Potting Orchids
Ecuadorian Natives

An Eye for Detail
Evaluatirg an Exhibition of Contemporary Botanical Art

ABOVE Dracula tubeana by Carol Woodin,
New York, New York. "Orchids aren't just

another flower. Visually they can be angular, muscular, exotic, strange and beautiful," says Carol Woodin, whose portrait of Dracula tubeana is certainly not a static study. This painting, photographed by Jeff McMullen, conveys a strong sense

stages of development. Layers of watercolor pigment applied in a drybrush technique on vellum create a radiant glow usually seen only in medieval illuminated manuscripts. (24 x 22 inches; 60 x 55 cm). OPPOSITE Vanilla planifolia by Monika deVries Gohlke, Brooklyn, New York. Utilizing the traditional medium of etching and aquatint, the print ot Vanilla planifoliaby Monika deVries Gohlke relies on traditional drawing techniques with a different purpose than to produce a technical description. While botanically correct in showing the flowers and rachis with fruit, the succulent leaves and stem and the

delicacy of the roots, this is a study that captures lhe sinuous quality of the plant
itself. The movement of the various oarts as drawn seems to make it sway or dance

of life. The flower spikes that extend out Medusa-like from the plant to all parts of tne page create a strong composition that keeps the eye moving while successfully
paying homage to the image as a tool for description, displaying the flowers and buds from multiple angles and different

on the page. Using nothing but the contrasls of light and dark shapes, simple line and textures, she is able to convey the sense of weight, substance and texture of the vanilla. Color is almost perceptible. The irony of the work is that she has caught a specific evanescent moment in the shortlived blooming of the vanilla, and locked it firmly in time with the laborious and timeconsuming processes of intaglio printmaking. (22 x 18 inches; 55 x 45 cm).

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2006 oRcHlDS 359


December last year, the coldest yet of


the coming winter season, I found myself heading south out of New York City on I-95, struggling to remember where I had put the e-mail directions fbr my destination: Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. It was just after sunrise, the inside of the car had finally walmed up and I had just
escaped the brunt of the eally commuter

traffic craziness. Finally being able to settle into the routine of the highway,

my thoughts switched to the
nagging questions


I had been askin,e myself fol the last few days: "Is


botanical art in any way different from any other art form?" "Is it somehow

less valid or serious than what is usually considered mainstream Art?" and the really flightening one, "Will I recognize good work when I see it?" These are not the usual concerns for most orchid growers the first thing on a winter morning, but I was on my way to meet my companions for the day

Marguerite Buck, Peter Sculthorpe and to jury our steward, Carol Woodin the competitive exhibition "Longwood Gardens Centennial Exhibition Orchids in Contemporaly Botanical Art." An orchidist, Buck serves on the

Board of Directors of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) and studies and collects botanical alt. Sculthorpe is an accomplished
studied at the Pennsylvania Academy

American landscape painter who of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and (R

exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, working mainly in


lmasterful either in the herbarium or the gallery. (22 x 19 inches; 55 x 48 cm). oPPoSITE Angraecum sesquipedale by Linda Petchnick, Enumclaw, Washington. This watercolor successfully conveys the strength and physicality of this species. Besides accomplishing the goal of accurately portraying the plant, she has taken advantage of the overlapping roots, leaves and the spurs of the flowers to create a complex composition that results in depth and movement throughout the page. The artist has effectively used the foliage of the plant to provide a contrasting background that emphasizes the flowers and allows them to be the center of attention. (24 x 18 inches: 60 x 45 cm).

oils and watercolors. Woodin is the exhibition coordinator for the ASBA
(organizers of the show) and a talented and internationally exhibited botanical

