Botanical artist Rosie Greening has set about a new project to immortalise our native flora in an illustrated guide. She took time to tell us how the project is taking shape:
What inspired you to write a book about the Isle of Man?
They say everyone has a novel in them, although I'm not sure how true that is about me. However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I could illustrate a book and so the idea was born. I have a very vivid imagination and when I start drawing I will have 'seen' the picture in my head before I put pencil to paper. That's not to say it will look much like the plan once it's done, but such is the nature of art.
I also love being outside in nature. Whether it's running through the pine trees in the plantations or walking along the beaches (wrapped up against the wind no matter the time of year) I'm very much an outdoor girl. My friends are very tolerant of my stop-go walking style and I can often be found scrambling precariously around banks and hedgerows having spotted a new plant to photograph for my records.
Combine all this with the amazing work done by UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man, Manx Wildlife Trust and the Isle of Man Woodland Trust on the study and catalogue of our native flora, the more I read about our little island Biosphere the more the idea began to take shape. This book will reference a whole host of research that is available, but the art will very much make the flora the stars of the show.
Which plants will feature?
The book will feature everything from the oldest trees in our ancient forest remnants to the smallest wildflowers and ferns. Searching out plant names from A-Z has proved a challenge and there are a couple of gaps. I have a couple of sources I use to ensure my list includes only native species. So many common sights are invasive and, in some cases, very damaging to our native ecosystem. My more pressing challenge is the seasonality of many plants, and having to hunt down real-life specimens in the wild. You'll find me canvasing the island all summer in hope of finding elusive water lilies and wild strawberries, no doubt. I'd hate to have to leave something out as it proved too shy or too rare to present itself, but let's see how the year unfolds.
How do you find certain species? Where do you go?
I'll admit a lot of my finds in these early days are luck. I have been systematically visiting the Manx National Glens as there's already been cataloguing done here to give me a head start. As spring and summer have hit, I've simply stumbled upon things by accident. It's easy when you have an entire list waiting to be ticked off! When I need to start actually looking, the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas for the Isle of Man is going to be a valuable resource of recoded sightings. I've also joined a lot of walking, foraging and nature groups and I'm sure my new found friends will prove my most valuable resource when the species become more elusive.
What kind of art are you creating?
My specialism is botanical art in graphite and coloured pencils. I work using hot pressed watercolour paper, pencils and either solvent or wax blenders to give a beautiful smooth finish. The idea is to create a book full of beautiful artwork which can also be displayed in its own exhibition to coincide with the book launch.
Interestingly, for the book I'm drawing everything at 25% bigger than it will be in print. This allows me to include more detail than if I just drew life-size, which hopefully will translate to stunning illustrations in the final publication.
With the number of plant drawings I intend to complete, this is going to be a project that takes a few months. I'm lucky we have such varied flora that there's scope for a whole host of mediums, techniques and compositions to prevent each plant in its best light.
Has any plant proved particularly challenging to draw or to find?
I'm not going to lie. The composition I've chosen for Maidenhair spleenwort and it's dozens of tiny leafy tendrils remind me of octopus tentacles and are proving somewhat mind-numbing despite my love for its tenacious resilience as a rock-loving fern. I admire plants in nature, the ones that find the tiniest crack and decide to thrive in the most challenging of environments. My houseplants fare far less well despite food, water, and a generous pot and compost.
White flowers are my nemesis. Keeping them looking clean and crisp while crafting shape and depth is hard. Do not be surprised if there aren't many in the book.
When can we expect the book launch?
That's the million dollar question. I think a lot depends on how much I get completed this summer, at least in terms of reference photos and sketches from the field visits I'm doing. I'd love to be in a solid position by next summer, but I'm afraid there's a lot of luck in that deadline.
For book updates and drawing tutorials visit www.rosiegreening.art or search facebook for Rosie Greening Art.