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I have always loved drawing and I fondly remember a book my aunt gave me for my birthday when I was about 8 or 9. It was titled 'How to draw Flowers'. I poured over the pencil drawings and loved following the step by step instructions and 'having a go'. I've no idea where it is now, or the drawings and as other hobbies came and went I forgot all about it. Little did I know that some 30+ years later I would be experiencing that pleasure again, finding delight in painting both the mundane and the spectacular plants in all their infinite varieties .

I have always loved 'creating', whether it be knitting, card making, painting or making costumes or scenery for my children's school plays, but it was the chance visit to an exhibition of botanical art back in the 90’s in London that set me, although unknowingly then, on the path to where I am today. I had just completed a degree in Graphic Design at Middlesex University in North London, where I specialized in Scientific Illustration and thought I had my life mapped out. So I began a career as a freelance medical illustrator, drawing on my knowledge from previous nursing days. I quickly became involved in medical illustration, producing illustrations for Reed Books, DK Children, Guinness Publishing,  Encyclopedia Britannica and Harper Collins among others. While working for Gillian Lee Illustrations I worked on a series of patient information booklets for The Royal College of Surgeons of England. However I soon became disillusioned when computer generated illustration started to take over. My watercolour skills were becoming obsolete in the medical field and they needed a new outlet. 


My first foray into botanical art was when the UK Clematis Society asked me to paint a Clematis of my choice for the cover of their journal and write an article describing the process! By this time, art was on the back burner as we had 3 young children and I was back on night duty part time; however I was delighted to be asked and was very keen to get started.

This all happened in the middle of our UK winter, and with great excitement I naively went to buy a Clematis from the local garden centre. What a disappointment! Yes, they did have some, but of course they were just bare twigs, having been pruned weeks before! I bought one anyway and somehow I managed to nurse and sweet talk this poor ‘Nelly Moser’ specimen into thinking it was spring indoors. It eventually obliged by producing a few leaves and eventually a flower! They titled the article “The Illustrator’s Challenge” – rather an understatement I thought! Luckily, I was asked to paint another one so I must have done something right! 


Unfortunately, that was it for many years. Family commitments took over, I was still nursing and art was sidelined again with a few hours snatched here and there.  We came back to New Zealand in 2003 and I worked and still do, in a learning support department of a local college. I try to bring in as much art and craft as I can into the lessons and take delight in seeing them produce art which they can be proud of.  


However, I never lost my desire to learn more about botanical illustration, and eventually found a distance learning course run by the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) in the UK, who incidentally ran that exhibition of botanical art I visited in London all those years ago. Two and a half years, 12 assignments, 3 portfolio pieces culminated with me graduating with a 'Distinction' in 2015, and I have loved painting our beautiful flora and fauna ever since.

Lesley Alexander in her garden at home.j
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