ARTICLE BY: KATE BLAIRSTONE
Kate Blairstone is a botanical illustrator and second-term board member at HPSO, specializing in social media and inching the board toward new adventures in the broader plant-loving community. View her portfolio at kateblairstone.com, or follow her process and current projects on instagram @kateblairstone.
If you’re reading the HPSO blog, odds are you have thousands of photographs of plants in your collection. I’ve realized I snap plant pics for all sorts of reasons: to remember a great combination, to remember the light, to remember the before and after; photographs are indeed for remembering. But to know a plant, to understand the way it grows, its structure, its silhouette, its texture – these come to me through drawing.
Like rendering a portrait, at first requiring careful study: observation, deep breaths, squinting, head tilting, repetition; until what’s realistic becomes abstraction, perhaps even decoration. It is the greatest thrill to practice a leaf or a flower so much that others recognize it from its portrait. Guess who!
As gardeners and plantspeople, we are both Scientists and Artists, and the history of botanical illustration has straddled both of these. It is my favorite thing about the work I do. I get to feel like an explorer in an exotic land, in a way possessing a flower I could never grow in my Portland neighborhood garden. And when my irises bloom, I get to look at them the way the great masters did, translating them in my way.
In writing about Ruth Bancroft, Brian Kemble, curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden said, “Of course you can look up any of this information online or in a book, but when Ruth was learning about which plants were best for her garden, she created careful sketches of them,” Kemble says. “She found if she looked at a plant closely and drew it, she would really remember it. She also wrote down every plant she purchased and details about its life in her garden.”
Try it! You might be surprised at the joy you’ll find in a new way of seeing.