Zoom workshops—a balancing act

Zoom workshops—a whole new experience but a necessary one if we’re to continue progressing with our botanical art learning in these times of COVID-19-imposed travel and meeting restrictions.

I’ve found that with some practice, these workshops can be productive and enjoyable, but it’s heavily technology reliant. Things can go off the rails occasionally. So, if you’re in a Zoom workshop and the teacher seems to be having a few technical issues, just know that conducting a botanical art Zoom workshop looks a bit like this . . .

Exhibiting abroad—a story about why you should do your homework!

Who among us wouldn’t be flattered to be invited to exhibit in an international botanical art exhibition? I certainly was. And I readily agreed to participate.

I’d exhibited outside Canada before in Bermuda, the US, the UK, Australia, and South Africa, but never in Italy, which is where the invitation in question came from. As usual, I did my homework and was encouraged to find that some well-known and highly-respected international botanical artists had been invited and that the exhibition was going to be at a prestigious gallery in Florence.

At this point, if you’ve never exhibited abroad before, I should mention that it’s not an inexpensive undertaking. You’ll need special packaging (a sturdy cardboard container with appropriate cushioning material designed for the purpose of shipping art, is best). And you’ll probably have to ship by FedEx or DHL or one of the other reliable international carriers. The costs soon mount up. But we do this because we hope to sell the painting or, failing that, for the “exposure”, don’t we? At least, that’s what we tell ourselves if the painting doesn’t sell, “Too bad, but least we got the exposure.”

Well, in this case my painting didn’t sell and whatever “exposure” I may have received, wasn’t worth it because there was an important element I didn’t cover in my homework—getting my painting back out of Italy. Who would have guessed that the Italians have stringent regulations in place for any art being shipped out of Italy? It was apparently put in place to protect their national treasures from being taken out of the country. It didn’t matter that my painting had been shipped in from Canada and was merely being returned. The bureaucratic quagmire of paperwork and red tape applied regardless.

To tell every detail of the sordid tale about an uncooperative organizer, the identity document copies that had to be submitted, the forms that had to be completed, the unhurried Italian bureaucracy, and the three months it took to get my painting back, would take up more space than I have here. Just take my hard-earned advice and do your homework thoroughly if you’re invited to exhibit abroad. It may not always be worth it.

The Echinacea piece that took an extended trip to Italy and back.

When is sharp sharp enough?

When I teach graphite drawing I emphasize the importance of a sharp point on the pencil.

When I’m working in graphite, my pencil sharpener is always close at hand. But not only that, I also have a sheet of fine sandpaper upon which to sharpen the point between trips to the sharpener.

I recommend a sharpener like the one in the illustration below. It not only sharpens traditional wooden pencils but is able to accommodate propelling pencils as well through a small opening on the side.

These simple measures ensure a sharp enough point all the time for the fine detail we need to produce in botanical drawings. But you will find that different artists have different preferences for ensuring sharp pencil points. For instance, I’ve seen one artist advocate shaving away the wood and exposing about a half inch of graphite. This too is fine, even if unnecessary and a bit tricky. After all, it’s more about the sharp point and less about how you achieve it.

From left to right: sandpaper block from Faber-Castell; wooden pencil sharpened in the regular way; sharpened mechanical pencil; pencil sharpener; wooden pencil with half inch of graphite exposed; Exacto knife for shaving the wood off the pencil.