Sandy Ross Sykes

Botanical Illustrator

As a young art student I trained in London to be a Fine Artist and Sculptor. However, after graduation I found myself living and painting in the Far East. I became fascinated with the exotic plants and animals I saw while traveling in S. E. Asia. It wasn’t until many years later that I took my Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in London. It was then that my interest moved towards natural history illustration and was there that I specialised in painting one species of which I knew very little: the Ginger or Zingiberaceae family of which there are over 1500 species.

Graduating from the RCA in 2004, I again found myself in East Asia and now travel throughout the region painting Gingers in their natural habitats.

I have a deep respect for the Natural History illustrators and Botanical Artists of past centuries who revealed so much of the world to us. Their legacy lives in paintings that survive from hundreds of years ago. Currently digital methods are used by scientists in their work. Photographs are not made to last for centuries. What record will we leave for the future of flora and fauna from the rainforests that have been desecrated?

In the last five years I have witnessed many changes in the rainforests and jungles that are home to the Gingers. Borneo alone has lost nearly half its rainforests to logging and palm oil plantations.

My role as a botanical artist has changed rapidly with the realisation that we can no longer depend on natural resources being preserved. It is not uncommon to return to a region and find that it has been levelled or dammed and the indigenous tribes displaced. I hope that by painting the ginger species I find, and recording their local uses there may be some trace left of the fragile ties that bind us to nature.

I would like to thank the tribal peoples from Tibet to Borneo (and many countries in between) who have helped me and housed me in their longhouses and wooden homes and shared their folklore with me. Without the guidance and help of botanists, I would have been blind to the beauty and ingenuity of the Gingers and their hidden locations.

I am also very grateful to the museums who have supported me by showing my work and to the Linnean Society for honouring me with a Fellowship for my work on Zingiberaceae species.