At the Los Angeles Arboretum, a collaboration with Otis College Extension is fostering the artistic growth of those already interested in the beauty of the natural world. Olga Eysymontt, an instructor at Otis College, has been drawing botanical figures for more than 20 years. “Unlike taking a photograph, where you may have to manipulate it to get the image you want, when you look at something with a more natural form, it has an imperfect, organic flow to it,” Eysymontt said.
Students who enroll in Eysymontt’s classes don’t have to be accomplished artists before they sign up. Botanical illustration is often the perfect gateway for budding artists to develop their skills, Eysymontt said. Students start by learning to light and shade an apple and then move on, drawing new things such as oranges, pears, or tulips. “Students like it when we work on art that reflects the season,” she said.
And there’s plenty of opportunities for students to have their botanical work displayed across the country. The Huntington Library is currently displaying work for the “Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens” exhibit through August 27, 2018. The exhibit features many of Eysymontt’s past students. And the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, run through Carnegie Mellon University, features botanical drawings and illustrations from centuries past, as well as more current exhibits. Every three years, the Hunt Institute hosts a contemporary exhibit where artists are commissioned to submit artwork for a nationwide display and tour. “For a lot of my students, it’s their goal to make it to that exhibit,” Eysymontt said, adding that many do.
Learn more about Los Angeles plants, flowers, and vegetation while developing as an artist
Interested students—even those without a drawing or watercolor background—can sign up to take Eysymontt’s upcoming courses Fall Seed Pods, Squash, and Gourd workshop and Christmas plants watercolor workshop through the Extension program. Classes are held at the Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanic Garden, giving students the chance to visit more unique Los Angeles flora up close and personal to inspire creativity.
With advances in technology, the artistic world offers all sorts of possibilities to create technically perfect work, or work that reflects the natural world as more perfect or colorful than it is. But Eysymontt says it’s the imperfections that occur in nature that keep students returning to her class, eager to draw new botanic figures. “When it’s too perfect, it almost lacks any sort of emotion. An artist has to communicate emotion to draw the viewer in. When the piece isn’t perfect, the viewer wants to keep looking at it—they find it more interesting,” Eysymontt said.
Halley Sutton is a graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design MFA Writing program.
Images: Lily and Passion Flower, original works by Olga Eysymontt.