Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: How Do We Depict Them?

Today I'm musing about how we depict the flora and fauna that we love. Every fellow blogger reading this is making aesthetic and practical choices about how to illustrate their blog. I've seen some stunningly beautiful work out there, and I try to leave comments about it on those blogs when I see something truly marvelous.

Since most bloggers reading this are plant enthusiasts, I'll be talking (mostly) about depicting plants. And for those who don't blog but love gardening, or animals, or both, you probably photograph or draw or paint your gardens, pets, and so on. So we're pretty much all in this illustration thing together.

Dr. Nel fell on the horns of a dilemma when he wrote his book, "Lithops". He wanted to show how the Lithops looked in situ, in a formal, scientific way. But he also wanted to show how amazing they looked, how they looked to his heart, oh heck- let's- get -corny and say, in a more spiritual, all-encompassing sense. So he used both B&W photos, and watercolor paintings. Here's an example from page 154:

The watercolors in this book are just gorgeous. But the photos help me understand exactly how big each species of Lithops gets (see the ruler??) and what they look like precisely in their habitat. John James Audubon, my favorite naturalist/artist, worked in the years before photography, and he had a similar dilemma. His renderings are rich in scientific detail, yet truly from the heart. Here are a couple of squirrels:

J. J. does it all in one package, huh? Amazing!

So this week, I have a homework assignment for everyone who wants one (and who doesn't want homework??). Find a favorite plant in your collection, and try a scientifically accurate photo or photos. One that will help anyone identify a member of the same species, or in situ. Then choose any medium to do a "portrait from the heart" of that plant. Paint, collage, sculpt, draw, go digital. Whatever you like. If you have a blog, I hope you'll post the results and let us see them. But if you want to keep it to yourself and significant others, no problem.  It should be a fun exercise that illuminates our choices in how we depict the world we live in, and those living things we love! I'm going to try it, too, and I'll post the results next Tuesday.


  1. Love that book by Dr. Nell, and I think botanical illustrations, scientific or not, are just beautiful! The squirrel drawing looks great! - very Disney; very detailed and realistic but full of personality. Ok, you're on with the assignment. I'm quite excited about it actually, will work hard on it and post something next Tuesday. :)

  2. That's wonderful, I can't wait! I'd better get busy with my paints....