Tuesday, October 7, 2014


by Celia Godkin

Botanical artists usually prefer to work from live specimens, but sometimes this isn’t possible, and we must turn to photographic reference instead. As a children’s book illustrator, I have to rely on extensive reference material from a variety of sources including photographs.

In my most recent book, Skydiver, there’s an oil painting of corn plants on a page that describes the spraying of farm crops with DDT. This was the pesticide that caused severe declines in peregrine falcons, the subject of the book.

The image was based on a couple of reference photos I took at the edge of a field of corn.  Knowing that the image would have to be a low view, looking upward towards an air-borne peregrine, I deliberately angled the camera upwards so that there would be lots of sky in the photos. 

Here are my reference photos: 

And here is a detail of the resulting illustration:

Note that I haven’t slavishly copied the photographs. To do so would mean that all the cast shadow and transparency that confuses the interpretation of form would have been included. Instead, I use the photographic reference as the point of departure, simplifying and eliminating confusing shadows to explain the form without violating the integrity of the plant structure.

Far from being a distortion, I view this departure from photographic realism as an integral part of the “scientific accuracy” component of botanical art. I seek to explain and clarify plant structures in the same way that science attempts to elucidate nature.

I hope this example clarifies one of the important differences between botanical art and floral fine art. Art imitates nature, science seeks to explain it and botanical art hopes to achieve both of these goals.

Book details:
Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World by Celia Godkin; Pajama Press, 2014, is the inspiring story of how the peregrine falcon was saved from the brink of disaster. ISBN 978-1-927485-61-3 (bound) $19.95See further information at www.pajamapress.ca

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