Study of Anthers
watercolour on paper
I grew up in a family of keen landscape photographers and as a child was allowed to use my Dad’s Leica camera to take my own pictures. I was also a part of the stable of Kodak children, appearing on adverts for knitting patterns and Kodak Colour Film, and was one of the kids who appeared on the yellow outer box of the Box Brownie Camera during the early 1960’s. I continue to be amazed by the invention of photography - for the enchantment of capturing of the moment and the magic of recording an instant aspect of life with its unique configuration.
Painting has its own history with Photography - via Impressionism to the Photo Realism and beyond, photography has been utilised in a myriad of ways.
A Painter will always be better able to use photography if they are also able to draw. As a statement, this is something those who have studied drawing will always maintain. A Painter uses photography from a different standpoint to an artist who cannot draw. In essence, it is all about how the photograph is used, and not the fact that it is a photograph. The Fine Art sphere came to terms with photography and ran with it very early on in the 20th century, so there is no issue with it. Photography has given a great deal to Painting. Painting and Photography actually have a marriage made in Heaven.
The professional Botanical Illustrator has always needed to utilize photography to enable a project to be fulfilled in the time available. So why is the use of photography currently causing such discontent in the world of Botanical Illustration?
In the world of Botanical Illustration, drawing has always been highly regarded as a skill. A number of those that use this skill have expressed to me their feelings of unhappiness when they see so many Botanical Illustrators using photography because they are unable or unwilling to draw.
This maelstrom of discontent that has been forming as an undercurrent, will I suspect break forth in the not too distant future. This issue rests with the Illustrators and it is their responsibility to find a reconciliation within their kinship, particularly where awards are concerned, and especially with this year’s RHS Botanical Art shows about to begin.
As an Observational Painter, I personally take photographs as a back-up, but rarely use them, as I don’t especially like the differences between my observation and the photo image. I am not worried if my work has less detail than a hyper-realistic photo based painting, because observation has hyper-realism in other more energetic and spontaneous ways. I would not relish the idea of staring into an iPad all day; I would rather stare into the face of a flower.
Observational Drawing initiates the risk of failure. It’s easier and less stressful to paint from a photograph, where many of the unknown factors have been sorted out in photographic terms. So why work from life, why would I give myself the problems incurred in drawing? I work from life because it is demanding, because it is something risky, and because by working within the limited life span of a plant, the magic of spontaneity has the power to make the impossible entirely possible.