ABoVE Schomburgkia (syn. Laelia) lyonsii
by Bobbi Angell, Marlboro, Vermont. This graphic image epitomizes the Spartan clarity needed in a scientific botanical rendering. Using pen and ink (probably over an original pencil drawing), the artist has deoicted the maximum amount of detail of every important part of the plant and its flowers, using nothing more than line and simple traditional stippling techniques. The organization of space not only allows for every necessary feature to be displayed, but is laid out with an artist's eye for formal composition. Movement, texture, depth and plant parts extending off the plane of ihe paper make this an almost abstracl image lhal transcends the sum of its parts. lt is

painter herself. As I sped south thlough New Jersey, a little backpatting hubris made it easiel for me to at least think I had the answer as to why I had been honored with the
privilege of joining this group. Over the last few years, I have been involved in

organizing exhibitions with orchids as subject matter, resulting in my having seen hundreds of images of orchids
depicted in contemporary botanical art.

Unfortunately, my confidence was
short lived and replaced by the fear that

I was included to provide technical expertise so that I might be able to
answer questions about the accuracy of what had been portrayed. But, I had
been asked and accepted.







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This article will -eive the reirder a glirnpse at how a particulal' orchid art show is selected and take a closer look at some of the included works. There seeu to be nearlY as Inany

definitions of botanical art


illustration as there are people who think of themselves as botanicirl artists' They ale lltltost alwirys r.r ritten or spoken as a collnected pair. but these are two separate concepts thiit should
not be used itlterchan-qeably; they

implicitly different. Botanical art can be a broad


inclusive concept that includes neally any ilepiction specifically focused on presenting plant subject matter (with nrinirral nonbotanical' nonplant

content), in irnY Piirt or form' In colnffron usage, though, this is much more narrowly construed to describe iirtworks strictly represetrtational in nature, rendeled in any two-dimen-

sional nrediunr (usually exclusive of
photography) and largely dedicated to an emphasis on the botanical subject rather than a style. concept or overt forrn of personirl expression' Any work thirt focr.rses on depicting botiinical subject matter realistically in any

medium pletty much qLralifies' This rtrukes l'or u broad encotttpassinc
conce pt.


Botanical illustl'ation' on the other hand. can be somewhirt more complicated. As the name suggests. an image produced foremost to visually desclibe a plant or flower needs to fulfill certain basic requirements' H'

Wirlter Lack. in the Gurden Eclett: Mttsterpiet'es o.f' Boturtittl Illustrutiott (Tirschen' Koln. 200 l' Page l4)' defines it quite clearly: "The purpose
of evet'y botanical illustration is to give an exact picture of a plant ol of parts of a plant. It is essential to capture the often short-lived and frirgile structure runfortunate that beauty or aesthetic conccrns have ol'ten been secondary' The challenge for the botanical artist comes fror.n working within the specific


self expression often I'esults in



a plant so precisely that the observer

is able to identify and recognize
plant. "


limitations of the craft. To quote

satisfying aesthetic experience that trarnscends the Lrtility of their craft. The typical stereotype of detailed lepresentationirl art and illustration is
that these works are nothing mot'e than exercises in drafismanship (the skillfLrl

and foremost accurately and firithfully

Any botanical illustration must fil'st

clescribe the truth of its subject regtt'dless ol' rtlcdir'rrlt. conviction or point of view. Botanical illustration is
iundamentally a tool based on the craft of observation and accttrate depiction'

It has been colllmon for botanical illustrations to be exactly this and nothing more. neutral technical descriptions devoid of artistic statenteltt or emotlon. TheY selve the
purpose. of course. but I think that

Willl'ed Blunt fl'onr Tlte Art ttl Bttttrtticttl Illustrtrtiott (Charles Scribner's Sons' New York. 1951. Pages 3-4): "The botanical artist finds hin.rself at once and irlways in a dilemma: Is he the servant of Science. or of Art'l There can. I think, be no doubt that he must learn to serve both masters." Marny

ability to draw or pIlint an exacting likeness of a subject), and once yott
have marveled in the skill of the artist's

ability there is nothing left to learn or appreciate. This is a problem for any

arl fot'tn that is skill- or claft-

contemporary botanical artists have

increasingly become more flexible in their interpletation and application ol'

