I have loved Chinese garden ever since it has opened over 20 years ago. I have been a member for almost as long. I love visiting it especially in the winter, as there are a number of plants that are blooming and are surprisingly fragrant. The sweet smells can lift the spirit during the cold, dark months. The rock pathways covered in moss intrigue with various designs, the architecture and passageways allow for "losing yourself in" as if you were in an Escher's painting, and flowers and trees help beat the winter doldrums. In October and November I participated in an exhibit Mums and More with Oregon Botanical Artists. I have selected a few plants from the garden and was even generously given some cuttings to make my illustrations. I illustrated two different magnolias in their winter attire, a brozny chrysanthemum and a pomegranate branch. I had an opportunity to attend the opening reception, when the garden was beautifully lit up at night revealing interesting shapes and shadows. My favorite is always doing a public demonstration as it's a fun opportunity to talk about my art process and meet interesting people. The show is down now, but I am due for another visit for a stroll and a hot cup of tea at the Tea House.
Yay! I received my Diploma in Botanical Illustration with Distinction.
After 27 months of constant work I finally reached the end of the program. Living in a rural area the program offered by Society of Botanical Artists in London UK is one of the best because it is primarily a correspondence course, therefore a good choice for someone not living near a University or a Botanical Garden offering such programs. Distance Learning Diploma Program is an intense program that required 15 assignments all together including 3 for a final portfolio. Each assignment was mailed in original to the UK, and received feedback and a critique, and then was mailed back. I had different tutors for various assignments and each offered an interesting point of view and suggestions. Tutors were professional artists with long careers in botanical illustration. I had to dive into botany books to learn about various botanical aspects which I found very informative and contributed tremendously to my knowledge and awareness of drawing. I learned how to dissect plants and look for botanical features under a microscope. I enjoyed combining graphite pencil drawing with my botanical illustrations and deepening my technique of colored pencil work. I attempted each assignment with my best effort and some assignments took over 60 hours.
One area I improved the most is composition, I was challenged to create more complex arrangement with awareness of movement and placement of botanical elements. I am very grateful for all the tips and techniques I have learned and for the botanical knowledge I have learned. It was an unforgettable experience hunting for specimens, preparing sketches and finishing complete illustrations.
Now I have a diploma ready to frame, a portfolio full of varied botanical works and a new learned self-discipline. While writing my final essay about Maria Sibylla Merian, who studied butterflies and host plants, I discovered a new direction: I want to illustrate native plants and pollinators of the Pacific Northwest.
My work for this exhibit includes several native plant portraits, some are on walnut ink stained surface and some on traditional white background. I am often asked why I choose to portray plants this way. I would have to say that I find the traditional botanical portrayal of plants aesthetically pleasing and I like connecting the the rich history of botanical art especially depicting plants for herbals, or medicinal books that included illustration of medicinal plants for identification purposes. Many of the native plants I choose to draw are medicinal and edible.
The reason I choose to portray plants in a solitary way, is to draw attention to each individual beauty and complexity, and also diminishing habitat. At the same time I like to display them in groupings to show interrelationships of various plant species. We still don't understand completely the interrelationship of plants, fungi, trees, insects and animals. Their roles and hidden and invisible, but often they help exchange nutrients, provide food or shelter, or breeding space. So although the plants I depict are solitary ultimately I want to draw attention to their relationships and human relationships with the plants.
I had a wonderful opportunity to exhibit with Oregon Botanical Artists at Cannon Beach Arts Association in a show titled Forest to Garden throughout end of March through beginning of May, 2019. We had 20 participating artists and the plants depicted were plants from the Pacific Northwest Gardens and Forests. I chose to depict three native plants: Evergreen Huckleberry, Salal and Oregon Grape. I used colored pencils on walnut ink stained surface, and added a hummingbird to the huckleberry and salad drawings and a bee to the Oregon Grape drawing. I really enjoyed incorporating hummingbirds and bees as they are important pollinators for our native plants. I hope to carry on the theme and create more drawings of native plants. Visiting people were introduced to botanical art genre which has not been exhibited on the Oregon coast before.
For my Assignment 9 (Diploma in Botanical Illustration through Society of Botanical Artists in London) I chose Skunk Cabbage. Skunk cabbage is one of my favorite flowers in my yard. They are also one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring on the coast. This year they are arriving late. When you see these bright yellow flowers poking through the ground along creeks, ponds, wetland areas and marshes you know spring has arrived. By early summer the flowers die down and what remains are tropical large leaves. The name-skunk cabbage-refers to the flower’s strong, “skunky” smell. It is sometimes called Swamp Lantern or “Indian wax paper.” The yellow “petal” is actually a spathe and is a form of a leaf; the actual flowers are on the spadix, the club in the center of the yellow “flower.”
Bears coming out of hibernation in spring love to eat the roots and leaves of the skunk cabbage, although I have never seen bears around eating them. Also elk supposedly eat the roots as well. Skunk cabbage is pollinated by beetles and flies. I do see lots of tiny beetles and flies on the spadix often.
Skunk Cabbage has some interesting historical usage by Native People. Native Americans have used skunk cabbage as both food and medicine. The poultice of fresh leaves was used to treat burns, sores, boils and swelling. Poultice was also used to treat bronchitis by applying it to the chest. Cooked skunk cabbage roots have also helped Native Americans survive during times of famine. The roots have to be cooked thoroughly because they contain calcium oxalate and can be poisonous. Another interesting use of skunk cabbage is the use of leaves as modern wax paper, to separate or serve food or to wrap food to be cooked. Salmon was often wrapped in skunk cabbage leaves and cooked or steamed in pits. Modern herbalists also recommend skunk cabbage for cough, flu and bronchitis.
