Teaching is an extraordinary thing, I observe and learn a great deal as I share the information I have previously absorbed along the way. So often I feel like a conduit, passing things on to others. Can it be that the act of drawing and painting is similar?
Botanical artists take information from the plants in front of us, observe the structure, colour, form and beauty of the flower, pass it through our eyes, our brains, our hands, and paint it for others to share. The thing is each artist mingles up in the mix her or his own emotional and intellectual response to what they are seeing. It becomes so much more than a direct visual representation. It is a visual conversation that is recorded by the artist for others to share.
It is no wonder we all feel protective of our efforts to portray plants we love, each painting is also a painting about ourselves.
Being asked to teach botanical art outside of my home environment is always exciting … I agree with delight, and then I start to think. What can I say to fellow botanical artists to stimulate and help them with their artwork?
A successful short lecture takes a great deal of analysis and research. I love being totally submersed in the subject: questioning the rules, looking at other artists’ works, analyzing how it was achieved from a technical basis and recognizing the sort of emotional response I get as a viewer.
There are so many types of botanical artworks: careful scientific studies, grand displays of plants in vivid glorious colour, gentle little observations of plants most people would overlook, and all sorts of things in between. Once I have found a theme that interests me, I tag all sorts of images and gradually sort them into categories, discarding some along the way until I have about twenty slides which demonstrate my analysis best. When the time comes to speak alongside the slide show, I find it easier to ad lib straight from the heart, but can only do so because of the deep interest I have in looking at the world of plants through my own and other artists’ eyes.
The joy of all this preparation is that I learn so much myself, and have a visual feast along the way.
My next teaching session is in a couple of weeks in the UK, so I hope I can bring something worthwhile to the artists. Wish me luck and clear thinking!
A friend sent me a pic of a botanical art studio in Rome. I was fascinated. There is an instant bond between people who are passionate about the same things, and there is also a little competition story happening at the same time. In the Rome studio it looks like the artists are working by artificial light, working with the assistance of great magnifiers. I would guess they get totally involved in the surface of the painting, the actual application of the paint and the detail. The plant is on one side of the artist and the easel is almost upright. Take a look at my setup. I have natural light, which I adjust with different thicknesses of neutral curtains if the sun is too bright. My microscope and magnifier are available to see fine detail, but I paint with just my natural vision. My board is at a lower angle so my specimen is readily available for constant study. I prefer the plant to be directly in front of me to avoid drawing errors caused by head movement. I bet my painting is not quite as perfect as the Rome artists but for me, a magnifier separates me from the real world, it makes me feel like I am watching a movie.
So, if you have a studio set up that is different to the Romans, and mine in South Africa, do let us see …..