dependent. and the Point needs to be emphasized. It is imPortant to
understirnd that, just because a draw-



the tladitions and constraints. Working with these limitations as a vehicle for

ing. paintin-e or other botanical art is tnarvelously lnd acctrrately



OPPOSITE Paphiopedilum hybrid by Regina Milan, Grolon, Massachusetts. This is one of two instances in which we chose to include two works by the same artist of

the same subject, rendered in two different
media. While these have the aooearance of honoring the tradition of performing a graphite study prior to a finished painting, there is no reason to actually believe that one or lhe other was created first. Each is able to stand as a finished work. This graphite drawing creates a stately presentation of its subject. The frontal centered view, with the leaves and flower pushing the margins of the page give this an aggrandizing strength. The orchid is in

command of its space and it feels like a portrait. One of the most common problems with graphite drawings is the tendency to be tentative in taking advantage of the range of values - darks that can be achieved without and lights losing conlrol. Here the artist has confidently made the most out of the possibilities. Using contrast to best effect, the sculptural shapes oi the leaves and flower are clear and de{initive, but the subtle veining of the pouch, the delicacy of the hairs and warts on the petals, and the wonderful reticulated patterns of the leaves are perfectly captured. (22 x 18 inches; 55 x 45 Cml.

ABoVE Paphiopedilum Maudiae by Regina
Milan. Groton. Massachusetts. This watercolor on vellum gives a feeling quite difierent than Milan's graphite drawing (opposite). The artist expresses the same technical confidence and ability in this painting as in the drawing, but by turning the plant slightly it becomes less accessible and gives it a greater sense of being a study, that the viewer is more like a witness or observer. The same sculotural oualities and definition of detail are here as in the drawing, but the remarkable luminous quality of watercolor used on vellum makes it appear to glow. (26 x 20 inches; 65 x 50 cm).







ABOVE Brassia caudata with Cateroillar by Emily Luks, Toronto, Ontario. This is a
whimsical and wonderfully graphic image. It is a study in contrasts. The plant, exactingly composed and meticulously rendered in graphite, dominates the space of the paper, effectively contrasting lights Neither would be as interesting alone. (20 x 21 inches; 50 x 52 cm). oPPOSITE Anguloa virginalis by Dolores R. Santoliquido, Brookfield, Connecticut. This depiction of Anguloa virginalis is a quiet but remarkably masterful illustration. Combining colored pencil with acrylic pigment washes on paper, it is classically composed, informalive, accurate and exceedingly detailed. But it effectively transcends its purpose to convey the grace and vitality that characterize these plants' growth and flowering habit. The details of the emerging leaves and inflorescences are better served by observation than comment. (28 x 28 inches; 70 x 70 cm). Grower: Hoosier

rendered, likeness does not mean that it is good art. This same conflict is true for disciplines such as photography,

and darks, the wispy delicacy of the flower segments overlapping the sculptural
modeling of the plant and leaves. Strong diagonal and horizontal movement across the page are balanced by the delicacy and verticality of the flowers. But the seeming dominance of the plant is usurped by the intensely green, diminutive, gouache image of the cateroillar. which becomes a grounding focal point. This pairing creates both a visual and contextual complexitv.

printmaking or ceramics, all highly dependent on process and technical skill. This is the obstacle and challen-se of every work produced by an artist. regardless of subject matter, means or
medium: Does

it transcend the sum of its parts and continue to reveal its secrets and wonders? Does it impalt
are those that continue to reveal

meaning every time it is viewed? It has been said that the greatest works of art themselves and inform the viewer over

Orchid Company,

the longest period of time. Today's world of botanical art and illustration occupies a curious place in the larger framework of what is usually thought of as contemporary art.

