In the Art of Horticulture course she teaches in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University, Marcia Eames-Sheavly began to notice a trend with her students. She observed her students were full of enthusiasm when learning about plants as subjects of art and that they boldly accepted design challenges such as creating sod sculptures. However whenever she transitioned into the unit requiring students to draw plants, her fearless bunch began oozing self-doubt. Suddenly self-conscious, students started to look over their shoulders to compare their work to the work of fellow classmates. Marcia began to wonder…..what would happen if students could learn how to draw plants in a private and supportive learning environment?
To find out, she created a six-week online botanical illustration course for beginners and launched this course in Summer 2005. She wanted to provide students with the opportunity to explore their creative side in private, while providing a nurturing environment comprised of interaction with peers and personalized guidance from an instructor.
For many of the students, this introductory illustration course is a first for them in two ways. It is the first time they have taken a drawing class and the first time they have taken an online course. Learning Cornell’s Moodle interface is critical to a student’s progression in the course so it receives special attention the first week. During this week, students learn how to scan documents, create digital files, and how to upload these files to Moodle.
The remaining weeks of class are dedicated to step-by-step instruction, the comprehension of selected reading material, peer interaction in the student forum, and the development of creative and observational skills through entries made into a reflective journal. While students have the option of posting artwork in their private forum, they are not required to do so. Only Eames-Sheavly sees the drawings and the final project created by each student. This is how she ensures one of the key elements of this course — the private and constructive assessment of student work. It is also how she encourages students to express their creativity and develop their personal style.
Drawing Plant Forms in Pen & Ink is taught to the public twice per year, once in summer and again in winter. The Fall semester is open to Cornell’s horticulture students only. The response to this class has been very positive and a second course has been developed. This new six-week course will be launched in January 2010 and will serve as an introduction to color. Students will learn color theory and watercolor techniques. Exercises will address the following topics: composition, the creation of preliminary sketches, color mixing, the application of watercolor washes, dry brush technique, painting plants, and how to work with backgrounds. Assignments will focus on single-stem flowers, fruit or vegetables. The launch of a second online botanical art course is an exciting next step for Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture. The department has set in motion a long-term goal of creating a certificate program in botanical illustration for horticulture students.
Fortunately for the rest of us, this unique learning opportunity is also open to the public. If you have been searching for an online course in botanical art, here it is. What better way to incorporate botanical art into your busy schedule? You are ensured engaging conversation with artists in a private forum, one-on-one constructive feedback about your work, and the opportunity to learn from a thoughtful instructor in tune with her student’s needs.
Check Cornell University’s listing in Classes Near You > New York for information about the January 2010 schedule.
Do you have questions about Cornell’s botanical illustration course? Send your comments through this blog (please use your first name, your initials, or some other screen name if this make you more comfortable). Marcia Eames-Sheavly will respond to your comments and questions. The comments section will close on Wednesday October 14, 2009 at 5 PM PST, so be sure to get your questions in early. Marcia will respond to comments by the end of the week.
We would like to thank Marcia for introducing us to her online courses and for responding to readers’ questions.
Marcia was featured in January 2009 in our post about Cornell’s CyberTower and her presentation about rare books and botanical art. Read More…
About Marcia Eames-Sheavly
Marcia is a senior lecturer in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University in New York. She provides statewide leadership and coordination of an interdepartmental/multidisciplinary garden-based learning extension program for children and youth educators. She also develops curriculum and educational resource materials, collaborates with other garden-based learning educators nationwide, teaches the Art of Horticulture, and supervises independent study projects focusing on art and garden-based learning.