How many people in the world secretly dream of becoming an artist? Of capturing the beauty in the natural world all around them, recording its treasures? During the past 6 years, I have had the immense pleasure of teaching the type of lifelong learner who takes this leap, through three sequential botanical illustration courses. Students in these courses, each of which is taught twice annually, have come from all over the world. Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Russia, Canada, Germany, the Dominican Republic, and of course, the United States represent some of the wonderfully far flung places from which students draw and paint, and then, scan and submit their work for review, along with their words of reflection.
Most students have never taken an on-line course. They initially offer a range of responses to Moodle, the interface through which the courses are taught, but all adjust and settle into a routine, immersed in the essential elements of these courses: reading in preparation for a lesson; engaging in a plethora of drawing and painting exercises, depending on the course, which they will scan and upload for feedback; writing reflectively about what they have learned, how they are learning it, and how they are celebrating their learning (or overcoming their challenges!); and talking with one another in a student forum. There are no ‘lectures,’ no powerpoints. Students can be in any time zone, working at their own pace, through the weekly lessons, for a period of about 6 ½ weeks.
Students learn to observe nature through both a scientific/structural and an artistic/aesthetic lens, and to articulate a personal aesthetic. As they progress, they gain considerable proficiency in basic methods of botanical illustration using media such as graphite and pen, moving on to watercolor in the second course, and pen, graphite, charcoal, color pens, pastel and other media in the third course.
Our next course run will be offered in January. If you’re interested in being placed on the list to notify, please contact Marcia Eames-Sheavly, ME14@cornell.edu
Quotes from students:
‘I am buoyed by the knowledge of being engaged in this endeavor with others who believe in its value.’
‘I have never learned so much in such a short time, and my passion for drawing has been rekindled; I feel just like I did in third grade when my picture of an iris won first prize in school art show. I am delighted with what I can do and look forward to the hard work necessary to develop my budding skills. In the past, I have never gotten over the feeling that I just can’t get what I want on the paper; now I am thinking about what technique would make the plant look real. For me having tools to use and a sense of self-confidence is the gift I have received from the course.’
Image credits: Sunflower (at right) by Anne Clippinger, Mountain Laurel (at left) by John Perry