A small group of 15 artists gathered at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra to participate in a NatureArt Lab 2-day workshop with young UK artist Jessica Rosemary Shepherd.
Until Cheryl Hodges mentioned this artist, I had not seen her work but a quick look at her website convinced me that she would be an interesting teacher and so it turned out.
Jess has a diploma in botanical illustration from the Society of Botanical Artists, has work in the Shirley Sherwood Collection, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and is a fellow of the Linnaean Society of London and the American Society of Botanical Artists. Her work has been published in books and scientific journals and she has published her own work and ideas in creative form both on paper and on the web.
Before becoming a full-time artist, Jess trained as a botanist and has a Masters in Plant Taxonomy. She has curatorial experience having worked as an Assistant Curator at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens.
I think all of us participating in the workshop were attracted by the vision of learning how to approach painting a very large leaf — possibly in sheer relief at tackling something bigger than the tiny leaves on most of our local plants.
We were lucky as the workshop was held at the Australian National Botanic Gardens. Staff picked very large leaves for the workshop as we were not permitted to bring plant material into the gardens. We had a mix of green, dead and dying leaves to choose from including large rainforest leaves, banksia and some strap like leaves. With the mix of shape, colour and texture there was a leaf to appeal to each of the participants.
Jess spoke to us about how to create drama using thoughtful lighting including spotlighting and thereby giving the plant centre stage — one of the important metaphors used in her work and approach to plants. We discussed colours especially greens and browns and different approaches to, and mixes of colours. We discussed the differences that brands can make and each individual’s relationship to colour. Jess has an intuitive approach to colour that I found very congenial. As a group we became more aware of the experimentation needed with colour, paper and technique to explore ways of realising our work.
During the two-day workshop she inspired us with her ideas about where botanical art might go in the 21st Century. Jess’ artistic projects, whether art-based, soundscapes, media or publishing ventures, explore an evolving philosophy to do with botanical artistic expression and ‘how the strategies and techniques of the visual arts can be adapted to communicate the importance of plants in the modern world’. She spoke about combating ‘plant blindness’ and using art and other mediums to focus attention on the natural world. Her work is both profoundly personal and political, environmental and cultural.
Her current project Blueflower explores ‘what this intense and captivating colour means to us culturally’. It is the most popular colour yet rare in nature. She is travelling to different places around the world searching out blue flowered plants in their natural habitats. The main focus will be an exploration of the ‘visual directions in which the natural world can lead us’.
Jess mentioned a number of artists and writers whose work she recommended for their different approaches to botanical art. Among those she spoke about were Laurence Hill whose botanic photographic work is both inspiring and challenging, Coral Guest and her blogs on painting and Rory McEwen for his influence on modern botanical art.
We had an inspiring two days with Jess and look forward to seeing more of her project Blueflower as it develops. To learn more about Jess and her work take a look at her website at http://inkyleaves.com/
By Morgyn Phillips
Canberra botanic artist with an interest in plant habitats and stories.