Many years ago, I came across a reference to a book by botanist and illustrator, Michael Hickey, about how to draw plants in pen and ink. I began a diligent search for this book and couldn’t find it anywhere. I decided to take a chance and write to Mr. Hickey to ask about his book. To my surprise, he wrote back. He told me that while his book Drawing Plants in Pen and Ink was no longer in print, he had an extra copy lying around the house. He told me he would send it to me. Not long afterwards, the book arrived. What was before a unique hard-to-find book became a one-of-a-kind treasure because of Mr. Hickey’s generosity and thoughtfulness.
Many of you are familiar with Mr. Hickey’s botany books. I have written before about the book he wrote with Clive King (The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms), and several of you are familiar with Mr. Hickey’s Botany for Beginners and Botany for Beginners II. Each of these publications are invaluable references for anyone interested in drawing plants.
This month, I have the honor of introducing you to the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustration, an institute founded by Mr. Hickey specifically to “encourage collaboration between botanists and illustrators” and to “encourage members to develop their skills in scientific illustration and to increase their botanical knowledge.”
Please welcome IAPI Chairperson, Sue Nicholls, and all members of the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustration, the Feature Group for February!
ARTPLANTAE: Sue, thank you for introducing the group this month. Please tell us more about IAPI’s history.
SUE NICHOLLS: IAPI was founded in 2004, by Michael Hickey, to encourage the scientific illustration of flowering and non-flowering plants. He was also concerned that though there is a great interest in botanical art and illustration, the interest tends to be towards botanical art rather than scientific illustration and I think Michael wanted to raise the profile of botanical knowledge within the botanical art and illustration world.
Michael circulated an invitation to as many people as he could identify who might be interested, to attend a meeting in Cranborne Village Hall one Saturday in December 2004. Cranborne is a village in the Cotswolds, near Michael’s home. This meeting became the inaugural meeting of IAPI.
Unfortunately, Michael was taken ill very soon after that meeting, and was unable to take any further active part in its development. He died in summer 2005. Fortunately there were enough interested people who shared Michael’s aims and ideals to take them forward.
IAPI prospered and in November 2009, which was five years since the foundation of the Institute, we held our first Michael Hickey Memorial Lecture, in Cambridge Botanical Garden, with which Michael had had a long relationship. IAPI continues to grow and develop in relation to current circumstances but also with Michael’s aims very much in mind and we maintain our connection with his family.
It is my regret that I was unable to attend the founding meeting, and so I cannot count myself a Founder Member, and in fact I never met Michael.
AP: How many members does IAPI have? Are all members from the UK? Will you accept members from other countries?
SN: IAPI is a comparatively small society at the moment. We currently have 45 members, all of whom are based in the UK. One of the strengths of IAPI is that membership is open to artists of all levels who are interested in scientific illustration and to botanists who are interested in illustration. Many members are also members of, and represent other botanical art or illustration societies.
Our membership is currently drawn mainly from those who can attend at least some meetings, though those who cannot attend meetings are also welcome. Meetings are held every two months, most often in Birmingham because of its central location, but we try to use other venues around the UK to accommodate as many people as possible. It will probably sound surprising to those who are not based in the UK that our geography can be limiting! The meetings programme usually includes lectures on topics of current interest, workshops on technical issues, field trips and visits to institutions of botanical or historical interest.
We have a bi-monthly newsletter, produced in months between meetings, to include members who cannot for whatever reason get to meetings. Nowadays it is easy to distribute this by email so any members overseas would not be at a disadvantage. Not only does the newsletter remind members of forthcoming meetings and other events of interest to IAPI, but it also serves as a record of past meetings, of equal value to those who attended and to those who were not able to attend.
We are currently looking at an affiliation scheme to enable us to formalise relationships with other societies.
IAPI would be delighted to accept members from other countries. It would be really interesting to collaborate with people from overseas.
AP: In November, Anne Bebbington and Mary Brewin contributed to an article about their new curriculum, Botany for Botanical Artists. Now that the first 10-week course has been taught and feedback has been received, what is next for this exciting new program?
SN: I am interested that you find the Botany for Botanical Artists course exciting.
Since the inception of IAPI, the University Certificate Courses at Birmingham and Sheffield in Botanical Illustration which included botany, have been discontinued and there are now very few formal botany courses that can be accessed by illustrators.
