Ithaca, New York, has been my home for close to 30 years. I’m a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists, have exhibited extensively, and won several honors and awards, including the 2011 Diane Bouchier Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in botanical art.
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As a botanical illustrator I aim at complete and accurate documentation of the plant specimen I’ve chosen to portray and to communicate this information to the viewer.
The original goal of botanical illustration was not decorative nor personal expression or impression, but precise, accurate and detailed drawings for the sole purpose of plant identification, so a specimen could be correctly recognized and distinguished from other species.
Renderings of botanical subjects date back to ancient times with identifiable plants appearing on Egyptian tombs, Greek vases, in Roman mosaics and Asian temple sculpture. Early herbals and pharmacopoeia of many cultures depict plant portraits (critical in times of limited literacy) to assist in identification of a species, usually for medicinal purposes.
With European voyages of discovery and exploration (resulting later on in colonization of distant lands), botanical illustrations done from life and in the field often under difficult conditions, led to an increased interest in exotic as well as economically useful plants. Printing technology over the centuries allowed more widespread access to ever more desirable books and reproductions of botanical illustrations, keeping pace with growing interest in gardens—domestic as well as public, royal as well as experimental. Recent advances in DNA research have contributed to plant studies in ways never dreamed of, and yet the genre which relies primarily on meticulous observation, analytical understanding and correct rendering, still lives on— and I am proud to be a part of it.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that as a botanical illustrator I consider myself a conservative traditionalist ! And this is my approach:
- A blank sheet of paper beside a robust, thriving botanical specimen.
- Task at hand: accurate documentation, detailing phases of botanical development while preserving the vitality of the ever-mutable living plant.
- Method: a brush dipped in clear water following the direction of growth, then the first faint traces of paint, without preliminary sketches or drawing, entrusting the plant’s natural design to determine composition and communicate its own aesthetic power.
- Decisions: layer upon layer for subtle texture, tonal nuances, depth, contour, surface tension
- Result: the brush, the hand and the eye meet the plant and honor its brief moment of glory in a portrait so precise and exact that you should be able to taste or smell the subject!