Living things, encountered in the kitchen, in the garden or yard, growing out of cracks in the pavement, or on long walks on the Bruce Trail (Ontario). In short, anywhere one takes a moment to look, as we all should. Forms, patterns, and geometries encountered in nature bring ideas to mind, new patterns of thought.
Some of the recent images here show the emergence of a newer, quiet voice, the part of me I like to call my ‘inner boffin’. My boffin (casual term for a scientist or science aficionado) looks a little further into botanical subjects, looking for the underlying hints and expressions of physics, the mysterious ‘patterns of organic energy’ that unite everything in our universe. I like to think of it like this: our human life lies within the realm of biology; within biology lies chemistry; within chemistry lies physics, and within physics, that most strange and otherworldly of sciences, lies poetry (encompassing the arts and philosophy) — and possibly the undiscovered links between the arts and the sciences. Clues to understanding may be right in front of us, everywhere we go.
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All images ©Kathryn Chorney.
I have always looked forward to seeing the spiralling forms of the paired leaves of this plant, as they emerge and unfold each spring. I’ve always thought this would be the ideal time in the season to illustrate them. This year (2021) I finally had the chance. Colour pencil on drafting film, 13.5″ x 10.5″. ©Kathryn Chorney
One of the first things that struck me about this beautiful native plant, was the visual interplay between the leaves and the row of pendant flowers on each stem — this relationship seemed musical to me, with the regularly-spaced groups of blossoms suggesting a rhythmic series of chords, and the lush, curvaceous leaves seeming to perform a dancing melody above. Watercolour and graphite, approx 13″ x 19″. ©Kathryn Chorney
This subject has a strong personal resonance for me, for two reasons. One is the wonderful fact that whole groves of this tree are related, clones of a single organism, with the oldest known clone believed to be 80,000 years old. This seems to me a wonderful statement of the oneness and continuance of all life. The second reason is that in Western Canada where I encountered this specimen, the catkins emerge in April, and this is a timing I associate with a profound recent event in my life that saw me meditating intensively on connectedness and continuance. Colour pencil, gouache, and acrylic on drafting film; approx 13.5″ x 10.5″. ©Kathryn Chorney
A beautiful subject, made as a commission for two beautiful people, one of whom is a Canadian, and who make their home in Brisbane AU. The piece is a reminder of the beauties of spring in southern Ontario. Watercolour and graphite, approx 11×14″, 2018. ©Kathryn Chorney
Bundle of male pollen cones of the Red Pine, one of the most prolific native trees of Canada. This piece was exhibited in Art of the Plant, at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, in 2018. The exhibition was part of a global collaboration celebrating native plant diversity, exhibited online worldwide along with botanical art exhibits from 25 participating countries. This piece was also juried into the 2019 Guild of Natural Science Illustrators exhibition in Brisbane AU (July 2019), and was also part of Focus on Nature XV, the NY State Museum’s biannual exhibit of international science and nature illustration, June 2019 – Jan 2020. Watercolour, casein, and graphite, 13″h x 19″w, ©Kathryn Chorney
This tree stands dormant under a fresh January snowfall. The egg and spoon-like forms (originally inner-monk sketchbook drawings) represent elements of a spring that has not yet arrived. Watercolour and graphite, 12″h x 8″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
A silent winter day contains hints of the still-sleeping spring that is to come. Watercolour and graphite, 12″h x 8″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
I’d been interested in this particular tree for a long time before finally figuring out a way to illustrate its varied appearances from these three different angles. The gothic-arched frames were inspired by views through tall windows on a university campus, and offered a way to focus the drawings on the tree’s trunk rather than the crown. The trunk seems to twist and dip like two dancers in motion, their tempo far too slow for us to perceive. I like thinking about the scales and dimensions of this universe that we are unequipped to perceive. The egg-like objects and the motifs along the bottom are thoughts about three-dimensional forms making their way through 2-dimensional planes. Watercolour, casein, and colour pencil, approx 11″h x 13″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
