Friday, June 1, 2012

The poetry of botanical illustrations

It might have started with The Paper Garden - lately I have been obsessed with prints and drawings of flowers and other plants. I like Maria Sibylla Merian's work and Edwin Dalton Smith's beautiful detailed illustrations for the botanist Robert Sweet. He did hundreds or possibly thousands of them, and I think an ongoing project such as his must be extremely satisfying and the repetitive nature of a series gives it a meditative quality. (Having a theme can be quite liberating, even if that sounds paradoxical: it takes away some of the terror of the blank sheet when you sit down to paint or draw.)

I love the delicacy of etchings and etching-like drawings, and there is something mesmerising about the detail in this type of illustration, describing every vein in a leaf or petal . And I say that as someone who generally prefers a more raw "unfinished" style. But there are certain types of drawings and paintings where an eye for detail does not amount to overworking or overload. And I am moved by the labour of love evident in something that obviously took time to complete and where nothing goes unnoticed and everything is of equal value, whether it is a perfect petal or a bruised leaf or a spider. (side note: I also keep thinking about the tiny brushstrokes Lucian Freud used for a bathrobe in one of his earlier paintings)

I got this book on scents as a gift (my family knows me well!) and it is currently on the top of my coffee table book pile - apart from being very informative it has gorgeous botanical illustrations:

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