Saturday, December 21, 2013

SBA Assignment #6 Essay

This assignment is different than any of the other assignments given throughout the course.
We were given two options for this essay and I chose the second one as follows:
Write an essay of not less than 1200 words, but not more than 1500 words.
Explain the attraction which botanical painting holds for you.  Name a well-known botanical artist from the past, before 1950, and one piece of work which you particularly admire.  Compare this with work by a contemporary (living) botanical artist whom you equally admire.  Would you say it is easier or more difficult for a botanical painter to forge a career today?  Give your reasons and name your sources of reference material.

I went at this assignment in a backward fashion.  My most admired contemporary botanical artist is Ann Swan of the UK.  One of my favorite painting of hers is her portrait of an Artichoke.

Ann Swan - Strawberry
Ann Swan - Artichoke - Coloured Pencil

I then searched for an Artichoke that was painted pre 1950's.  With the Internet, this made the search much easier.  After looking at many pictures, I discovered Jacques-le-Moyne-de-Morgues, a French painter from the 1500's.  He was an artist who joined the French exhibition to colonize northern Florida, USA.  He was known as a cartographer and illustrator, painting landscapes of the continent.

Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus

Here is my essay as submitted to my SBA tutor.

SBA Assignment #6
 Lori Vreeke
“Explain the attraction which botanical painting holds for you.  Name a well-known botanical artist from the past, before 1950, and one piece of work which you particularly admire.  Compare this with work by a contemporary (living) botanical artist whom you equally admire.  Would you say it is easier or more difficult for a botanical painter to forge a career today?  Give your reasons and name your sources of reference material.”
            Found in almost any climate in all corners of the globe is the wonder of the plant. Millions of years of evolution has perfected the botanical world into an array of shapes and sizes with the sole purpose of species survival and reproduction. But this beauty has not gone unnoticed. These plants hold not only nutritional value to the human world, but their colors and flowers dance through our imaginations and trigger the curiosity that has brought humankind so far. A true love story in each leaf, one can hold, smell, and admire these plants and flowers anywhere in the world. Admiring these phenomena in their natural environments is not difficult, but rather taking the memory and a small piece of the beauty without interruption is a challenge in itself. For me, this challenge is met by sketching what I see in the plant, how it appeals to my senses, and the unspoken admiration for these great surviving beauties. One human invention allows us to duplicate what we see onto a two dimensional surface; the camera. But anyone can photograph their surroundings, and to capture the true essence of a specimen, botanical painting can be exact, can include the finest of details, and dissect parts of a plant to show the viewer its character and spirit. The artist can duplicate detail such as the tiny hairs of a stem, the gloss on a leaf, and the details of a stamen, bringing out the true botany of a plant. Mixing colors on a page to duplicate the colors that nature has invented is inspiring, and like Mother Nature’s act of creation, an artist can see a painting come to life as each color is put on the page. 
            Botanical art has become my therapy, and being able to sit in a quiet room and compose a picture is soothing to my soul. I am lucky enough to live in Southern California,USA, and with its mild weather, plants and flowers are able to thrive year round. Having easy accessibility to wooded areas, high altitude mountainous areas, and ocean climates all within a short drive, I am able to pick from a diverse array of plants to choose as my subject. Many of my specimens come from my own garden, natural habitats, and the local farms near to my home, and I most often enjoy selecting plants that are found in this warm ecosystem to use for my assignments, which in turn allows my tutors to see plants that are unfamiliar to them. Since being accepted into the SBA DLDC program, I have taken up gardening to familiarize myself with all stages in the growth of a plant. From the seedling's fight from soil to sunlight to the first opening of the leaves, from the progress in height and width to the flowering and pollination by the insects, from the first sprout of fruit to the plump nutritious food the plant produces, I am accompanied by the butterflies and humming birds in the admiration of this natural love story.
            There have been a countless number of artists who have come before me, all enjoying the diverse flora and fauna of the United States,  much of which was brought here by the early settlers to this New World, who also captured these images in sketches and paintings. The new settlers in America wanted the familiar foods and animals from their homeland, but when they brought these plants and animals from their homes to the New World, the landscape was changed forever, affecting indigenous animals and exposing Native American populations to new diseases. Some of these plants included bananas and rice from Asia, tea, lemons and oranges from China, sugar cane from New Guinea, cotton from Pakistan, coffee, millet and yams from Africa, and wheat, rye and oats from Europe. But of course, with the new additions, came the admirers. One of the earliest artists and cartographers, Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues1,2,3 (1533 – 1588), a French artist who joined the French exhibition4 of Jean Riault and Rene Laudonnniere in an attempt to colonize northern Florida, is mostly known for his artistic depictions of landscape, flora, fauna and the natural inhabitants of the New World. During his expeditions, he made a name for himself as a cartographer and illustrator, painting landscapes of the continent they scaled. Much of Le Moyune’s life is undocumented, but it is thought he trained as an artist in his native town of Morgues in the Loire Valley, France.  There are no surviving works by the artist dating from before his departure for Florida in 1564. Up until 1922 little was known of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, when a discovery by a librarian of the Linnean Society found a group of fifty-nine watercolor paintings of plants, which made way to the definition of Le Moyne as an artistic personality.  The small volume had been purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1856 for its fine sixteenth century French binding, and this discovery prepared the way for subsequent attrition to the artist of other important groups of drawings and watercolors. His expedition resulted in the production of the Le Moyne/de Bry publication and maps of the coastal regions of Florida, and in 1586 Jacques le Moyne made plans to publish his own account, accompanied by his own artwork of the expedition’s experiences in Florida. Tragically, Le Moyne died within the year and was unable to finish the project4.
