By Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators
Every year the Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators is given the opportunity by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to demonstrate our skills at the Philadelphia Flower Show. This is a wonderful chance for our organization to explain the fascination of botanical art to the world at large.
Some of the artists think this is great fun. But some do not. It is certainly different from the peace and quiet most of us experience when painting. People crowd around us. Small children want to see what we’re doing – up close. School groups ask endless good questions. It can be stressful.
It’s all a matter of attitude. The “best” attitude is that of a teacher who thinks that botanical art is the most fascinating subject in the world (which, of course, it is). You have to accept the obvious that there is no way that you’ll have the time to paint an entire watercolor. Maybe you can do a little work on one to show how laboriously slow it is. But do not expect to finish it. It is better to bring examples of your sketches, notes, drawings, tracings — whatever led up to the final artwork (which is shown on the wall behind us).
Instead of painting, your time will be taken up with talking to people: explaining how important it is to really “see” the plant, to understand how it grows and reproduces, to show aspects of the plant that photography cannot capture. You can possibly show how artists create form, a feeling of three dimensions. You might briefly touch on the long history of botanical art going back to the Egyptians. You must, however, talk in “sound bites.” Every sentence has to be a headline. And don’t be riled if your audience drifts away. Don’t expect to hold their attention.
You are there to rouse interest that might find an outlet at another time. Who knows? Your audience might someday take a botanical art class. They might become avid painters of wild flowers. They might even buy one of your botanical watercolors. But it’s not going to happen during the demonstration. So relax. Enjoy yourself. Stay calm and carry on.