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.

Ready to work: A brief studio tour

A panorama view of botanical artist Wren Allen's studio, with paper storage, flex-arm lamps and a drawing table.

Where the magic happens: My studio.

Sometimes I think there are 2 kinds of people when it comes to organizing a creative workspace:

  • People who like a clean, empty desk at the end of the day;
  • People who let stuff pile up while they’re working on a project and clean up before starting the next one.

I’m in the latter group. 😉

One of the first things I did after finishing up the drawing module portfolio was to clean off my drawing table and work surfaces, re-organize my pencils, throw out dead specimens, and generally build an atmosphere of calm before the next storm of creative chaos hits.

A drawing table with slant board, flowers and a drawing pad in Wren Allen's studio.

Ready to get back to work. A new drawing board to help prevent neck crunching plus some inspiring subjects to draw!

Enjoy it now, it won’t last long! 🙂

Exhausted but proud

Pencil drawing of a branch of Sorbus americana by Wren M. Allen. Botanical illustration of American mountain ash,.

The leafy branch exercise. The parking lot at a local supermarket has a lot of these trees with bright orange berries. It’s probably Sorbus americana, or American mountain ash.

Yesterday I uploaded the last files for the Drawing Fundamentals module of the RBGE Distance Diploma course, 3 hours ahead of the deadline. Each of the exercises in the module provided a progressive challenge to skills and creative approaches. Even though the instructor is sure to point out many details and techniques for improvement, I’m quite pleased with how well many of the pieces have turned out.

Completing the 15 drawings to spec was a real challenge–and not just technically. An important skill for this course is time management, and I’m not afraid to admit I seriously have some growth to do in that area!

The first 9 pieces took 6 weeks. The last 6 took two. Talk about a time crunch!

I never want to work under those stressful conditions again. Surviving, thriving and succeeding on this course requires a sustainability mindset similar to training for a marathon.

Training for the 2002 Houston Marathon taught me 2 lessons:

  • Consistent, less intense training sessions add up over time.
  • You can skip 1 or 2 weekly long runs over the 16-week training period, but more than that will cost you the chance to finish the race.

So what is sustainability training for a botanical artist? The painting module starts at the end of the month. That gives me time to practice some new work habits while progressing on my native tree and botany modules. Oh yeah, and get caught up on housework!

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