Report – The Cavern Botanical Drawing Course

by Corneel Van Wijk

There is something to be said for experiencing a spurt of creativity when you are removed from your everyday surroundings. The Cavern Resort in the northern Drakensberg was such a place for me during 7 days towards the end of October 2016. I was as eager and curious to discover the wildflowers of the northern Drakensberg as I was to improve my botanical drawing. It was a great privilege during this time to be exposed to the awesome talent and knowledge of Gillian Condy and Elsa Pooley, both masters in their respective fields as botanical artists and botany.

The course was informally structured around collecting plant material from the area around the resort and the garden (landscaped by Elsa) and hours spent drawing in the comfortable studio where big windows let in ample natural light. We spent the first afternoon after arrival “warming up” with a drawing of plant specimens collected by Elsa from the garden. The next morning before breakfast we gathered our specimens from the veld which were to be the subjects of our final drawings.

Gillian set us on our way by giving a demonstration of drawing a Burchellia bubaline (wild pomegranate) – which point to use as focus, positioning, measuring etc. I chose an Albuca nelsonii and was challenged till the end! We did a preliminary drawing, a tonal drawing and a final drawing before transferring onto watercolour paper using a lightbox. This was my first exposure in using a lightbox as well as masking fluid- a great learning curve! Gillian also gave a beautiful illustration of drawing a bulb – all those beautiful layers “disappearing and appearing” around the edges. See the beautiful drawing of Ledebouria ovatifolia by Debbie Pope, graphic artist from Pietermaritzburg.

The morning and afternoon hikes around the area were highlights, with Elsa in her very gregarious way, imparting her knowledge of the flowers and trees. I will never forget the field of Leonotis leonurus (wild dagga) we saw on the foothills – beautiful even if not fully in season – and the gentle fragrance of the small, starlike flowers of Carissa bispinosa in the forest behind the resort. Equally memorable was the amazing food The Cavern served and the happy times we spent at mealtimes getting to know one another.

On our last night Gillian and Elsa set up an exhibition of our work. The owners of The Cavern joined us for a glass of wine and a review of the drawings by Gillian, all done in a very non-competitive and relaxed atmosphere.

Bill Carte, the original owner of The Cavern (1941), said: “Our work is to create beauty, to make the land more fertile, to make our living, to leave the world better than when we came into it“. He and his successors at The Cavern have certainly succeeded in doing so. And so do Gillian Condy and Elsa Pooley by sharing their knowledge generously and unselfishly.

This article originaly appeared in the BAASA Botanical Artists Association of Southern Africa Western Cape Region Newsletter Volume 2017 Issue 1

2 thoughts on “Report – The Cavern Botanical Drawing Course”

    1. Dear John

      Hope you are keeping well.

      Botanical Art course is from the 23rd October to the 30th of October 2017.

      Kind regards,


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