A Basic Guide to Mastering Realistic Form and Naturalistic Color, written and illustrated by Wendy Hollender
by Maria Reidelbach
Surrounded by nature, as we in the Hudson Valley are so lucky to be, it’s easy to be swept away by the beauty. We pick flowers, grow vegetables, and hunt mushrooms to sustain both body and soul. All so ephemeral! We’ve all wished that we could save particularly beautiful specimens forever. Now, there’s a new how-to book that can show you how to do just that, by learning the art of botanical drawing.
Before you say “drawing is best left to the professionals,” consider the following:
Drawing is a skill anyone can learn. In this digital, keyboard-driven world, drawing has fallen into a group of skills that is used less and less. Most of us were never even given good drawing lessons as children. So it might be surprising to hear that drawing actually takes no more eye-hand coordination than handwriting. After a few hours of instruction and practice almost anyone can make a very good representation of a natural object. The keys are observation, practice, and a good teacher.
Drawing helps you understand your subject. Drawing requires you to closely examine the structure and every detail of an object, leading to many new insights.
Drawing helps you remember your subject. Slowing down, looking, and then drawing imprints all elements more durably in the mind’s eye than mere observation alone.
Drawing creates a beautiful and accurate record of what you’ve seen. That’s why the best books about plants include drawing as the primary or secondary type of illustration. With drawing you can capture details and structure that no camera can.
Drawing is a way of slowing down and appreciating nature. For slowing yourself down, there’s nothing like taking a pencil in hand and slowly, gently, and sensitively attempting to limn the likeness of a natural object. You become absorbed in sensuous detail and the flow of echoing that detail on paper.
Wendy Hollender is a skilled, patient, and amusing teacher who is the coordinator of botanical art and illustration at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She and her daughter, Abby Goldfarb, are the proprietors of Hollengold Farm, a CSA in Accord. She is in the thick of biological ferment!
Botanical Drawing in Color focuses on the use of colored pencils, a convenient medium that can be easily carried along into the field, if desired. She shares with us her own favorite tools and materials, including specific brands and colors of pencils, paper, and other materials, so that her exercises can be reproduced exactly, if you wish.
Reassurance for the timid: her instructions begin with the basics—how to sharpen a pencil! She then explains and shows how to create shades of gray, and then how to draw simple three-dimensional geometric forms. Slowly she introduces more complex form. She discusses how light affects a subject, and how to imagine lighting that more clearly brings out detail. There’s a very thorough overview of the latest color theory, and an explanation of how to depict texture. Perspective and composition are covered in several chapters. Each new element is taught with accompanying exercises. Hints and tips, including common mistakes, are all given their due. Hollender takes us all the way through to finishing the drawing by burnishing the pencils to make them glow.
Botanical Drawing in Color is beautifully and profusely illustrated with Hollender’s own gorgeous illustrations of plants and flowers. The printing and full color reproductions look almost as beautiful and detailed as original drawings. Most moving is the preface, where Hollender shares with us the spiritual virtues of the practice of drawing from nature, which she learned as she was experiencing aggressive cancer treatment, spending hours drawing a single plant while she recovered from therapies more painful than cancer itself. Although she begins the book mentioning her own health, she ends the book with a short discussion about the importance of flora, fauna, and fungi to the health of the planet. Learning to honor nature by portraying it can’t but help to make us all more aware and careful.