Realism or Illustration- Which do you prefer?
Botanical Art is rich in tradition, especially when it comes to technique and composition.
I promised to share with you the class I took last month with Anna Mason at the Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Fl. She has a very wonderful style of painting that is not a “typical” botanical portrait. Her subjects are all larger than life. They give a blast of color as you enter a room or gallery. The images “pop” and as her website is called, Watercolors With WOW, this describes Anna’s work perfectly.
I really didn’t know that much about Anna or the way she painted but I wanted to take a class to see how someone else approaches watercolor. To my surprise these huge paintings are done with mostly very small brushes and are done in a dry brush technique. This is completely the opposite way that I work so it was definitely a challenge for me. I struggled in class but managed to do 2 almost identical paintings in the class. The first painting was done more in the technique I use with my color selection and the second painting was done using a dry brush and Anna’s color palette.
Anna works mostly from her own photographs and it is very interesting to me that if the detail is not present in the photo, it does not appear in the painting. She does not add detail where it is not seen in the photo. This is very different from the way that I was trained and my tendency was to want to add things that I see on the living orchid but were not in focus on the photo. When I questioned Anna about not putting in the missing parts, her reply was, “The difference between my work and other painters of botanical subjects is that my paintings have a high sense of realism, while other botanical painters focus on all of the details which makes their paintings, illustrations.” I thought about this for a while and she is absolutely correct in her thinking. A botanical purest would have to agree that Anna’s paintings are so lifelike that they almost seem like photographs. Traditional botanical works usually have less contrast and depth. Botanical painters often use a formulaic scientific lighting usually leaving out shadows and cast shadows. Often the paintings show cross sections and dissections of plant parts. The typical botanical style clearly is an illustration.
After I got home from the workshop I decided to do a metallic beetle and blow it up 400%. I worked from several photographs and this is my result. I still haven’t reached a comfort zone with her technique and used some of my own techniques thrown in along the way. I do my painting for myself and I like a good challenge along the way. I strive to grow, learn, and incorporate new techniques into my own style and vision.
What is your take on realistic painting versus illustration? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment and share your views.