Conference Memories 

Boston 2011 

By Gillian Rice 

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 17, Issue 4 


The 2011 ASBA Annual Meeting and Conference in Boston is second in my journey to be an artist. Form, color, texture. Three themes permeate this journey in the workshops I take and in our visit to Harvard’ Museum’s spectacular Glass Flowers collection. 

“The best way to deal with color is for you to see it,” stresses Jean Emmons in her workshop, Using Color Effectively in Botanical Art. She explains that we see value better than color. Value defines space, so color is secondary to form. “Nature is just a starting point,” she says, demonstrating a method of using color based on impressionist theory. The goal is for the values to remain the same while the colors vary. The results are stunning but the process is extremely challenging. Jean encourages us to look for color with the same zeal as we look for detail. 

Her workshop juxtaposes perfectly with Corinne Lapin- Cohen’s, Exploring Reflected Light. “Art is part of your life. It’s a journey, a process; enjoy it,” she declares. Using her iPad, Cori zooms in on several paintings - some depict reflected light correctly, some wrongly, and some not at all. Like Emmons, she emphasizes the need for different colors on different parts of the subject. “Light is reds, yellows, blues – like a rainbow. Even if you don’t see it, you still paint it.” She teaches us to create an illusion on paper, an illusion that represents form. “You must study all art and not just botanical art,” to learn how to imitate reality. 

After class, I browse the Small Works Show, trying to select my favorite for the People’s Choice Award. I meet classmate Paul Merchant and all we can focus on for the moment is whether and how an artist showed reflected light! 

Working on black paper reverses the typical way we represent value. Kathie Miranda, in Colored Pencil on Black Ground, shows how to add highlights while leaving the black of the paper to represent the core shadow of the subject. Kathie places many glazes of color. “Why all this fuss?” she asks, “Because it shows in the final piece. The foundation is important.” She teaches us to apply the pencils gently and to work lightly in order to apply layers. This is crucial in rendering form. 

In her next workshop, Textures in Nature, Miranda accentuates observation. “Nothing is more important when looking for textures,” she begins. This is a fun class! We learn to incorporate paper tooth into our depiction of texture, how to feel what our tools do, how much pressure we need to apply for varying effects, and how to impress line in the paper. 

Carefully instructed not to allow any material to find its way into our compost heaps or gardens, we get a bag of botanical goodies to take home for practice. To my delight, it contains a milkweed pod that is a different variety from my usual desert specimen. 

Attending these workshops teaches me I must practice fundamental drawing skills. Katie Lee writes in Fundamental Graphite Techniques, “Practice basic drawing techniques regularly just as a musician practices scales.” 

I take a trip to Massachusetts Horticultural Society Elm Bank Reservation for my last workshop. Hillary Parker continues to emphasize observation. However, she is a stickler for interpreting the subject and not merely imitating it. “A key composition element is vitality,” she contends. “This is the character of the plant: life, excitement, personality.” We gauge the personalities of a pitcher plant (graceful, sly) and sea oats (fluttering, hardy). 

Hillary invites us to contemplate another composition element: our own voice as we paint. “What do you want to say?” she asks. She explains one face of botanical art is documentation or illustration (reflecting technique and accuracy), while another face is expressive and more reflective of a fine arts tradition (emotions and feelings about the subject). We practice composition elements using resurrection fern specimens. When studying the ferns, the “Dick-Rauh-style magnifying glass” registration gift is invaluable! 

I note the respect our artists have for one another. Eminent artists who have exhibited widely sit in workshops along with novices to learn from an instructor with a special skill. The atmosphere is one of encouragement and enthusiasm. Repeatedly, we are encouraged to take risks and to experiment. 

My goals for attending the conference were two: to learn as much as possible in the few days of the conference and to contribute to ASBA as much as I, a novice artist, could. Serendipitous perhaps, but I chose workshops that interlinked like a chain I could grasp on my journey as an artist. The workshops I chose were eclectic but threaded together by “back to basics” and “don’t be afraid to take risks.” 

All is not workshops, however. I volunteer to sell catalogs, which go like proverbial hot cakes. In the process, I meet lots of ASBA members. I queue to buy goatskin and deerskin vellum from Pergamena and handmade “spotter” brushes from Englandbased Rosemary & Co. 

Ruth Starratt’s lecture on Wednesday provides just the right amount of history of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Flowers exhibit and whets our appetite. Nothing I write can do justice to the delicacy, beauty, and detail of the Glass Flowers. 

The reception at the Harvard Museum of Natural History is a special memory. I work from herbarium specimens and illustrate plant parts using a microscope. This, for me, is difficult enough. To represent the plants as glass sculptures takes art – and science – to another level! Many thanks to NESBA and individual donors for generously hosting this wonderful experience, complete with amazing hors d’ouvres and drinks. 

The Wildflower Forum is a must-attend for me, as it focuses on tips for organizing shows. Joyce Westner and Nancy Savage detail how ASBA chapters and circles show their works and communicate with the public about botanical art. Corinnne Lapin-Cohen and Sarah Maxwell inspire with their report of successful solo exhibits. My chapter is doing an indigenous plants show this winter to celebrate Arizona’s centennial – now I know what we should be doing to promote it. 

We admire the standard of work at the Small Works Exhibition. A touch of sadness exists as we remember Anne Marie Carney when the award in her name is presented by her daughter to winner, Kathie Miranda. 

I speak to an artist who didn’t participate in Small Works because she didn’t think her art work was good enough. I stress: “This show is for all conference participants.” I’m delighted to be part of it and, just for a couple of days, to have my work displayed next to the foremost and famous in the field. What an honor, and what joy! At the next Small Works show, take a risk and participate. The show catalog is a wonderful souvenir and an excellent present for my parents. 

The craziness and urgency of the Silent Auction results in my acquiring three small and easily transportable items, one of which is Fitzwilliam Museum’s Handbook, Flower Drawings. (Thank you, Kathy Kluglein, for being a gracious bid competitor). I study my new treasure on the plane home – reviewing each painting for reflected light, color, texture, and composition. I resolve to practice, practice, practice, and to be in Chicago for the 2012 ASBA Conference. 

  • In a pre-conference workshop, Jean Emmons demonstrates Using Color Effectively in Botannical Art
  • Portfolio Sharing.
  • Portfolio Sharing
  • Portfolio Sharing
  • Annual Meeting - members lunch with Small Works Exhibition in the background.
  • Robin Jess and Dick Rauh thank Carol Hamilton (center) for her many years of service dedicated to the ASBA
  • Painting fruits & vegetables on vellum in Karen Kluglein’s workshop
  • John Pastoriza-Piñol demonstrates his methods for painting prickly subjects during a workshop at Elmbank Horticulture Center
  • The NESBA Reception at the Harvard Museum of Natural History allowed members time to view the Glass Flowers
  • Small Works Exhibition
  • Silent Auction