At a talk at the Wadsworth Atheneum a few years ago, interior designer and lifestyle philosopher Alexandra Stoddard of Stonington described how she keeps calm.
Every morning she starts the day with a "one-flower" meditation, which, she said, leaves her in awe of how well-ordered the universe is.
A pair of new books on botanical illustration take Stoddard's simple meditation further.
They are Wendy Hollender's "Botanical Drawing in Color: A Basic Guide to Mastering Realistic Form and Naturalistic Color" [Watson-Guptill, $24.99] and Sarah Simblet's more advanced "Botany For The Artist: An Inspirational Guide to Drawing Plants" [DK Publishing, $40].
Wendy Hollender is the coordinator of botanical art and illustration at the New York Botanical Garden. Earlier she worked as a textile designer for Vera Neumann (designer of the famed Vera scarves), Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren, but, she writes, she was frustrated that her paintings of flowers "lacked the depth, detail, realism, and inner strength that conveys an artist's clear vision." She signed up for the New York Botanical Garden's program on botanical illustration.
Toward the end of her first year of study, Hollender was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she was jolted awake in the middle of the night, rather than focusing on her fears, she would go to her dining table and "quietly draw the floral bouquets that friends and family had sent."
The intense concentration kept her panic at bay. During chemotherapy, she took her drawing supplies to the hospital. "My family looked on in disbelief that I could remain so calm, but it was clear to everyone who came into the room that this was my way of turning a traumatic time into one of rebirth and renewal."
That was 12 years ago. Her new step-by-step guide makes botanical illustration seem possible, even for a rank beginner. As she puts it, "I am even going to show you how to sharpen a pencil!"
Accompanied with beautiful illustrations — many of them shown in stages as they progressed, along with the changes Hollender made — she patiently unfolds her topic, with approachable discussions of plant morphology, color theory, choosing art supplies, establishing value and form, adding color to a toned form, use of perspective, overlapping different elements and tips on collecting specimens.
A 'New Way Of Seeing'
Sarah Simblet, who teaches at the National Gallery in London and at Oxford, writes that "there is something in the physical act of drawing, the coordination of the hand and eye, and translation of sensory experience into marks and lines that reveals an entirely new way of seeing."
Her gorgeous book will help readers understand — and see — the structure of plants: the tightly coiled fern fronds called crosiers, the diverse patterns of veins in leaves, the anatomy of a flower, the diversity of fruit, the details of a pine cone. There's the smooth, glabrous skin of an agave and the neatly ordered prickles of a minutely bristled rose stem.
Simblet organizes her chapters with sections called "study," "drawing class" and "master class." Each master class explores a work by one artist — a study of weeds by Albrecht Durer, Girolamo Pini's "Etude de botanique," the white highlights used by Leonardo da Vinci in a chalk drawing of blackberries, a scroll of bird and flowers by Japanese artist Kano Yukinobu, a giant spear lily by Australia's Mali Moir — with a closer look at the techniques used.
Simblet says there is a significant difference between looking and seeing.
"If you spend just one hour drawing a plant," she writes, "you will understand it far better than if you spent the same hour only looking at it."