Botanic art can be defined as ‘making science visible’. Its fundamental purpose is to help both scientists and lay people identify plants. Botanic art is not a still life painting of roses in a vase. It is an accurate painting that clearly shows the parts of a plant which allow the identification of that plant. So, a botanic painting of a rose would include details such as the shape, colour, form, leaves and probably hips — the aspects that allow it to be identified as a particular variety or species.
However, there is the artistic aspect and it is important. The artist makes the decisions on the medium to use, the composition of the painting, the focal point, the size and so on. The painting allows the personality of the artist to come through.
I don’t profess to be a top class botanic artist, and my painting skills are still developing. However, I am part of Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project, which, in turn, is part of the tradition of botany in Australia. My painting needs to be accurate.
To be able to make my painting of Cullen discolor as accurate as possible I need to understand ‘tomentose to hispid’. My painting should show a surface that is between matted soft hairs and rough firm hairs. Whether it does is up to my painting skill. I need to know that the petioles are between 2 and 7 cms long so that my drawing doesn’t make them too long or too short. And so on.
As well, it is interesting to know that C. discolor grows in sandy soils, flowers September to January and is endangered in Victoria. Not many people know what C. discolor looks like. Nor do they know C. pallidum or C. cinereum. They are unlikely to look at my paintings and say “That’s not right”. However I will know and I want it to be as correct as my skills will let me. And it may just be used as an identification tool sometime in the future.