Jumping forward to the present day, one of the England’s current leading botanical artists, Ann Swan (1949) specializes in colored pencil and graphite. Swan studied art at Manchester College of Art and Design in 1967 for a year, specializing in textile design.  She was soon married and even lived in Uganda, where she continued to pursue oil painting. Later returning to England, Swan used her drawing talents to work on traffic design system drawings for Philips Company.  Swan’s life was forever altered when she became seriously ill in 1988, and began drawing the flowers that well-wishers would bring her.  She then received an Enterprise Grant, enabling her to get her very first limited edition prints issued and allowing her to concentrate on building a career in botanical art. In the years following.  Ann Swan’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, Hampton and RHS Chelsea Flower Show and the Hunt Institute in Pittsburgh, USA.  She also participates on the judging panel for both the RHS and SBA Botanical Art Exhibitions.  Her art hangs on some of the most famous walls of the world including the Shirley Sherwood Collection5, the RHS Lindley Library and many private homes like that of the Duke of Edinburgh.  She has been awarded numerous medals and awards in the Royal Historical Society (RHS), World Orchid Conference, the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA), and United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society (UKCPS).  Her art has also been commissioned for ceramics by Jersey Pottery and The Southern Bulb Company of Texas.  Swan currently teaches6 her techniques in the countries of France, the UK, Spain7, Italy, Germany and the United States of America. She has even authored her own book, 'Botanical Painting with Coloured Pencils' which has been very well received both in the UK and United States.
Comparing  Ann Swan’s Artichokefig.1  painted in coloured pencil, with Jacques-le-Moyne-de-Morgue’s Artichokefig.2 painted in watercolour, they each have subtle differences in the tools they use to interpret this plant. Peculiarly, both artists are from the UK, but have shared an atypical relationship with this vegetable some 500 years apart. In the picture by Jacques-le-Moyne-de-Morgue, completed five centuries ago, the composition is stiff and hard. The character of the artichoke is strict and appears somewhat heavy. At the time, there was a limited color library, and the paint was made by hand from native and accessible plants. These challenges were overcome by the artist only to be met with the hurdles of limited advertising resources. On the other hand, Ann Swan’s artichoke seems to be dancing about the page, flowing and creating a whimsical and amusing character. Unlike the 1500’s, her paints and supplies are easily accessible and there is now a variety of colors and shades available. Using primarily graphite and colored pencil, Swan has had a lifetime with the advantage of studying past artists for technique and inspiration.
In the 1500’s painting was one of just a few art forms, and the consumer audience was also limited. In the technological age of today, however, resources, supplies, artist communities, and advertising and sales can be accessed by nearly anyone. Artwork can be posted on the World Wide Web for the public to view from all corners of the globe. In addition to these modern day benefits, photographs are one of the most common art media and are widely available to the public, such as a photograph taken, cropped, filtered, edited, and sent around the world in an instant, all from a cellular device. Though the convenience and accessibility of artwork today may support the possibility of making a living from the creation of art pieces, one must also consider the competition factor. Five hundred years ago, artists were hired not only to paint single paintings, but entire structures, telling stories of history and life.  Artists started their careers at a very early age as apprentices9, striving to become a master artist.  . Artists were considered a service business, unlike today artists did not create whatever they liked. Some artists were hired by wealthy families for a lifetime.  While there were advantages to making a living as an artist nearly five centuries ago, there are many different advantages for artists today. In the end, talent and beauty will ultimately speak for itself, and no matter what time period an art piece may be from, the journey and discovery that goes into the creation of an everlasting masterpiece is what holds true value.
Tutors Comments: (abbreviated)
An interesting choice of artists Lori..
Over the years I (the tutor) have lectured many times on this early botanical painter who underwent horrendous difficulties for the sake of discovery and his art. 
In your comparison with Ann Swan, you state both are from the UK, which is clearly wrong.  (I don't know how I could have made that error, I knew he was French and even wrote that.  Note to future students, check and double check your writing.  Silly mistake I made)
You also say that Le Moynes was working in watercolor, which would not be around for some 200 to 300 years.  (This I took directly out of a book when 59 watercolor paintings of plants was discovered by a librarian of the Linnean Society. Hmmmm, who is wrong?  The book or my tutor?)
It is worth considering that Ann Swan was the first artist in the UK to achieve recognition for her coloured pencil work as she pioneered it in the days when the color range was much smaller and not as light fast as it is today.
You could say they are both pioneers in their own way.
Well, I'm happy with my score of 4.2 out of 5.0  and looking forward to my next assignment.....
Fruit Study

1 comment:

  1. Great choice for your essay, Lori. I think your tutor is mistaken about watercolour painting being around only several hundred years, because the ancient Egyptians used gum arabic with pigment to create watercolour paintings, as well as using casein paint. Never mind! You got a great mark anyway. Best of luck with the rest of the course.