Illustrator of 'Seeds'
I never think of myself as a real artist but I have spent my happiest, most focused times looking at small things like bugs and plants up close and playing with art materials. Although I went to university to study the history of art I learned how to draw and paint from my fellow members of the Botanical Art Society of New Zealand. We meet weekly to share our artwork and I learn something new every time. I am from San Francisco, California but have been here for 13 years and am very proud to be a New Zealand citizen.
Botanical art requires close observation so I sketch and take pictures of plants every day and try to identify them in books and online. I do other interesting things like dissecting plants, naming all their parts, and learning how they grow and propagate. When I have a chance to learn from a master in botanical art I always take it and Vincent Jeannerot, Beverly Allen and Jenny Phillips, some of the best botanical artists of our time are among my teachers. When I’ve done it long enough I suppose I will feel like a real artist but right now I’m still learning.
Books I loved
Heidi by Johanna Spyri was the first book I read by myself at about 8 years old. Some of the books I loved back in the 1960s might not be available any more. Most of the books that impressed me though were excellent ones written for all ages and many are still popular.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare was my favourite for years. A very lively girl in a strict Puritan household befriends an old woman who is accused of being a witch.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books are well known but if you haven’t read them yet they will keep you immersed in American family pioneer life for a long time. Ma and the girls blowing up pig bladders for balloons was my favourite part.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George are about girls who live in completely different settings but you might recognise them as your sisters under the skin.
Stickeen by John Muir is a short book about a little dog in the mountains, written by a great American naturalist.
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers is almost nothing like the movie. It is a wonderful book but Mary Poppins is not a sweet person.
Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong describes family life and growing up in the Chinatown neighborhood in my hometown of San Francisco.
Carbonel and other books by Barbara Sleigh are about an English girl and her bewitched cat. They are funny and exciting. And back in print!
I always liked magnifying something and suddenly seeing the invisible stuff, especially in pond or puddle water. I needed (and still need) natural science books, especially Guide to Microlife by Kenneth Rainis and Bruce Russell. It’s great to be able to identify what you are looking at.
Field guides! Collect them and take them on your walks to put a name to what you see. Flowers, trees, shells, reptiles, insects, mushrooms, weeds, birds and lots more.
For most of my childhood I swam every day in fairy tales, folk tales and Greek and Roman myths. I recommend that to everyone.
You probably go to the library already but do you go to used-book sales, church and garage sales? There are often high quality books that someone has outgrown and that need a new reader.
If you want to see more of my work go to this site. https://www.asba-art.org/
Last summer I spent several weeks collecting and identifying local weeds. This site was a big help. Or Google “Massey weed identification”
This site will tell you all about botanical art in general:
This will let you see some work by one of my best teachers. http://www.beverlyallen.com.au/
If you want to try botanical art you will find lots of short lessons like this one on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJbz2wxkd88
Microscopes are wonderful tools. Try this blog for some how-to tips and ideas. http://www.thescientificmom.com/2013/12/youve-got-new-microscope.html
Visit the Christchurch Botanic Gardens next time you are in Canterbury and bring your field guides.