Starting about the middle of the l9th century, coinciding with the appearance of photography and the revolution of the modernist "-ism" movements, the concepts and definitions of what was pleviously considered to be "real" art went
through a radical change. More than
any time in the past, today's botanical











artists and illustlators often find themselves considered outsiders whose work is dismissed and disparaged by contemporary art culture. This abandonment by the mainstream art world has often made it difficult for any artists working within the constraints of strict representation to find venues to exhibit and sell their work. This situation was in palt responsible

for the founding of the American
Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA),
the organizers of this exhibition, which now boasts more than 1.200 members

Some things remain constant and require the same decisions from artists today as at any time in the past. Much of what has always guided anyone

depicting natulal subjects comes in the forrn of a basic philosophical confrontation. For hundreds of years, a prevailing sentiment was that what
God had created was pelfect and could not be improved upon, and one did not

need to look beyond nature for inspilation, subject matter or truth;
many interpreted this concept as one "should not" look beyond nature. The flip side of this debate is the idea that art can perfect nature. It can make the -{-


sky green or the ocean purple if
desired. For botanical artists, this is

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fundamental confrontation. Historically, as well as today, artists
have had to make the decision whether


oPPoSITE Phalaenopsis hybrid by Damodar Gurjar, Jaipir, India. This painting is an example of a botanical concept coming out of a non-Western visual tradition. Here, it is often frowned upon to
work on anything other than a white or slightly off-white ground (base color). Painted in gouache, a water-based opaque medium, the dark blue ground works well at bringing out the flower color yet the interior yellow border acts as a window


ABOVE Vanda Manuvadee by Dianne McElwain, Cincinnati, Ohio. This is an unusually captivating painting that is clearly comoosed but has a cool nonchalance at the same time. While unprepossessing, it is
highly detailed and the visual organization has a strong structure. The plant is leaning so as to fill the picture frame and there are fundamentally three separate visual activities, somewhat by default, that are separate yet work together: the graphic, weblike network of roots, the volume and strong linear movement of the green mass of the plant's foliage and the compressed complexity of the mass of purple flowers. Each of these has different visual textures and rhythms that interact with the negative space around them in different ways so that the composition is quite simple but the result complex and engaging. (35 x 27 inches; 88 x 68 cm).

tly to depict the plant as it is seen with any and all flaws, or to correct diseased leaves, dull or damaged flowers. Why not fix the damaged petal or replace the missing flowers at the bottom of an inflorescence? Each artist
has always had to decide the degree to which he or she was comfortable with

the truth of the depiction. Henry Moon. the author of the Reic'henbachia plates, prided himself on not

heightening the colors of the flowers

as he thought did some of tal questions that artists still

his contemporaries. These are fundamenask

that effectively contains the image on the
page and prevents it from being overwhelmed by the contrast between the blue and yellow. The delicacy of the brushstrokes is both painterly and precise, reminiscent of the long tradition of Indian miniatures. Leaves are included, but from a different plant, giving the work the feeling ol being an intimate and passionately conceived snapshot or vignette. (10 x 12 inches; 25 x 30 cm).

Regardless of spiritual or ideological beliefs, al'tists then and now have sought to capture and convey the experience of the beauty they witness in their subjects. The challenge is, of course, whether you can ever recreate your own experience and feelings by striving to produce an exact image of your inspiration. Probably not, but drawing inspiration from a subject and trying to let it speak for itself with a





minimum of personal expression has been the goal of many botanical artists, especially in illustrations. But all art is inherently interpretation. The beauty of an exhibition of original art like the Longwood show is that while all of the artists share many points of view, no two works look alike. For instance, by taking a look at the nuances of how

all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." Some might think a photograph

used to reproduce them as multiples in

would suffice. The cultural


different individuals use watercolor
you can reveal much about a person's intent. Some are decidedly graphic, depending on the structure of drawing, while others use watercolor in a dry-

brush method so that the effect is
additive, crisp and controlled, while yet others work wet on wet so that the color transitions are fluid and subtle; you become aware that this is an aqueous medium that can flow on the page. For

utilitarian need for botanical illustration might not seem as necessary today as in the time prior to photography, but for many scientific works it cannot be replaced. The ability of an illustration to get past the limitations of a subject or a situation and interpret reality often makes it superior to a photograph. Art is not limited by shadows or by flowers inconveniently facing the wrong way or extraneous distractions like insects.