This lovely and strange little plant satisfies my curiosity and fascination with the geometries found in plant life. These plants were growing in the kitchen garden of Dundurn Historic House in Hamilton ON. Watercolour and graphite, 14″h x 10.5″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
A piece from summer 2016. Again, just a simple little garden plant, but presenting an element of natural wonder in how the pentagonal form of the bud blends into a rounded dome. Watercolour and graphite, approx 8″h x 10″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
I recently did some digital reworking to the composition of this study of a dried bromeliad stem. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that this stem, even in death, contained so much life, even seeming to spring upwards, perhaps towards a new state of existence. I reworked the background digitally to enhance the effect. Watercolour, casein, acrylic, digital. 2012 (revised 2019) ©Kathryn Chorney
These vase-like forms remind me of the cosmic presence within everyday things. Observing natural forms, like these onion sections, influences my thinking when drawing from imagination. The abstract figures were originally drawn in my ‘inner monk’ sketchbook. I draw these freehand – I don’t use any digital media for these. The slightly chart-like composition is a bit of homage to the great biological illustrator Ernst Haeckl. Watercolour and graphite, 14″h x 11″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
Further adventures in illustrating purple onions. The imaginary figures began as sketchbook drawings and are done freehand – I don’t use digital software for these. Watercolour and graphite, 14″h x 11″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
The mysterious forms at the heart of flowers are fascinating to me. This illustration is of the reproductive parts of a tulip (Tulipa sp.) from my front garden. I included a few imaginary figures inspired by my observations of these and other natural forms. Three-part forms are very important to human symbology, representing everything from past-present-future, to father-mother-child. The triskelion – the three-part figure found in many places including the coat of arms of the Isle of Man – is explained by the phrase ‘whithersoever you throw it, it will stand’. As lovely a summary of natural adaptation as any I’ve encountered. Watercolour, colour pencil, and acrylic, 12″x12″. ©Kathryn Chorney
This species, one of the most popular garden magnolias, is a hybrid that dates from the 19th century. Magnolias however are among the most ancient flowering plants — dating back to the Tertiary period, 100 million years ago. We are most familiar with the petals of flowers, but to me the really fascinating forms are the reproductive structures hidden in the center. Watercolour, casein, acrylic, 17.5″h x 12.5″w. ©Kathryn Chorney (original in private collection)
A very common weed of the fields and ditches, the Teasel’s most familiar feature is its large, prickly seed head. In this case what struck me was the spiralling curls of the dried leaves. This is the same pair of leaves in two views. Watercolour, casein, acrylic. 12″h x 18″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
Third in series of three studies of this species. When I find an interesting weed in the woods, often I have to do quite a bit of searching to find out what it is. That’s one of the great things about drawing and illustrating — it’s always a learning experience. Watercolour, casein, acrylic, 13.5″h x 10.5″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
Second in a series of three studies of this species. Many botanical illustrators are drawn to the appearance of plants in the winter season, and I am no exception. Watercolour, casein, acrylic, 13.5″h x 10.5″w. ©Kathryn Chorney (original in private collection)
First in a series of three studies of this species, found Nov 2012 in the Hockley Valley north of Toronto. I was fascinated to see the dry leaves curled into such fantastic geometrical shapes. Watercolour, casein, acrylic, 13.5″h x 10.5″w. ©Kathryn Chorney
A young Red Maple tree in one of the lakeside parks in Toronto, seen against a pale, overcast sky. I used liquid frisket to mask around the leaf masses so that I could render them using loose wet-in-wet and a variety of sponging techniques. I thought this contrasted in an interesting way with the delicate contours of the bark, rendered in graphite and subtle washes. Watercolour and graphite, 17.5″ x 11.5″. ©Kathryn Chorney
This European Beech stands on the St George (downtown) campus of the University of Toronto, outside Hart House. Watercolour and graphite, 17.5″ x 12″. ©Kathryn Chorney
This Azalea was a gift from a graduating class several years ago. I decided to extend its life as a series of paintings; this is one of them. Watercolour, casein. ©Kathryn Chorney