Monday, 8 September 2014

Part 1: Botanical Painting & Technology - how useful are tablet computers ??

We may think that technology and botanical painting are poles apart, but if we think carefully we soon realise that there are several forms of technology that we use in our effort to reach botanical perfection.  A few things that come to mind are:

  • Digital cameras
  • Digital microscopes (connected to computers by a USB port)
  • Computers for research - either on specific plants, habitats, historical botanical art, viewing artist's websites, blogs etc
  • Online learning opportunities - either linked to an institution or individual tutor
  • YouTube - viewing 'how to' videos
  • Lightboxes - to trace our work
  • Desk-top publishing software - fine-tuning our images as near to the original as we can
  • Creating our own websites - either a templated site or building our own
I am sure there are probably more, but the purpose of this post is to talk about how useful tablet computers are to the botanical artist.

Last week I was fortunate to attend a workshop at the Chelsea Physic Garden with Elaine Searle.

The course title was 'Tablet Computers: friend or foe for the botanical artist'.  As a recent convert to using a tablet, I wanted to know if there were any other ways that I could use it in botanical art.  I had discovered a few for myself but wanted to learn more.

Elaine admitted that she is not an IT specialist, but as 'an early adopter of the tablet', namely the iPad, she has had the opportunity to explore its many uses.

A 'friendly' and useful Powerpoint presentation supported Elaine's teaching and the day soon developed into an open-forum but structured workshop.  The main focus centred around 3 areas:

  • Reference
  • Research
  • Creation
Below I will talk about how Elaine uses her tablet in these areas, and the way I use it is in blue.

  • Aide memoirs - taking photos with the tablet to record plants in gardens and other habitats. These photos are often used as a reference for possible subjects to paint.
  • I use my tablet (an Android model) to store similar images for the same purpose.  I prefer to use the camera on my phone which is superior to the one on the tablet, but because both are of the same make, compatibility is not an issue and files are transferred via Bluetooth.
The highly protected habitats found on Old Winchester Hill.  A perfect example of where photography does play a part alongside drawing special habitats.  
  • Specimens - reference photos for light on form. A plant is set up with controlled light conditions and this forms part of Elaine's preparation work.
  • This is something that I do not do specifically, but I can see how useful it can be, especially in teaching form and tone.
  • Specimen - reference for detail. These tend to be close up images to capture detail and botanical characteristics.
  • This is something I have been doing a lot of and find particularly beneficial from a botanical artist's perspective but for me it has also helped to alleviate eye-strain.  I find that I am using a magnifying glass less because I can zoom in to the image on the screen and have the tablet next to me whilst I work.  When taking a close up picture of a leaf for example, I will try and make sure there is always an indication of scale in the image, and I usually use a small plastic ruler. Alternatively, a piece of graph paper is useful.
Using a small ruler to indicate scale in plant photography
  • Sequential - images of painting in progress.  Very beneficial for students to see the progress of a painting through several stages to completion.
  • I like to take stage by stage photos too and as most of you know I use them on here in blog posts, but also on Facebook and for teaching.  Recently I have found an app that converts several images into a collage, which is useful for this approach (we will talk more about apps later).
  • Elaine produces short video demos that she can use in workshops.  These can be shown 1-2-1 or through a digital projector.
  • I thought this was a great idea.  So far I have just used my tablet to show my YouTube botanical art videos to very small groups of students or individuals.
Botanical Painting Reference
  • As a tablet is so portable, Elaine has a gallery of her own paintings stored on hers.  This means it is easily accessible and can be shown to students and prospective buyers.
  • I have started this, but I have to remember to keep it up to date, especially during busy times.
  • Examples of historic and contemporary botanical art can be stored in 'albums' for easy recall. These serve as inspiration, but can also be used as a teaching resource.
Summary - Part 1
One of the main comments from the day was that colour representation seemed to be better and more consistently accurate on a good quality tablet computer, than a normal PC.

In addition, we discussed the accessories available to hold tablets upright in our work area, other gadgets and also the use of apps.  
So as not to bombard you with too much information I will talk about these in the next blog post.

1 comment :

  1. This is all really helpful advice. I realised recently that I could zoom in on a photo of a butterfly on my camera. But of course an iPad would be so much better. IPods belonging to artists will become collectors items. Full of beautiful images. A great reason to treat myself to an iPad. Thank you.


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