editioned and serial publications continued to evolve. It is useful to keep in mind that nearly all of the botanical art available to us in books
and editioned folios are prints derived from an original such as a watercolor

painting or drawing. Obviously many of these prints are beautiful and in the best cases masterful, evocative works, but they are different. Originals almost always display more of the sense of the

artist and their intent than


That is a generalized statement
because many historic prints required that the artist, or at times a technician, needed to hand color or touch up the printed image in order to compensate

Culturally and aesthetically, this is a living tradition that many contemporary botanical artists are com-

mitted to preserving by producing
exceedingly accomplished and vibrant

some artists, composition is allimportant, for others, it is the sense of light and luminosity and for still others, depth and a sense of volume are paramount. No matter how pure the intent, these qualities routinely occur
in all works to some degree and are part

work, giving nothing up to that which has preceded it. Not only is it possible to see (and own) real hand-produced botanical art, but in many cases some of the finest works ever produced. While the techniques and technology of drawing and watercolor have not significantly changed in the last

of the evidence of the artist's hand and point of view. To quote Picasso, "We

couple hundred years, the processes

for technical limitations of the process and achieve the desired effect. At times, this was quite extensive and probably intentional as the original engraving or litho image served almost as a template or point of departure followed by the hand completion of the image; something akin to a sophisticated coloring book approach. Much of the historic orisinal art is

unarvailable to us but the reproductions

can give insight into the artists' approach: paintelly ot'with mole
emphasis on drawin-9, strongly composed or static, economical or dynarnic in composition. Many of these things

are quite obvious and others onlY discernible but as I rnentioned previouslr
reproductions are flndamentally a thing unto themselves. No matter how manY times I have


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heald the phrase "jurying an exhibition." it always nakes me think of how lefined it sortnds. conjuring ttp images of slowly walking down long sun-drenched galleries carefully considering framed works of art lining the walls, with many "" and "Oh. that's rather interesting ...." Unfortunately, that fantasy beals little resernblance to leality. In this instance. we wel'e led to a srr-rall basement classroorn bereft of much light, to confront carousels of slides and transparencies. As is typical for this kind of event. a call for entries was published requesting slide submissions of ori-ginal artwork for possible inclusion in the show. While it would be ideal to select fron.r the original art itself. the practical reality
is that sending the actual works would

be irnpossibly buldensome and


logistical nightmare. In this case, it was

our responsibility to take 178 individual

entries submitted from around the



world. and pare these down to a numbet'
that would both reflect a hi-ch collective standard and could favorably be shown in the available exhibit space. For the

ABoVE Encyclia tam7ensis bY Joan
Frain, Exton, Pennsylvania. This watercolor employs a somewhat unconventlonal compositional approach to depict this Florida native. The plant is placed at the top of the page with the leaves and pseudobulbs partially cropped so that the emphasis is on the inflorescences cascading down, the flowers seeming to delicately fall like confetti from above. lt effectively captures the charm and appeal of this orchid. (34 x 23 inches; 85 x 58 cm)

be used to capture the radtance of a living plant and flower. She has used a tradiiional approach of showing the inflorescence cut and repositioned on the page rather than as a whole in order to afiord the larger scale and resulting greater detail that can be gained. The composition is straightforward, relying primarily on the remarkable luminosity and detail that Emmons is able to achieve to carry tne visual weight. She has captured in paint the sense of light and the saturated but transparent color qualities of this vinicolor Paphiopedilum that every orchid judge aspires to try to elicit in words. (18 x 15 inches; 45 x 38 cm).

