The digital divide – botanical illustration in an age of change

Posted on January 20, 2015 by Niki under Uncategorized
iPhone fern2 for blogiPad fern enlarged for blog
© Niki Simpson

We have seen rapid changes in technology, economics, environment and culture. Internet and digital technologies are re-shaping and will continue to re-shape many aspects of our lives, some apparent and some behind scenes, enabling new possibilities and amplifying all manner of potentials. Science, printing and publishing industries and communications have all embraced computerisation and emerging technologies. In Botany, research uses and benefits from a wide array of increasingly sophisticated connectivities and digital technologies, and is written up in digital documents, often illustrated with digitally-created photographs, scans and graphs, and is increasingly disseminated digitally, published online in botanical journals which are compiled, edited and produced digitally. New botanical websites, blogs and apps continue to appear, while mobile devices increasingly enable feedback, citizen science and social media interaction. And, notably, since 2012, it is now even acceptable for new taxa to be scientifically validly named by online publication.

And for botanical artists? I am talking here of beyond the now ubiquitous use of the internet, email and mobile phones for planning and arrangements, discussion of ideas, digital diaries, online banking and payments and communication of images, etc. On the learning side, there are online opportunities with institutions or private tutors, the use of Skype and webcams for online tutorial sessions, and YouTube “how-to” videos are emerging. New for 2015, botanical artist Elaine Searle offers two new online courses which can be taken using your tablet or mobile phone, as well as desktop or laptop. On the doing, rather than the learning, side of things, mention can be increasingly found, on botanical artists’ websites or blogs, of the use of digital cameras or mobile phone cameras to take reference photos and of iPads and tablets in support roles as aids to creation and observation as well as for photographic reference. There is mention too of digital microscopes to record detail, of computers for researching particular plants or their habitats and to research the historical development of botanical art. Many artists have their own websites and blogs, and it is apparent that many are now happy to state openly that they welcome the use digital photography as an aid to their work. Scanners are used to copy paintings for the purposes of uploading to websites to share, to submit work for exhibitions, and for printing scanned paintings and drawings on home inkjet printers. Archive quality giclée prints on fine art paper can be ordered from professional digital printers, while some artists mention using desk-top publishing software to fine-tune their digital copies of their images to be as near to the painted original as possible. Over in the US, the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators embraced digital illustration with workshops on  “Digital Illustration – Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator” back in 2009 and 2010.

So why is digital botanical illustration still so unacceptable to so many? Beats me.

2 thoughts on “The digital divide – botanical illustration in an age of change”

  1. Coral Guest says:

    Your work is filled with an astonishing depth of information, and is absolutely fascinating to view. Your organisation of imagery brings to light so many realisms and facts, but it is also very beautiful, because the plants themselves are beautiful.

    I can see that digital work may appear as a threat to the illustrators who’s work involves drawing and painting. Perhaps, in the end the botanical illustrators in general will catch up with the fine art sphere and have more acceptance, by understanding that photography has no detrimental effect upon, and cannot disenfranchise, the work that is focused on painting and drawing that is creative in its expression.

    In the bigger picture of Botanical Art, I see that there is total acceptance and delight in your work, because it serves the plant kingdom. Its already true that to many your way of working is recognised for its integrity, because it is absolutely genuine.

    This debate reduces to what is art and what is not. But if we take this confusing inquiry out of the equation and see that every botanical artist is involved with plants in a unique way, we simply see a bigger picture made from many layers of delight, a kaleidascope of respnoses to the plant kingdom in a spectrum ranging from the purely scientific to the intensely philosophical and aesthetic.

    You are a pioneer Niki, and this involves facing prejudice as much as the technical issues of establishing innovatory working methods.

    1. Niki says:

      What a lovely first comment on my new blog. Perceptive and encouraging – and so well put. Thank you Coral!

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