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.

Happy New Year: Inner growth or outer goals?

Amaryllis flower buds symbolize growth and hope for the new year.

A bulb contains inside itself all the energy it needs to grow into a beautiful flower.

2016 is off to a big bang, at least in my studio! Another painting module has begun, I’m in the research phase for two art history papers, and tomorrow I go to the natural history museum in Albuquerque to examine and draw a pine borer beetle for the Native Tree project.

Busy, busy, busy!

Has the new year started off at great speed for you, too?

At the start of every year, I usually take some time to share my goals or hopes for the year ahead and make suggestions for interesting reading about goals and resolutions (see here for 2015, for 2014, for 2013, and for 2012.)

It seems to me that the most easily achieved goals are external ones. They are easy to accomplish because you can directly measure them, put them on a schedule or deadline. They are concrete. You either lost 10 pounds or you didn’t. You threw out your old paperwork and organized your office, or it’s still messy. You went to the gym 3x a week, or you stayed home and watched tv.

Etc, etc.

But what about internal goals?

This year, I realized that I need to do some deep growth work on my inner self, both physical, mental and spiritual. In December, I was at a doctor’s office for my shoulder and neck injury, and he said, “What you do now for fitness in your fifties is what will set you up for good health in your sixties, seventies and late old age.”

I realized that his statement didn’t just apply to my body, but also my soul.

All those mental mechanisms that each of us has to defend ourselves from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune get stronger and more automatic as we age. They get so powerful that finally they don’t work anymore! Instead of helping us cope, they hinder us from thriving!

What do we do then?

  • We have to abandon our old crusty forts of self-defense.
  • We must learn to observe reality without inserting our old interpretive filters.
  • We need to re-connect to others and allow ourselves to be open to the moment instead of responding to the past.
  • We have to grow.

The problem is, that growth is very hard to quantify. It’s impossible to be 10 pounds happier! You can’t do 50 patience crunches every morning before work. 😉

Inner growth is an easy goal to abandon because it’s hard to see progress. But sometimes, you need to change so you can be easier and freer as you move into the next stage of life.

So my mantra for 2016 is, “Heal within.” I want to heal my shoulder, my brain and my heart. I want to be able to be fit and strong inside and out for a happy old age.

What is your vision for this brand new year of 2016?

Warmest wishes for happiness and health to you all in this New Year!

The Native Tree Project

Mature piñon pine tree, Pinus edulis, on the banks of a small arroyo in the high desert of New Mexico.

This piñon pine near my home will be the model for a 2-year portfolio project.

As part of the RBGE Distance Diploma in Botanical Illustration, I need to document the life of a native or historic tree for 2 years.

Choosing a tree was surprisingly difficult. I was very enamored of the heirloom varieties of apple, pear and apricot trees that were planted throughout the Four Corners states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, the Randall Davey Audubon Center here in Santa Fe has such an old orchard dating back to the 1890s, and I talked with them about using one of their trees in exchange for a lecture or exhibit to help with their programming. Unfortunately, their orchard doesn’t always bear fruit every year due to the extreme climate at the top of Canyon Road. I couldn’t find another tree of the same variety to serve as an understudy if the star couldn’t perform, so the search continued.

A horse chestnut on Canyon Road at the Santa Fe Historical Foundation’s HQ, El Zaguan, caught my eye. The last survivor of an historical garden and chestnut grove dating to the 1850s, this imposing specimen is a beautiful anomaly in this desert city. The foundation’s office staff gave me the impression that the foundation was not going to work hard to save the tree if its health began to fail as, “it had already lived past its normal lifespan.” So the hunt continued.

The aspen grove located in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains also intrigued me. Aspens are like grass: essentially a large, single, clone organism. This particular grove is perhaps one of the largest in North America. Even though this grove is just across town, getting there entails a 45-minute drive–in good weather. I’ll need to be able to check on the tree’s status at least weekly, and more frequently at key lifecycle points, so this was rather inconvenient.

Finally, I realized the answer was in front of my eyes. The piñon pine, or Pinus edulis, is the state tree of New Mexico. It also grows all over the high desert around my exurban house in an environment described as piñon-juniper woodlands. It’s an important food source for animals and humans. Individual trees have beautiful forms, sculpted by wind and weather. Existential drama comes from an epidemic onslaught of an insect pest.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning along with me more about this icon of the Southwest!

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