organizer and the jurors there are always fears: too few quality sttbmissions to legitirnize a show. or the opposite. too many works of such a high caliber with too little space. necessitatin-9 the need to eliminate
some that mi-ght be truly worthy. In our case. afier seeing the proposed exhibit space and discussing options. it was thought that the maximum tar-qet number that could ettbctively be shown

was somewhere around 45' perhaps a few more. With this type of show' the axiom "less is more" holds true. It is

oPPoSITE Paphiopedilum Raphael by Jean Emmons, Vashon lsland, Washington. This is yet another powerful example of how eifectively watercolor on vellum can

better to err on the side of a more spacious exhibit of qualitY that
respects the individual works than one that diminishes both the art and the experience of the viewers by crammin-s

ln too


There are various ways to go about

making the actual selections, but the challenge is in using a process that is





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fair to the aftists but fespects

the experience and opinions of the jurors and. above all. is practical. It wonld be

hoped that the best works would natLrrally stand out to all of us, but. because each of us came from ditterent backgrounds. we mi-qht respond to any
given work quite differently. Even though this was a show with specific expectations. we decided not to be bound by too stringently applied objective criteria. It wars a given that

the works must be realistically and
botanically accurate. However, everyone agreed that rninin.rizin-e other Iirnitations. such as requirin-e works to depict the entire plant with roots. or that the name of the olchid r.nust appear on the front at least until we had seen the subr.uissions would rnake fbl a more diverse and insightful look at what botanical artists paintin-e orchids ale doin-9.






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This might seem like a simple it set the tone fbr the rest of the process and the ultimate appearance of the exhibit. The more strin-sently we iipplied a strict definition. the more homo-eeneous the
decision. but

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overall look to the show. This is neither positive nor negative. but I think we all felt that we had been charged with





selectin-q the best work from an aesthetic point of view father than policing conforr.r.rity. A checklist

ABoVE Disa uniflora by Dolores

Santoliquido, Brookfield, Connecticut. This is another example of Santoliquido's extraordinary technique being used to capture the essence of her subject. By combining the precision of colored pencil with the fluid possibilities of acrylic paint she is able to illustrate perfectly the intensity of colors in the Dlsa flowers while also faithfully executing their details and the subtle transitions in color. This is a great example of an illustration that can be used for identification but also be enjoyed merely for its beauty. (32 x 28 inches; 80 x 70 cm). Plants shown (left to right): Dlsa uniflora ('Golden Spray' x'Golden Glow'),
D. uniflora and D. uniflora'Sara', AM/AOS.

small feat. Small errors or an awkward composition could easily dampen the overall effect and undo the staggering amount of time that has been invested. Besides the sheer magnitude of the endeavor, things such as the textural and

color differences of the roots, leaves, stems and flowers and the refinement of the composition work to make this so effective. The broad expanses of yellowgreen and contrasting dark-green in the leaves, might have become visuallY routine, but they are interrupted just enough by the seething jumble of roots to stimulate visual interest. This whole acts as

apploach to jud-ein-e beauty is an efficient way to get urediocre lesults. We agreed to start with an initial ballot usin-u a simple format that has been ernployed in othef ASBA exhibitions: a one through five (low to hi-eh) scoring standard applied to each wolk by each juror. Each slide was plojected for as long as necessary for each judge to give consideration, to score and to make notes without any group discussion. Not until the end were the artists' names l'evealed. Due to the large number of entries and our limited time. we decided to eliminate works whose total scores were below
the the minirnum number necessary to

a perfect balance to the upward-arching inflorescences and their riot of red-orangepunctuated yellow flowers. Whether it is the accuracy of the depiction, the artist's quiet masterful display of technique, or her manipulation of light, volume and depth, this is a beautiful and a visually sustaining painting. (36 x 33 inches; 90 x 83 cm). Grower: Tom and Lutu Coffey.

achieve our target. This was a necessary concessiorr to practicality that quickly brought us closer to our
goal. The drawback is that this can be individually frustratin-q as individual jurors may stron-gly favor a particular

