Drawing v. Illustration
I trained as a natural history illustrator but I think you can
see why I've decided to give up illustration in favour of drawing
if you compare this watercolour from 15 years ago with the pen and
ink I drew this afternoon. I painted Charlock or
Field Mustard, Brassica napa,
a wild relative of the swede, (left) for Pamela
Forey's Wild Flowers of North America (1990).
For botanical illustration and field guides it's desirable to simplify
and emphasise the diagnostic features of a plant. But for me the
wobbly drawing on the right, incomplete as it is, with it's redrawn
leaf margin (an obvious mistake) of a less that perfect specimen
with the odd hole nibbled in the leaves, captures the character
of the plant better than the neatly presented watercolour.
Sometimes I think I wasted the years I spent painting hundreds
of botanical and natural history illustrations, invariably from
photographs or with reference to exisitng field guides (where would
I find an Ozark Minnow or an Indian Paintbrush in West Yorkshire?!).
At the time I justified it not only because I needed to make a living,
and natural history illustration was, after all, what I trained
for, but also because I thought that I might be picking up some
botanical knowledge along the way.
No doubt I was but not as much as I would have if I could have
spent that time drawing from nature instead of regurgitating the
images that other people had made.