Art or Science? Sci-art & Visual Botany

Posted on January 14, 2015 by Niki under Uncategorized
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Art Plantae sliver 26jun11
© Niki Simpson

Botanical art in general is said to straddle the supposed art-science divide. From the early herbals right through to today’s scientific floras, artists have worked with botanists to create accurate, detailed and often beautiful illustrations to support their scientific texts.

For me though, there is no division, simply a continuum of everything. I aim to bring together disciplines and work across transitions, whether art and science, art and illustration or illustration and photography, as well as science and design. On the one hand I create attractive images concerned with the beauty of plants. I have a special interest in composition, notably in creating a flow through the image, while as a scientist, the primary aim of my images is not beauty, but information content – to convey to the viewer a scientific visual description of the plant concerned. For this I use a longstanding botanical language, involving conventions and signs, to clearly depict the plant’s features, show hidden parts otherwise not readily seen, and emphasise the significant. I need, not only to create a visual flow through the image, but to create one that is botanically logical and appropriate. As I wrote in 2010 in my artist’s statement for the Riverside Gallery, “There is no place in my scientific botanical illustrations for obscuring shadows, or for the charm of old paintings; no aim for a ‘look’ or a ‘mood’, or even the ‘essence’ of a plant – just what is, or importantly for comparative work, what isn’t. My focus is on detail and accuracy; no fudging, fading or false colour, and, ultimately, for the botanical truth.”

Time flies

Posted on January 5, 2015 by Niki under Uncategorized
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beech final sharpened strip2
© Niki Simpson

Incredible though it seems to me, I find that I have now been creating these digital botanical images for over ten years, so why a new name and website? The answer is twofold.

Firstly, there is another Niki Simpson website which is completely unrelated to botany or plants, and secondly, since my work is unacceptable in group botanical art shows and exhibiting solo is prohibitively costly, I had been looking to find new ways to exhibit my work. I realised that I could take another route, and try to demonstrate the flexibility and potential of my botanical images to an online audience. So I hope to take advantage of the developments in website technology and use this new Visual Botany website to embrace social media, to use a blog to explain and demonstrate some of the advantages of this type of image and to showcase a range of uses for which these images have been, or could be, used.

I set out ten years ago to see what benefits new technologies could bring to illustrating plants for scientific purposes, in order to support botanists in their work in the future and I hope to continue in that direction, to experiment and improve my images. But for the moment, I feel it is time to mark the end of a an amazing, yet at times difficult, decade, thank Peter Barnes for setting up and maintaining my previous website for so many years, and now step up to the plate and learn how to manage a website myself …… and look forward to the next decade.



Happy Christmas

Posted on December 21, 2014 by Niki under Uncategorized
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JM Xmas banner2 for AdventBotany ©NS
Just in case anyone has stumbled on these brand new pages, I would like to wish them a Happy Christmas. Here is the holly, ivy and mistletoe  – which I put together recently for a header for Dr M’s interesting and entertaining AdventBotany.

Enjoy your mid-winter festivities!



Posted on December 17, 2014 by Niki under Uncategorized
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I imagine some people, on sitting down to begin a new blog, find that when the moment comes, they wonder where to start, but not so for me. I simply have to open by recording my sincere thanks to those who supported me right from the start. In those days I was working in the RHS Botany Department managing the RHS horticultural database  and also, like many others, using computers for spreadsheets and word processing. Picking up a paintbrush to paint in watercolour began to seem incongruous. I remember feeling that the possibilities of digital plant illustration in scientific work needed to be explored, to move botanical illustration forward into the digital era, in line with the other digital technologies already in use by botanists in their work. This was back in 2002, and that time, the very idea of digital illustration of plants seemed remote, futuristic, and even laughable. Without the backing of RHS Wisley botanists, Peter Barnes and Alan Leslie, who kindly agreed to support my applications for funding, my endeavour would never have got off the ground. Several places turned the idea down, but I was delighted in 2003 to receive an award from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, for funding some image software and photographic training to ‘investigate digital techniques for the purpose of botanical illustration’. What a turning point that proved to be, and I would like to gratefully acknowledge their support.

And what a journey it has been since then…


Hello plant world!

Posted on December 2, 2014 by Niki under Uncategorized
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