Grower: James Pluskota. oPPoSITE Phalaenopsis Brother Tom Coffey'Charlotte', CCE/AOS, by Angela Mirro, Brooklyn, New York. This is truly a remarkable painting of an equally remarkable plant. Every flower, leaf and root are meticulously rendered, which is no

work that others did not find so cornpelling. Flom this point on. all
remainin,e works were reviewed and discussed by the three of us to make the final selections. This is where the process alwavs









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becomes fun and more interesting. Regardless of the quality, it would have been disappointing and misleading if the entire show had been selected based only on a numerical score. Each of us had used the point score to reflect our own responses to what we had seen, but the reasons we arrived at a particular score were not necessarily the same. The most favored works stood out with little disagreement. But,
because each of us could comment and

otherwise interesting comparison with other works. Decisions can be used to move past the routine of jurying (in other words, deciding whether works merely qualify for inclusion) and into the realm of curating, where every work
interacts with the others in the show to educate or enrich the experiences of the
audience as well as those of the jurors.

ABoVE Phalaenopsis l-sin by Hillary
Parker, Camden, Maine. This disarmingly powerful watercolor study of an inflorescence in the last stages of its show is really quite an unexpected, but special, surprise. Submitted to this competition the midst of so many other works

discuss each work individually,
personal observations and questions became much more challenging and engaging; issues of technique, how successful the wolk was and so on of the fun stuff. Our personal points -

After sitting in the dark staring at a slide screen for eight hours we found that we had finally succeeded in composing the show and could finally relax. A while later. lost in the dark on a
small highway in eastern Pennsylvania,


view clearly reflected differing
experiences, attitudes and preferences, but this was to be expected. Discussion

thought that we had succeeded with our task; I was pleased for those who had been accepted and disappointed for those who could not be included.

and an intuitive response based on experience were more insightful than raw point score totals could convey. One of the engaging things about this part of the selection process is the

opportunity to include works for
reasons beyond their individual merits.

These might effectively illustrate


Davicl Horak received ltis MA itt ceramics and art llistor\r at the Universitv of lowa and his MFA irt cersntics at Alfretl Universit-v" in New York. He is curator of the Orcltid Collection and tlte Robert W. Wilson Aquatic House at the Brooklyrt Botanic Garden. 1000 Washingtort At'enue, Brooklt'n, Nev, York 11225 (e-mcril

displayed at their peak of bloom and vibrancy, it seems like an unworthy subject, depicted almost with pity or scorn. Emerging from the lower left side of the page it is suspended over the stark white background with its sole remaining turgid {lower at the end, shown in profile, stretching out in show. Decidedly allegorical in ieeling, this side view presentation reveals a sequence of spent flowers with the second-to-last flower, fully frontal and centered on the page, in the midst of collapse. (22 x 24 inches; 55 x 60 cm).

particular approach to working or






Notes on Botanical Art and Illustration
FOLLOWING are some thoughts under
specific headings that came to me about the commonalities and differences in approach that I noticed as we reviewed the submissions to the show and in the months since. I also took a fresh look at some historical works and, of course, lound much common ground with the present. Some of these are quite obvious, others a little arbitrary, and most overlap. These should not be thought of as categories that the artists think about. They would, rightly, probably object to these as characterizations. These are intended to be points of departure for viewers to think about as they look at a work. They might help the average viewer begin to understand what is happening in front of them. The important thing is to try to see what is happening in a picture besides the mere presence of a subject and its rendition. Scientific Study This is most otien characterized by the artist's attempting to include every aspect of a plant and its structure all on one page. There may be multiple views from different angles and closeups of the various vegetative and tloral parts either depicted life size in all aspects or manipulated in scale so that minute features are magnified to be easily understood while large overviews are minimized. In most cases, the entire page is used to show as much information as
possible. Technical illustrations are intended as functional tools used to define and document the subjects. While not overtly aesthetic in intent or purpose, when produced by a sensitive artist, they can often transcend their purpose and be both beautiful and graphic.

