Saturday, May 2, 2009

Different Ways...

Different Ways…

Last Saturday I attended an all-day workshop on pen and ink botanical illustration presented by Dr. Wendy Zomlefer. The Florida Society of Botanical Artists sponsored the workshop, and the attending artists represented a multitude of interests, techniques, and viewpoints. Dr. Z is a botanist and a professional scientific illustrator, and spent many countless hours illustrating plates for her books – one of which I own, a battered copy of Flowering Plant Families.

Her plates in this book are wonderful! Not only are they scientifically accurate, depicting dissected flowers and fruit, cross sections and other intricate structures, but they show drawings of the habit of the plant. These drawings effectively demonstrate her observational and drawing skills, but they also reveal an innate sense of the grace and beauty of each plant. I felt lucky indeed to be able to spend a day learning from her.

The drawing you see above is a work-in-progress from that workshop; an inked version of a Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) study I did in pencil last year ( Although I’ve worked in the past quite a bit with pen and ink, I haven’t done much recently. After enjoying the freedom and spontaneity of keeping a nature journal, some buckling down was required! I’ve done some scientific and graphic illustration in the past, but found that with each project I became more and more interested in expressing my response to the personality of the plant.

As I thought about the reasons that we have for drawing images of plants or the natural world, I found myself asking questions about my own purposes. My husband has observed that I draw to understand the nature of my subject – not just on one level, but also on many levels. I found that I have a curious division within me. A part of me delights in classifying, describing, and measuring objective reality. Another part rejects this and embraces the mystery and a deep unknowable connection that is entirely subjective and represents a different part of reality. At this point in my life, keeping a nature journal effectively combines these facets, although I stray into both areas without cause or reason.

Thinking about my own motive for drawing leads me to think about other artists and their responses to nature. I marvel at the scientists, artists and explorers through time who have risked life and limb to document their finds. I wonder over the impulses of artists who pushed the boundaries of tradition to capture fleeting impressions of light and movement, to describe their intimate connection to another species and the mystery of what this entails. As correspondents of this blog, we are a part of this continuum. There are so many ways of looking at things, so many responses and moments of delight and discovery, so much to learn!

~ Elizabeth Smith
Naples, Florida USA

If you want to see a quick watercolor sketch of this orchid on Flickr when I trying to capture the essence of it:

If you are interested in reading more about this orchid and seeing another pen and ink illustration of it, I wrote an article for The Palmetto (a newsletter for the Florida Native Plant Society) in my more scientific phase years ago (excuse the typos):

If you want to investigate Dr. Zomlefer’s work further, the book I have is:
Flowering Plant Families
Wendy B. Zomlefer
The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1994


  1. Absolutely beautiful, Elizabeth...I love your work in graphite. The class just sounds like heaven, I'm glad you were able to go!

  2. WOWZA! Elizabeth, what more can I say..

  3. Thank you both! It actually looks better on the monitor than in person (really). :) There is a lot of "ink removal" by xacto knife that is part of the process. I was thrilled to be there. There is something about sharing drawing time that is nurturing, it seems to open up those creative doors.

  4. This is just the sort of class that I need to attend. I love the drawing, even if you had to use the xacto knife on it!


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