Poetry in Bloom: Perspectives from Botanical Artist Linda Funk

Q: Could you highlight the differences between botanical illustration and botanical art?
Botanical illustration is concerned with naturalistic studies of flowers, while botanical art embraces a much broader range of interpretation. Illustration defines, educates, and often is used to enhance or exemplify the written word. Botanical illustration is a specialized art—a world of beauty in which the nature of the subject matter is fascinating and ever-changing.

Q: What tools do you use for depicting botanical subjects?
I specialize in pencil, drybrush watercolor, gouache, and metalpoint (commonly called silverpoint). I have been working in egg tempera lately, especially for small, still-life paintings. Most of my fine-art pieces are rendered in watercolor, but I sometimes choose pencil to draw particular views or aspects within the composition.

Q: How do you preserve the radiance of an ephemeral bloom?
Working from live specimens is the only rewarding manner in which to capture the life and spirit emanating from the plant. Botanical subjects are moving and changing ever so slightly, moment by moment, testing the eye and hand of the artist. Petals open and close; stems flex and curve. There is great beauty in truth; the botanical artist must serve both science and art.

Q: I understand that observation is a key facet of your work.
The unfolding of a bud; the unfurling of a leaf, its veining; the blossom, with its texture and shading; the pod and the seeds; the withering and subsequent alteration in the form and tonal values; the final dropping of the petals—all compose the portrait, the full manifestation of the flowering plant.

Q: Does relying on live subjects present any challenges?
Working with flowering plants requires patience, perseverance, and a certain amount of ingenuity in order to keep up with nature. Maintaining specimens long enough to complete drawings is a fundamental concern, and I am often driven to search for more samples. There are occasions when I have had to wait to complete a painting until the next year, or season.

Q: Tell us about composing an illustration.
It is truly an art to incorporate “soul” into the representation of a flower on paper. I use as much time as necessary, beginning roughly with a gesture drawing on tracing paper and finishing with an accurate pencil drawing in full detail, which then is transferred faintly to the pristine watercolor sheet. There are times when I draw directly from the subject with very little preparation, especially in the case of a flowering plant that is moving and changing so rapidly that speed is essential in capturing the details.

Q: How do you achieve such lifelike color?
After transferring an image to good paper, I begin by applying pale or bright washes, laying on additional washes after each is dry. The drawing is completed with many layers of drybrush watercolor for additional shading, working to the darker tones, building and shaping the image. I use my paintbrush as I would a pencil point, layering colors in an attempt to simulate on paper the vibrational qualities of the subject. I do this work only during daylight hours.

Q: Do you encounter any surprises during the creative process?
In the process of drawing and painting plants, I learn their secrets, their moods, their evolution; these traits must be observed and studied in order for the portrait to be a true synthesis of the manifesting qualities of that individual or model. The humblest flowers often reveal the most unexpected, intricate beauty.

Q: This sounds like an immersive experience.
When the work is going well and separation between the doer and the doing vanishes, I am so thoroughly and enjoyably engaged that nothing else seems to matter; there exists a state of complete absorption in which all self-consciousness disappears. I feel alive and elated when I am drawing and painting live plants; it is a form of meditation for me.

Q: What is your vision as an artist?
The flowering plant is a metaphor, easily observed, for the whole of life. Everything is contained within the bud, which holds all the promise; but the glory of the open flower is beyond all anticipation. Flowering plants are my passion. I am dedicated to their accurate depiction, with flair and sensitivity—representing and conveying the beauty of form, magnitude of coloration, and radiant spiritual essence with which these glorious creations enhance our planet and our very being.

TEXT Melissa Lester

Read more about the artistry of Linda Funk in the May/June 2017 issue of Victoria.

The Special French Issue: Preview May/June 2017



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