Portrait Somewhat similar to the above. but the flowers or even the plant might be turned slightly to show more depth. The space that it occupies on the paper may take uP most of what is available, pushing the edges, but it is still largely contained. There may be more of a sense of movement in the posture and presentation of the plant so that, while meticulously accurate in its rendering,
more of the artist's sense of interpretation may come through as well as a sense of the plant as an entity' The artist may be conveying more about how he or she responds to the plant than even he or she might be aware. Casual StudY This is a common approach with a variety of solutions. Here the plant may be shown onlY in part, sometimes just the inflorescence, but generally with most or all of the plant. Parts of the plant may be cut off by the edges of the PaPer or left unfinished. There might be multiple views of the flowers from front. sides and back. The position of the subject on the page may be a little less symmetrical
or be turned at an unexpected angle; leaves or flower parts may be cut off by the edges. The composition as a whole may seem uncomposed and spontaneous'

lcon A full frontal, lay-it-all-out-onthe-line centered presentation. Usually, the plant with flowers is depicted from the top of the complete inflorescence down to the tips of the roots. Flowers are often facing straight forward. In many
cases, there is more than a

yet the overriding sense is that it is balanced, that it works. Often these works can convey a sense of casualness. Words like "poetic" pop into mind. Of course. by contrast. in some instances. there is a tremendous amount of movement in the finished work, with the subject composed into nearly every part of the picture plane and strong diagonal forms moving in opposition to each other. At times, these images feel like artifacts; some Parts might be left partially unfinished but are then usually contrasted by highly detailed major
sections, just to let you know that what

you are seeing is not a mistake, but


little breathing

room around the image. Typically, the plant is so balanced and contained within the margins of the page that the depiction is nearly bilaterally symmetrical. Details are often exquisitely crisp, with a profound sense of the intense contrast between the starkly composed subject and the uninterrupted white background. This type of presentation is anything but passive, allowing nothing but an unemotional focus on the subiect.

conscious decision. Tour de Force While nearlY all botanical works on some level aspire to show the subject as exquisitelY as possible and with the greatest expresslon of the artist's abilities, there can be no mistaking the truly grand gesture, the no-

holding-back ultimate technical and compositional challenge. This is a work that is challenged with detail. This is typically a masterful presentation of a specimen plant with multiple growths,

flowers or inflorescences shown from diflerent angles with the maximum impact. Often it is shown in the context of where it is growing on a branch, mount or in a pot. Conversely, this kind of work can also be an attempt to focus on a single aspect of a plant such as a flower but focused on rendering the maximum detail or subtlety of coloration, pattern and texture. While either of these efforts can have an amazing payoff because of the scope of the subject, they also have the most risk. These are usuallY complicated highly time-consuming attempts complicated by many flowers and growths. The increased amount of detail to be depicted with a consistent overall sense of accuracy makes for an almost exponential possibility of failure if any part falls short. Allegory These works fulfill all the usual expectations of accuracy, detail and truth to the subject, but there is an overriding sense that there is a story at play. Many artists show us the flaws in the plants as well as the beauty. But, in some cases, the contrast transcends mere faithfulness to the plant. Different stages of growth might be depicted to convey a sense of time or of passing: the vitality and optimism of the earliest growths or collapsing, withering flowers. This is a case where the highly detailed nature of the work can heighten the effect. Environment and AtmosPhere The simplest versions are those paintings or drawings where the plant is depicted in situ, showing it blooming in a natural context; perhaps on a limb or tree trunk with mosses or small plants also shown. Another effective version is the detailed study of a plant isolated in the foreground with habitat suggested behind, and at a distance rendered as a simple drawing or monochromatically with a sepialike shadowy quality. A practical and interesting technique that helps provide more contrast and separate white or light-colored flowers from a white background is to either tint the paper slightly overall or to locally paint the area behind the plant as if it were fading into shadow. The darker area provides an effective contrast, but another result is that it consistently intensifies the sense of depth and space while imparting a tangible atmosphere. This technique was used effectively by Henry Moon in the David Horak. Reichenbachia plates.




2006 oRCHIDS 373

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