It takes a gifted artist to become a great teacher and those who dare to teach never cease to learn.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

SBAI - 40 Years of Illustration!

Watercolor by Angela Overy, 2007 (from Penstemons to Pines - Denver Botanic Gardens, 2010)

Dr. Janet Wingate, the former curator of the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium of Vascular Plants and Ms. Ann Cunningham taught occasional botanical illustration sessions at Denver Botanic Gardens already in the late 1970’s.  
Ms. Angela Overy offered her first regular botanical illustration classes at the Gardens in 1980. Angela started flower drawing while in England and had recently moved to Colorado. Her illustration classes were very popular being also different from the then prevalent “modern art” classes. The regular courses were expanded in 1990 when Ms. Overy established our botanical illustration certification program. This was a rigorous one year course of study and the first of its kind worldwide to teach a progressive course to students from beginner to the very accomplished artist.

Nymphaea 'Denver's Delight' watercolor by Susan T. Fisher

After 20 years, in 2000, the leadership for the program was passed to Susan T. Fisher, MFA and she grew the program to meet the needs of students who wished to professionally pursue botanical art and illustration. Susan T. Fisher laid the ground for a successful education model with a selection of required and elective courses.

Lupinus argenteus by Susan Rubin, colored pencil (2017)

Susan Rubin managed the program in 2006 and in January 2007 the program management was passed to Dr. Mervi Hjelmroos-Koski.
Trichostema arizonicum, colored pencil by Mervi Hjelmroos-Koski

We continued expanding and in 2009 started teaching in San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico and launched the collaboration with the local El Charco de Ingenio Botanical Garden. A distance learning program was initiated in 2011 to combine classroom participation with remote online opportunities and in 2018 we had our first virtual teaching session.
In 2013 we were renamed School of Botanical Art and Illustration (SBAI). In addition to the Foundational Certificate in Botanical Art and Illustration, we established the Diploma in Applied Botanical Illustration which opened the doors to individuals who already have earned the basic scientific illustration skills. 
Since 2011 we have arranged popular annual Arts and Archives international tours providing an additional opportunity to study not only global botanical art, but also science, historical documentation, and culture. Since the inauguration, the tours have traveled to 15 countries mainly in Europe to study early natural history documentation, science and global botanical art. The regularly occurring So Much Art and Culture (SMA-) tours to Mexico have been arranged since 2018. These are tours that combine art instruction with local culture (50/50) at the destination.
In 2015 we were able to host our first Artist-in-Resident participant and have continued to do so annually since.

The school made history in 2017 by receiving a group gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) annual London Botanical Art Show. Each of the core instructors plus two alumni were involved in this successful group exhibit, Rocky Mountains: Plants and Fungi with Altitude. This rare achievement testifies to the skill of our teachers, the achievements of our students, the ability to maintain tradition and innovation, and excellence in all details. 
Today we offer around 160 15-hour workshops annually, we have 8 core teachers, and typically every year have 5-6 international visiting instructors. Annually 10-15 students graduate with a foundational certificate after having completed 15 required courses and at least 100 elective class room hours in addition to the approved 5-piece portfolio.
In the future we are looking for new opportunities to expand and reach more of the Colorado and distant learning community with our classes and programs. We also hope to have more scholarships and other alternatives to share our enthusiasm and knowledge with various local demographic groups, thus broadening the understanding of the centuries old tradition of botanical illustration.

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