Working in the field: ASBA’s new code of ethics for botanical artists

My copy of The Botanical Artist, the American Society of Botanical Artists’ journal, arrived last week. There was a brief notice about the society’s new Code of Ethics for artists working in the field. Artists are encouraged to output and sign the document, then carry it with them in the field as a sort of diplomatic letter of passage for working in ecologically protected areas.

The 7 major principles for botanical artists working in the field are:

  • Follow all rules and regulations when working in a botanical garden or conservation area, and obey any instructions given by staff or officials while on working on site.
  • Do not dig up or disturb any plant on site, for any reason, unless given explicit permission by the land owner or staff/officials of the conservation area/garden in order to dissect or identify the plant.
  • Minimize disturbance to the habitat and ecosystem of the area. Walk carefully; place tripods, stools and other tools with care. Avoid damaging soils, other plants, seedlings.
  • Minimize disturbance in the vicinity of the plant. Create a minimal work footprint to avoid damaging any other species or specimens.
  • Inform the landowner or your contact for the site if you observe any disturbances to the natural environment while working.
  • Do not reveal the location of protected areas to other people. Refer them to the person or organization who granted you permission/guided you to the site.
  • These principles hold not only for working with native plants in their natural sites, but for all plant life in all locations.

All very common sense, right?

All of this is the kind of stuff you learn as a kid camping with the Scouts, or your first hikes with your family and friends. Why do these concepts require enunciation and publicizing to a group of people who ought to already be aware of the basics of conservation and outdoor activities?

Of course, we now live in a world where “nature deficit disorder” afflicts an increasing number of children, and where an increasing number of young adults are worried and concerned about “the environment,” yet very few of them have actually spent any time outdoors enjoying nature.

Perhaps it speaks to the number of people who are drawn to botanical art as urban and suburban garden and art lovers, but who have little background in outdoor pursuits.

This year I’d like to devote a few posts to minimizing your impact while hiking and painting in the outdoors. Unfortunately, there will also be examples of idiots who flagrantly destroy the natural environment in their pursuit of outdoor enjoyment. Look for the category “Leave No Trace” and tag, “Outdoor etiquette” to read more about how you can enjoy plein-air painting on public lands while treading lightly!

ASBA’s Core Values page and the society’s Code of Ethics for fieldwork can be found at the ASBA website.

The search for a perfect botanical specimen

. . . Or, how to make the produce manager at your local grocery store run for the nearest exit! 😀

How important is cosmetic perfection of specimens  for botanical artists today?

Pineapples are in season–challenging to paint and delicious to eat!

Recently I had an idea for a painting of a pineapple, and went to a local grocery store to find one. There were lots of pineapples, and at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, most of the ones on display had battered and scarred leafy stems, thanks to rough handling during transportation. When I asked the produce manager on duty if there were any with “pretty” tops, he gave me the hairy eyeball, and told me to check back the next morning (when he would be safely off-duty, lol).

Contemporary botanical art has lots of examples of “damaged” fruit and flowers. There even seems to be a bit of a vogue for painting decayed and desiccated plants. However, most of these artworks feature natural imperfections such as the chewing of grazing insects or animals, scar tissue caused by diseases or parasites, the soft colors of detritus on the forest floor. Bruising, scars and rot caused by modern agricultural production and marketing are hard to find in contemporary botanical art.

So, the question is: How do botanical artists find those glossy specimens portrayed in their work? Do they just make statistical assumptions about the completed shape of that torn leaf and “fill in the blanks”? Or do they paint it warts and all, even if those commercially made warts aren’t as romantically pretty as a lacy, bug-eaten leaf?

If you’re a botanical artist/illustrator, are a realist painter or keep a sketchbook of observational drawings, please leave a comment and describe what you do and think about grocery store specimens! Or take the poll below.

Tools of the trade: Using a smartphone to record progress

Botanical painting of red Indian corn, work in progress. Snapping a photo of daily progress in the studio helps with motivation.

A snapshot a day keeps discouragement away when working on big projects.

Painting a botanical art plant portrait is a slow and laborious process. Details build up slowly, almost invisibly. It’s easy to lose motivation when it seems like nothing is happening on the paper and there’s still so much more left to paint.

To combat discouragement, I like to take a quick snappy on my iPhone of my current project at the end of each work session or day. This gives me concrete evidence that I’m making progress and motivates me to get back to the drawing table the next morning.

Using a camera to record work in progress is a time-honored habit among artists. Hilary Spurling has described how Matisse would photograph his day’s work on his late Blue Nude painting before his assistant would wipe the canvas clean for the great artist to start fresh the next morning. Picasso took snapshots of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as he worked on what was to become the world’s first Cubist painting.

Do you take snapshots of your work in progress? What mental tricks do you use to keep yourself motivated while you work on a major project with lots of details?

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