Diggin' In: Botanical painter says nearly anyone can grow into the art

March 30, 2015

Even if you have never held a paint brush, you can learn to sketch buds and blooms and stalks and stems so you can embrace and enjoy the beauty of the seasons, according to botanical art instructor Linda Miller.

If you can write your name, you can draw, says Miller, who teaches in the Williamsburg and Yorktown, Va., area, including the Williamsburg Botanical Garden .

I have been teaching botanical painting since 2009, and I think the one thread that has been in everyone is a reverence for nature.

As a beginner, Miller suggests you start with a flat subject "such as a leaf or woody stem " that can be placed on a table. For that, she loves magnolia leaves because their branches are exquisitely designed. After you find your favorite budding flower or leaf, lay it on a piece of white paper, trace its outline and then fill in the details. If you draw it on tracing paper, corrections are easy to make, Miller adds, and it will be easy to transfer your drawing to watercolor paper.

Have fun, itís like completing a puzzle, she says.

During the outdoor plein air sessions she offers during spring, summer and fall, Miller starts with a botany overview and a sketching demonstration. Then you head into the garden to paint or sketch, and Miller walks around to see who needs help or has questions.

For anyone who needs help with drawing, she will sit with them and draw their subject, so they can see how she starts and how they can proceed, she says.

If they come to paint, she can help them with narrowing their picture frame and mixing colors too.

Keep in mind, she says, a botanical drawing aims to show the plantís structure and how all its parts connect. Some subjects, like leaves, can be placed on paper and traced, while others, such as buds, require a vase to hold it steady.

When drawing a tree cutting, she draws the branch first then the flowers or fruits and the leaves last, she says.

When starting out, itís important to take breaks, breathe and have a cup of tea at hand.

Once your drawing is done, put it on the refrigerator and walk away. Take a look at it nine feet away. Does it please you? If not, take out your eraser and make your changes.

While exactness is the goal of any botanical drawing or painting, your first attempts make not get your there totally. But as you continue and get to know the botany of plants and notice the fine details, like delicate veins in a lone leaf, you will be surprised at how your drawings progress, says Miller.

"I am a life learner and botanical art is something that came to me in midlife," she says, adding that she doesnít have time to garden but loves to be outdoors. She says sheís both left and right brained, so botanical painting fits perfectly.

In September 2007, she drew my first subject from life, a slender dayflower. "I still have that first painting and take it to my workshops. Naivety is a gift and we all have to start somewhere," she says.

"Plants allow us to touch and look into the miracle of life. Drawing and painting from life allows us to get back to our natural sense of self, our natural sense of rhythm, and slow down to in some cases, to smell the roses."



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