?

Cambridge Contemporary Art, based in Cambridge on Trinity Street and almost opposite King’s college - this lovely gallery is a fresh open space showcasing some of the UK’s finest contemporary artists, printmakers and artisans. Everything here is carefully curated by Nathalie Staples and her talented team, whom I am honoured to call friends and colleagues as we collaborate on the next show.

Can I buy from you directly?

I am very happy to sell directly, unless a piece is being sold via the gallery above, in which case you can buy it at the gallery. Other pieces, shown on my website or on my Instagram feed can be purchased from me directly.

Support services

Mark Matcham has carefully and patiently worked with me to develop a site for me that I feel truly reflects what I am all about. to meet Gary and Bob who, prior to my move west, did all my scanning and produced giclee prints and cards.  Their aim is to see if I can tell the difference between my painting and the print, they use high quality acid free papers and archival inks.  Endlessly patient and helpful they are a great support to any professional artist.

Who else inspires you? is an artist and illustrator working and living in Devon, a creator of breathtaking watercolours. Rosie is a truly gifted artist and I feel very lucky to have had creative time with her on several occasions, and she has now become a friend. is the website of dear Helga Hislop.  Helga was my friend and mentor for over 20 years.  Her exquisitely simple work captures every detail yet remains clear and alive; I am the lucky owner of many of her pieces on vellum. Her legacy lives on, and I am proud to hold her in my heart, especially when I paint on our beloved vellum. is the site of my lovely friend and SBA colleague Billy.  For six years we served on SBA Council together and for 3 of those we were the Presidents; comrades in arms.  Now we have a new and great bond of our collective obsessions of collecting and painting.

Art organisations

The Society of Botanical Artists is the website of the national organisation for botanical art in Britain. I have been a fellow member for nearly 20 years, and for 10 of those I served on Council and for over 3 years was one of the presidents.  The society exhibits regularly both at home and abroad and runs a distance learning diploma. is a huge compendium of information and news carefully curated by Katherine Tyrrell. Katherine provides an invaluable service to the world of botanical art.  Those of us involved are fortunate to have her as she provides a one-stop site where you can find out about almost anything related to botanical art.

Other lovely sites & places is the website of my lovely creative goddaughter Harriet, now one of the UK’s foremost stockists and suppliers of fabrics and dress patterns.  Supporting young indie-makers she is a girl after my own heart. for lovely hand knit designs.  Marie has become a friend over the past 10 years and her attention to detail and the quality of her patterns and now her yarn, really speak to me.  Colour and texture she has it all.  A kindred spirit.  I now have even more yarns in soft and lovely tones with which to make hand knitted garments as a result. for exquisite English garments.  Christina Strutt, its founder, was a fashion inspiration for me and a great contributor to my wardrobe.  Living Life Beautifully was Christina’s mantra and I try hard to follow this ethic, enjoying beautiful objects, and making small rituals as a way to appreciate the every day. bringing style and purpose to the world of sewing.  Harking back to a time of honest high quality and yet fresh and contemporary, this is another source of lovely fabrics and great pared down ideas.

www.loopknittingshopcom is the website of one of the world’s best knitting shops and sites.  This small shop in London’s Camden Passage has a big heart and an amazing collection of yarns, patterns and haberdashery.  A visit to its site can provide calm and excitement in equal measure.

Olivia Turner is a very dear person to me.  She has been there for me through my journey with our lovely dogs and from our first encounter we formed an immediate and special bond.  She is a really intuitive and special animal behaviourist.  She is like family to me now, and I am privileged to call myself her fairy godmother.

Artist Notebook

See some of Gael’s notes about the equipment she use’s and her sources of materials:

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