By Cyra Jane
For Vashon Center for the Arts
Next week will bring a rare chance to islanders to learn from acclaimed botanical artist and longtime islander Jean Emmons, who will give a lecture and live demonstration of her craft at 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 2, on Zoom, for Vashon Center for the Arts.
Far from simply being “art about plants,” botanical art is a rigorous and technically challenging discipline that is inspiring gardeners and artists worldwide to capture their favorite plants in stunning watercolor paintings.
Emmons is one of the premier botanical artists in the world. She has exhibited her paintings in the Smithsonian, won multiple awards from the Royal Horticultural Society in London, and is featured in collections around the globe.
The daughter of two scientists, Emmons takes her learned and natural curiosity and love of close observation into her garden and her artwork. Producing between eight to 12 paintings a year, she studies the subject plant over the course of many seasons, painting the changing colors and luminescent plant tissue in up to 50 layers of meticulously brushed watercolor. Her practice is based on medieval manuscript illumination techniques and results in strikingly realistic and beautiful paintings of her favored plants.
Some of Emmons’ favorite plants to paint are the carnivorous ones such as pitcher plants and cobra lilies, mushrooms that are mysterious and sculptural, and black flowers like irises and poppies. For all of these, the depth of the plant’s life, their amazing adaptations and ecological traits are reflected in the riot of color in the under-painting. The layers of wash and attention to detail bring to these paintings a sense of capturing a true moment with a living, mature plant.
Emmon’s Zoom workshop, for VCA, will be an introductory explanation of the basics of botanical art, and what artists need to know to start practicing its techniques. The lecture and painting demo will include a short talk on botanical art as a genre — detailing how the field is growing right now, especially among artists and gardeners who are looking to expand their skills and interests with an absorbing pastime that doesn’t require great physical stamina.
Emmons will then discuss topics and tutorials from a recent publication by Timber Press. The book is a compilation of botanical art techniques by more than 70 artists from around the world and is the most comprehensive book on this subject to date, featuring 50 full tutorials. She’ll reference the book for pointers on specimen care, working in the field, and nature journaling.
The second part of the online class will be a live painting session that includes a shopping list for all the supplies needed to create botanical art. Emmons will use a close-up camera to demonstrate the three stages of her artistic process: drawing, washes, and drybrush.
“Drybrush is what botanical artists do that is different from other types of water media,” she said. “It’s based on medieval manuscript illumination and, though it takes a long time, the results replicate layers of plant tissue very well. Also, conveniently, drybrush also covers up all mistakes.”
For the Zoom class, Emmons will share what she has learned from an extensive career in illustration and horticulture. She was initially trained in abstraction and color and employed as a horticulture book and magazine illustrator, eventually applying that knowledge to her love of gardening and creating her own works of art. Her aim is to provide attendees with a window into the soothing and engrossing world of a botanical artist.
To register for the Zoom class, go to vashoncenterforthearts.org and find the registration under “Events.” Tickets are $15 each for this event and, being online, it is likely to attract a worldwide audience. You can see Emmons work on her website, at jeanemmons.com.