Botanical illustration: where science and art meet

“I was amazed when I came to America in 1962 how few flowers people had in their gardens. Flowers weren’t very important, but now horticulture is big business and very exciting.

Overy cultivated his interest in drawing flowers. But when she took an art class at DBG and it wasn’t teaching what she wanted to learn, she created her own program. “People wanted to learn how to draw flowers at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I ran these classes, and to my amazement, they filled up immediately. People were delighted. They didn’t know how to look. They knew neither pencils nor papers. They have not been taught. There was a real hunger.

Although botanical illustration succeeds in merging science and art, for students of the medium, realism reigns.

“I like to keep it pure. There’s a whole other branch on the more artistic side,” Overy said. “It’s more about the audience and it depends on who I’m drawing for.”

As for botanical prints, the art market includes a wide variety.

“I have several botanical prints, and I really like them,” said Overy, the author of “Sex in Your Garden” and “The Foliage Garden.”

Overy gave an overview of botanical illustrations throughout art history.

“The woodcuts were incredibly good for the 15e century. Metal etching with a very sharp stylus changed everything in amazing detail, shading by hatching with the stylus. Botanical illustrations were all the rage, and everyone wanted botanical prints during a horticultural craze. Everyone wanted new plants from new countries, and they wanted the wonderful prints they could buy or books with prints that gave accurate descriptions of plants. Draws were an exciting and very lucrative innovation.

Overy strongly opposes the taking of botanical illustrations from books. “It’s awful to take them out of the books. Books must remain intact. It’s a treasure as is and virtually worthless if you take the artwork out,” she said.

Overy and collectors favor engravings over lithographs.