With only one month to go before the one-man show of my botanical stuff, I’m getting the panics. Is there enough stuff? Will anyone buy it? Should stuff be simpler? More colour? Will the line be enough?
So much botanical illustration relies on the the sometimes ravishing, sometimes not, depiction of texture – leaves, bark, the glitter of glass vases, of linen, and so on… Then, of course, colour. Translucency. All those amazing transitions of tone and colour that can drive a painter to despair. And yet…
As others have discovered, notably the late Ellsworth Kelly, the vitality of plant life, the distinctiveness of a particular species, sometimes even subspecies and varieties, can be rendered by a line, an outline, of leaves and the way they relate to those nearby, or the placing of petals, or the fascination of fruit shapes.
Botanist refer to the ‘gestalt’ of plants, meaning, as I once understood it, the fast absorption of a multitude of characteristics, that enabled the instantaneous placing of plant X as, say, a Primula and, more than that, of such and such a sub-genus of Primula, and indeed of a group of species within that subgenus of Primula, called X.
But, drawn, the gestalt of a plant can be most simply expressed by, sometimes, a single swift line. A line can express, vividly, the energy and beauty of plant life, and can, in the end, say much more of the world than a perfect rendition of veins, bracts and anthers.