Green categories — do you have all five in your world?

July 2022

I delight in sharing special botanical art pieces by special botanical artists as a source of inspiration and pleasure. On this occasion the spotlight is on coloured pencil artist, Christiane Fashek of New York.

The release of my two latest e-booklets, Going Green with Watercolour and Going Green with Coloured Pencil, was delayed while I waited for this summer’s lush and plentiful deciduous foliage here on the south shore of Nova Scotia. I needed actual specimens of all of the five green categories for an upcoming Going Green in-person workshop and to cover what I was laying out in the booklets. But there was no hurrying Mother Nature. Botanical art requires a number of attributes; patience is high on the list.     

Eventually four of the five categories were within a few paces of my front door. But a specimen of the fifth category—the blue-bias green—was elusive. I wanted something more than a sprig of a blue spruce. Then I remembered reading that marvelous book about fungi and lichens, The Entangled Web, by Merlin Sheldrake. He explains how resilient they are and how many lichen species will change colour dramatically as their environment changes from, say, dry to wet. Lichen is abundant on our property and l have more than a few dry specimens sitting on shelves in my studio waiting for that spare moment when I can draw and paint them.  You know, that spare moment that never seems to come.

So you can imagine how delighted and grateful I was when Christiane agreed to share her recent lichen pieces with the local artists in my workshop and my global e-booklet readership.

Christiane’s lichen studies are both a beautiful and wonderful portrayal of the mysterious aspects of the lichen world. Shown in the illustration above is a section of her Parmotrema lichen on an oak log.  It solved my blue-bias green problem by covering the blue-bias green category admirably and, as if that were not enough, also provided a bonus second category. If you have my Going Green e-booklets you will likely recognize both green categories in this piece.

The green irony

June 2022

Isn’t it ironic that the prevalent colour in the plant world is also the toughest for many botanical artists to capture accurately in their paintings?

As more and more artists rely on digital devices nowadays, this struggle for a natural-looking interpretation of green has only become tougher. We now have a whole new green problem; I call it “digital green.” It’s a visibly garish and strikingly artificial green.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “garish” as “very brightly coloured in an unpleasant way.” And that is exactly what “digital green” is—most “unpleasant.” Webster takes their definition of “garish” a step further with three descriptions that convey my opinion of the garishness of “digital green” very well: “disturbingly vivid”, “offensively or distressingly bright”, and “tastelessly showy.” Vivid descriptions, but for me as a committed teacher in this art form, they describe perfectly digitally-sourced green colours. These digital greens are simply unacceptable in botanical art.

I have taught many workshops on making natural greens for nearly seventeen years across Canada, the USA, Bermuda, and the UK.  If you ever attended one of those workshops you’ll recall that I borrowed the title from Kermit the Frog and called it, “It’s Not Easy Making Green.” But now as fewer artists may know Kermit and to have greater global appeal, I call it Going Green.

 I am particularly proud of my latest series of e-booklets titled Going Green that offer practical solutions for both watercolourists and coloured pencils artists in accurately matching green. They are as up-to-date as you will find anywhere at the moment. I assess the latest and best materials available and also provide specific warnings on colours offered in art supply stores that will take you down the slippery slope to a “digital green” swamp. This is especially likely to happen if you have no idea how to “tame” them.

It saddens me to see images of artists busy in workshops with only screens in front of them and without a single specimen in sight. It suggests that some educators in this genre are not as informed or caring as they should be about the fundamental concepts of botanical art, one of which is working with live specimens. The image I’ve included from one of my workshops shows how it needs to be for both drawing and colour matching. 

Unfortunately, the curse of “digital green” has infected some contemporary juried exhibitions recently too. Jurors seem increasingly reluctant to eliminate a painting that displays remarkable technical competence but enough “digital green” to evoke the distaste of a more discriminating audience. Perhaps the guidelines for exhibition jurors need to specifically outlaw “digital green” or perhaps the jurors simply need to take action themselves.

It’s time to take a stand on this for the sake of the traditions and authenticity of the genre.