For this illustration I did many sketches outside, cut a flower and worked on it in my studio, and dug up the roots which I replanted later. Observing the structure of the individual flowers under a magnifying lens was very interesting.
For Assignment 8 for my Diploma in Botanical Illustration through Society of Botanical Artists in UK, I chose radishes. Radishes are one of my favorite early spring vegetables, crunchy and refreshing, a nice change after winter filled with chocolate and more chocolate. I remember eating regular red radishes as well as black radishes in Poland, but nowadays, you can find a wider variety of radishes such as the watermelon radish and the Asian purple radish. I found the textures and colors of all the radishes intriguing, especially the watermelon radish. I have been slicing them like mini chips and eating for a healthy snack. I went through lots of radishes for this project!
Sketchbooks and journals are probably the most rewarding inspiring part of my creative practice. Seeing, observing, being inquisitive, investigating and reflecting are all part of sketchbook keeping. I use variety of sketchbooks and journals as part of my creative journey. Sketchbooks are meant to be exploratory and investigative. They are not meant to be finished and precise pieces of art, rather experiential in nature, and focusing on the process of learning.
One of my favorite practices is using a small handmade journal for quick 2-3 min. gesture sketching, this is ultimately the best way to hone your observational and drawing skills, it is a first step in producing studies for a finished drawing and it is very energizing and fun (see purple daffodils below). For this sketchbook I use a colored pencil to capture simple impressions of objects. Another journal/sketchbook I keep is an art process sketchbook, where I try out new techniques, mix colors, do rough thumb nail sketches, etc. (bottom right). I also use a personal journal/sketchbook, which I call ethnobotanical sketchbook, where I draw plants and other natural objects, and write about the subjects and how they resonate with me, sometime I research the plant's edibility and medicinal use, or I might write about feelings or thoughts that the drawing of that plant inspires in me. I might write about the memory a plant or an animal brings forth. (bottom left) Another sketchbook I really enjoyed was a Traveling Sketchbook I participated in with Oregon Botanical Artists (top)- where 14 artists each started their own accordion sketchbook and mailed it to the next person on the list once a month. It took almost a year and a half to complete this project, and all artists ended up with beautiful gift of drawings and paintings by various artists to keep.
I use my sketchbooks interchangeably and often one supports the other. I also enjoy adding lettering and creative fonts to my personal journal, and sometimes a little personal reflections. As you can see above the page with butterflies and wildflowers I drew when I was in Poland over the summer, my mom's garden was abundant with butterflies and the wildflowers grow all around. It reminded me of the town where I grew up, and the fields I would roam as a child filled with wildflowers and butterflies.
The page below in my personal journal, was recorded over a weekend at Lake Quinault in Washington in October. I enjoyed experimenting with format of composition, lettering and recording glorious gifts of the forest. Next year I plan on continuing all my different sketchbook practice and maybe even tweaking them a bit. I plan on starting a sketchbook devoted to just recording wild berries, as studies for later drawings, and I plan on participating in two sketchbook exchanges (one with Oregon Botanical Artists and one with Pacific Northwest Botanical Artists) and also continue my personal journal, which this year will have a special focus. For each year of my life I will be creating a page of plants, animals, natural landscape that were meaningful to me at certain age, and continue to resonate now as well. I really enjoy the variety of approaches each sketchbook offers.
Very Berry September on Oregon Coast- a 30 day botanical art challenge.
For a while I have been curious about the 30 day art challenges that some artists undertake. I have been ruminating over how this experience would inform my botanical work and was eager to try a 30 day art challenge myself. I wasn’t looking for a sudden manifestation of self-discipline as I already draw daily, but was perhaps looking for a simple yet structured adventure. Not to mention, I have been encouraging my students to try a 30 day challenge (as I thought it would do them good) yet, I haven’t done one myself, so last September I set out to record 30 native berries (and other fruit of the forest), assuming I would be drawing one a day. I quickly learned that working in this manner is very rigid and tedious, but not being one who gives up on self-imposed expectations and afraid of getting behind I worked a method of sketching three or four smaller drawings on one day, then using following days to refine the sketches and add more details. I enjoyed going on walks and looking for subject matter, taking photos and sketching. Having a purpose to get outside and look for new plants was probably the most enjoyable part of this exercise. Soon I found myself understanding better the subtleties of differences in leaves, stems, berries themselves and other botanical structures. I also noticed how the same species of plant can vary in coloration and size depending on its habitat. I found hummingbirds and bumble bees pollinating blooming huckleberries and salal (yes! in September), and I found birds munching on Pacific crabapple and elderberries. At the end of September I had 30 sketches that I hope next year to use as studies for finished drawings of native berries possibly including pollinators. Having done a 30 day art challenge, I would recommend it to anyone, and my three guiding suggestions are: get outside, draw and don’t place strict parameters on yourself.
I spent 5 days in St. Louis, Missouri at a American Society of Botanical Artists conference. I had an opportunity to meet other botanical artists and botanical scientists, listen to great presentations and watch demonstrations on various techniques. I really enjoyed visiting the Art Museum with quite a collection, spending a day at the oldest botanical garden and be part of Confluence exhibit of botanical artwork. I came away inspired to spend more time in nature and to create more nature oriented art. I have been thinking more about innovative approaches and art that is socially and environmentally meaningful. For this conference I created a magnolia drawing, a bit of a departure from native plants (my usual subject) but I have been wanting to represent this magnolia, which is based on a tree that grows next to my local library. Needless to say I love both: the particular tree and the library, and this drawing reminds me of both.
Educator, artist, forager