liz campbell




On holiday, as a child I would sometimes sit beside my father as he painted landscapes in oils and try to make my own painting that he would be pleased with. I always enjoyed drawing and painting but it is only recently since I retired that I have begun to find my feet as an artist and celebrate my own joy in being creative.
I paint mostly in watercolours partly because over the years that is what I have collected but mainly because I love the way the pigments respond to each other and to water. I never quite know what will happen and it feels like orchestrating a dance between the evolving image in my head and the playfulness of the paint in the paper. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I also love to draw.
I have spent my professional life in the outdoors working as a teacher, outdoor instructor and university lecturer. Whilst working I attended a few night classes and day workshops but it was only in 2018 that I had any formal training as an artist. Taking advantage of living in Edinburgh for a year I enrolled on a drawing course at the Leith School of Art and on the Diploma Course in Botanical Illustration at the Royal Botanical Gardens. In many ways these two approaches complemented each other and I struggled with both. The freedom of the drawing course where accuracy counted for less than the creativity and the discipline of botanical illustration where accuracy and detail were everything. Gradually as the year progressed I grew in confidence and begun to listen to my own artistic instincts


I chose lichen of Atlantic hazelwoods for my second year diploma project. It was a steep learning curve not least the journey of trying to spot and then identify different lichen species. Stepping into one of these ancient Hazel woods is a breath-taking experience. It is like walking into a cool, dark, damp tunnel. Each tree might have 50 stems which range in size from 1-45cm in diameter. The branches are often close to the ground and the top of the tree is only 4 or 5m high. The trees are interwoven so you have to duck and weave between them standing up straight only when you reach the occasional oak or group of birch. Everywhere is green, covered in mosses, lichens and ferns. These strange dwarf woods are truly magical places.
I was fortunate in that I had lots of support from the British Lichen Society, attended several field courses and gradually began to get my eye in and understand where to look for different species

My process of painting them is simple in comparison but also time consuming . I do some detailed research and then spend a lot of time in the field trying to find as many samples of my chosen subject as possible. I take measurements, make detailed drawings, do colour matches and if I can collect small samples to explore under the microscope. It is out in the woods where I decide on my final composition and make sure I gather all the information I need to complete my painting. A lichenologist looks for one or two key features to make an identification but as an artist I need enough information to accurately paint every square millimeter of paper. It is this simple, joyful act of observing intently that I find so rewarding.

I have not recorded accurate hours for each painting but it is in the region of ± 250 hours for each one this means that I do not have time to time to practice the actual painting. I carefully transfer a few key points to my paper and then draw the shapes in very dilute paint, work in the form and detail of that section and then move on, small section after small section. Different sections require different levels of focus and so I jump around a bit as I develop the painting. If I come to a section that I am worried about, such as the cephalodia then I will practice until I am happy that I can represent it accurately.

Often just as I think I am ready top build up the layers of paint I realize that I am missing a whole extra level of detail or that the drawing needs to be changed in order to create the 3D effect I am looking for. Usually this means returning to the forest to check more detail. With luck the painting begins to take shape. I try hard not to go too dark anywhere too quickly but it is difficult to resist doing that and eventually the desire to get one tiny bit finished and see how it will look is too great. Once I have finished one mini section I often wish I had waited.

The enormity of the task of painting a lichen of this size requires levels of patience I didn’t think I had. For me it becomes a meditation, almost a dialogue between me and the subject. These lichen are so spectacular they deserve every bit of energy I can give them.