Susannah Graedel (SG) is one of the Connecticut Natural Science Illustrators (CTNSI) art class instructors. She is also one of the founding members of the art classes at the Yale Peabody Museum. Part 1 of this interview series highlighted her art classes on drawing flowers through a microscope. Check the art class schedule to find classes that she teaches. Learn more about art instructor Susannah Gradel.
The interview was conducted by A. Pirozzoli (AP)
(AP) Current or upcoming course being taught:
(SG) Drawing Flowers Through the Microscope with an all-day Field Trip to the Harvard Museum Glass Flowers Exhibit
(AP) Purpose of the course:
(SG) To explore and illustrate the structure and beauty of the intricate floral parts of several plant species, with an emphasis on local native plants in season.
(AP) Course subject matter:
(SG) Students will examine and make simple drawings of the structural details of three species of flowers each class session. They will be asked to make a simplified “botanical plate” in graphite to illustrate one species in detail. On the field trip to Harvard’s Glass Flower exhibit they will be exposed to the extraordinary artistry and beauty of the historical significant three-dimensional “plates.”
(AP) What do students gain from this course?
(SG) Students acquire the artistic skills required of a professional botanical illustrator. The illustrator graphically communicates a botanist’s findings about a plant. Botanical science journals generally prefer to include illustrations of plants rather than photographs due to the architectural complexity of plants. Through the careful study of a flower, students appreciate its beauty and complexity and how flowers and pollinators have evolved together for maximum efficiency in reproduction. And, as a bonus, they have the fun of seeing a flower’s secrets enlarged through the through the microscope.
(AP) What is the greatest obstacle the student will overcome in this course?
(SG) To learn to simplify a drawing of a flower and its parts in order to communicate both the features that distinguish the species and the beauty of the flower.
(AP) In general, what do you believe is the most important factor for a student to understand about art?
(SG) In order to depict a subject effectively, you must be in love with the subject and want to share it with the viewer as you experience it. By that I mean that the artist must want the viewer to be excited and intrigued by the art he or she creates. For natural science illustrators this means that you communicate the vital essence of the organism that you find intriguing through an accurate and aesthetic depiction.
(AP) What media will the student be working with?
(SG) The student will be required to make a botanical plate using graphite. The student may use any medium such as ink or color to enhance the plate.
(AP) What areas of difficulty will the student need to deal with when using these materials?
(SG) In making a traditional botanical plate, depth and three-dimensionality are only suggested. The graphite must be applied in such a way as to suggest a three-dimensional image by using only thickness of line and subtle toning. “Less is more.” Illustrations on a botanical plate are aesthetic in their simplicity and clarity. The plate clearly communicates the uniqueness of a species.
(AP) What is the personal interaction between the instructor and student?
(SG) I ascertain why a student chose the course and what he or she wants to learn. I maintain a professional demeanor, encouraging and exciting the student about each task at hand. By teaching in a step by step process, I can clarify the accomplishments of each student and give clear, practical, and effective suggestions as to how the student could improve the work. I make it clear that each student should work at his/her own pace. I find that students interact constructively, bringing out the best in each other. This is one of the most beneficial results of having at least three students in a class.
What do you find the most effective way to encourage a student who is struggling? I employ a clear, methodical step by step process, taking the time with each technique, and varying the tasks for the individual student,
(AP) After completing this course, what will the student be prepared to learn next?
(SG) The skills learned in Drawing Flowers through the Microscope will be valuable in any art course. Essentially, the “less is more” concept, communicating the essence and beauty of a subject clearly, accurately and aesthetically is applicable to completing any art project. The skills and knowledge gained in this course will be particularly applicable to a botanical art class or project, but translate well to illustrating any natural science subject.
Look for Part II where Susannah will talk about her personal art.