PEEC Amateur Naturalist: Visualizing Nature With Art

Maple leaf. Courtesy photo
Maple leaf painting by Cathy Hillegas. Courtesy image
PEEC Amateur Naturalist
Visualizing Nature with Art
The natural world can be visualized with a digital technology in a variety of ways.
A digital photograph may have its contrast, spectrum, or color saturation manipulated to create a more interesting image or emphasize some characteristic. The maple leaf photograph is an example of this.
The leaf is lit from behind in order to emphasize the rib pattern in it. The contrast also has been increased to darken the rib pattern to make it more distinct.
Botanical Illustration is a form of art that is meant to create realistic images but it can go further. The artist can bring together aspects that ordinarily are not available in a photograph. The maple leaf painting is an example of this.
The artist has emphasized the rib pattern but has painted to stand out more distinctly. The artist also maintains the colored texture of the leaf’s surface.
She has included other things of interest. Water is shown shimmering across the leaf to form a drop. The end of summer is indicated by the yellowing and spots at the end of the leaf. She has the leaf stand out by creating a light background.
A photographer would be fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the right kind of lighting to create a similar image, even if the resulting image is manipulated digitally. The artist in comparison can bring all these elements together in a painted composition.
The artistry brings out aspects of the natural world in a way that is appealing when compared with a technologically correct photograph.
The following three photographs show separate ecological elements relating to the juniper tree. The branch is a photograph taken in late summer since its berries are ripening. The butterfly is a Juniper Hairstreak that emerged from its chrysalis in mid-summer.
The caterpillar larva is from the early summer. Its color blends well with the juniper leaves. A person would need to patiently monitor juniper trees for a complete summer to obtain such photographs, camera at the ready.
Rocky Mountain Juniper. Courtesy/USDA-NRCS Plants Database
Juniper Hairstreak on Juniper branch. Photo by J. B. Wheatley
Juniper Hairstreak caterpillar. Courtesy/Austin Butterfly Forum.
An artist in contrast can bring all three elements together into a single painting. The interrelationships of the summer life cycle of the juniper and butterfly are shown. The similar shades of green are brought out for the plant, butterfly and caterpillar.
Juniper tree branch, Juniper Hairstreak butterfly and caterpillar painting by Debra Jane Carey. Courtesy image
Botanical Illustration emphasizes creating images that present the natural world in both a realistic and idealized manner. However other artists may dramatically emphasize a particular aspect rather than present it naturally. Hummingbirds provide an example.
Who has not been impressed by the sudden iridescent colors of a hummingbird as it flies to flower? A photograph captures the moment while a painting captures its iridescence. We are the better for having both available to see.
Photo by Bob Walker. Courtesy image
Painting by Travis Bruce Black. Courtesy image
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