Following Anne and Mary’s course, the IAPI Education Subcommittee is attempting to provide help to encourage tutors of equivalent expertise to run similar courses, and is seeking the recognition by a respected academic agency of the achievements made by the students on such courses. This is so that students will be able to convey their acquired expertise to others.
AP: I have read all available issues of Eryngium, the journal of the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustration, and thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself into each issue. This is my kind of journal! The plant profiles are very informative and the how-to articles about illustration techniques contain the type of information any botanical illustrator would want to keep at their fingertips. Has the IAPI ever considered publishing a book that expands upon the journal’s format?
SN: It’s an interesting thought, but no I don’t think we have thought of that, though we are quite proud of our Journal. Eryngium itself is available to members as part of their membership, though we do have some back issues available and we are thinking of making back issues available via our website.
You mention keeping information at your fingertips, and this is something we have taken on by producing TipCards, laminated cards, A5 size, on topics that illustrators often want to keep to hand, with the drawing materials. Our bestseller is on how to make scale bars, something that illustrators often find difficult at first; and we have others on topics such as illustrating leaves, habit drawings, and some individual plant families. These are available for purchase by members and non-members and there is a list available on the IAPI website.
AP: You and other IAPI members work a lot with botanists. Does the group work with members of the public as well? If so, how does IAPI work with the public?
SN: It’s not that IAPI members work with botanists, the IAPI membership includes botanists as well as artists and illustrators, though of course we do also work with other botanists.
We have not yet looked at working directly with the public, though you could say that the Botany for Botanical Artists course represents an initiative to work with members of the public. We have regular exhibitions and demonstrations at BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) exhibition meetings. We are also intending to publish a couple of small publications, based on previous illustration projects that will have a general appeal. Two members have recently published books, Lizabeth Leech’s Botany for Artists and Val Oxley’s Botanical Illustration.
AP: The IAPI is dedicated to enhancing individuals’ knowledge about plants. I often ask people how they think people learn about plants best. I would like to turn this question around a bit and ask, drawing upon your experiences as a teacher and illustrator, what aspect of plant life do people seem to know the least about?
SN: This seems to be the knowledge of plant construction. It is of course dependent upon understanding the botanical (evolutionary) relationships which botanists of the past have spent so long establishing. The only way into this understanding is through the terminology and techniques of botany.
What about lower plants? I reckon the general public knows little about moss and fern life cycles, why they don’t have flowers, how they reproduce instead, or indeed how to identify them.
I think it is also important not to take plant life for granted; to keep a sense of wonder and a spirit of enquiry. It is tempting to assume we know enough about something and not be prepared to find out more. We so often seem to grow out of this spirit of enquiry, to look without actually seeing, and to not question what it is that we are looking at. I’d like to encourage everyone to look more closely, and to go on learning…
AP: I enjoyed reading about the group’s project illustrating all methods of attachment used by British climbing plants. Has the group selected a project for the new year?
SN: Since completing work on the climbing plants project we’ve been engaged on a project to illustrate ‘nuts’, from Brazil nuts to walnuts and everything in between. The term ‘nut’ has a precise meaning botanically, and not everything that we are familiar with in the kitchen is a nut in that proper sense. Many of them are completely unrelated. It’s quite interesting exploring the relationships between all the different things we call nuts, and or course its quite important when we consider the development of various allergies to nuts.
Ask The Artist
IAPI Members Ask YOU Questions!
The IAPI wanted to begin their Ask the Artist session with readers by beginning the conversation a bit differently this month. This time, our guests are asking readers questions, first.
Consider these questions…
1. How much do you need to understand a plant in order to illustrate it accurately?
2. Some botanical art has departed from the process of being a totally scientifically reliable depiction, obeying rules and restrictions imposed by the botanical requirements, should it be judged now solely as an art-form?
3. Traditionally, watercolour has been the medium considered most appropriate for accurate illustration of plant material. In the modern age, is watercolour still the best choice?
You are invited to participate in a casual month-long conversation with members of the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustration. Members are ready to discuss their new botany curriculum for artists and all aspects of botanical art and illustration. Visit the IAPI website to view members’ work and to learn more about IAPI members and their professional projects.
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