67. What is the best way to deal with a complicated subject?

Study the plant scientifically! 

There should be more than one answer to this question, but my own experience convinces me that understanding the plant structures scientifically is the most important beginning of any   botanical art and illustration.  Just improving drawing/painting techniques will only be the partial solution. It is like trying to get out of the woods without a map. 

Once you study and understand the botanical structures of a plant, you can interpret its complicated forms into an artistic image with botanical accuracy. Without identifiable key factors of the plant described, the artwork will fall in to a different category, such as floral fine art painting or decorative botanical art. They are certainly beautiful artworks, but they lack scientific/botanical information which is the essential part of scientifically accurate botanical artworks.

What to look for to understand the plant scientifically? 

Well, there may be many ways to do it, but I use my  strong visual sense as an artist (I believe those who read this blog also have similar tendencies like mine :)), and try to visualize the plant's growing process. All plants start from small sprouts any way, and start to grow and branch out from there. So, I draw from the bottom. I know it sounds strange, but it helps me to sort out the structure. When I draw the main stem, I have to figure out which one branches out from where in what manner. There I have to observe the branching pattern, leaf arrangement, flower stem growth, then other parts such as leaf shape, flower shape, stipule, bract and such are easy to fill in. 

Flowers themselves are the last one to draw in details, which might be quite unusual. I mark the placements of the flowers and proceed with other parts. Once all the structures are sorted out, I get back to the flowers and draw them in details. By doing this,  I can place flowers strategically to balance up with the colors and shapes in the composition. Flowers have distinctive shapes and colors from other parts of the plant, and when they are colored, as we all know, they can be the main attractions of the painting, and play an important role in composition as well. 

In the meantime, I understand the plant species in the full scope and feel totally comfortable with the subject. Finally, I can proceed with the next step which can be in watercolor, ink or other media. Here are some examples of my paintings of  Asclepias syriaca. I have drawn and painted  this species several times, and read about botany reports and studies extensively to deepen my knowledge about it. And I am going to paint more of the same species and other species in the Asclepias genus. Currently three large paintings (22 x 32") of A. syriaca, tuberosa and incarnata are in the progress. 

There will be also a class about painting Milkweed Seedpods starting on Saturday, October 10 at the experienced beginning level. It is a very complicated subject, but I will break down the progress and make it approachable for the beginning level with some watercolor experience. For information and registration for this Zoom class, look for "Beginning Level Watercolor - Saturdays,  Series 5 at my website,  https://www.heeyoungkim.net/class

Details of Asclepias syriaca, watercolor, ©Heeyoung Kim

Details of Asclepias syriaca, ink with crow quill pen and colored pencil, ©Heeyoung Kim

Details of Asclepias syriaca, watercolor, ©Heeyoung Kim

An example of a study page of  Asclepias syriaca, ©Heeyoung Kim 2020

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