19-25 August 2016 #822

Planting paintings

Botanical artists Neera Joshi mixes science with art
Smriti Basnet

Gopen Rai

When Neera Joshi (pictured, above) published her first book Flora from Kathmandu Valley in 1999, she had hardly any idea or experience of botanical art. Even without any formal training, however, the recent graduate of botany was able to bridge the gap between science and art by rendering drawings that were botanically accurate while at the same time showing artistic merit.

Six of her drawings are being exhibited at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh alongside botanical art made during the expedition of Scottish surgeon-naturalist Francis Buchanan-Hamilton to Nepal in 1802. The exhibition marks the bicentenary of diplomatic relations between Nepal and Britain, and features five other botanical artists and illustrators.

“Nobody told me to pursue this. I got into it not by weighing my prospects for the future but simply because of my love for nature and art,” said Neera Joshi.

Twenty years later, she is the most acclaimed botanical artist in Nepal.

The fine realistic drawings depict plant specimens much more accurately than even pressed samples. At the same time, they are also aesthetically pleasing and are works of art in their own right.

“The beauty of botanical art is that your studio can be anywhere in nature,” said Joshi, pointing out that her priority is to paint plants live — as they are in their natural habitats, rather than in herbariums or based on photographs. This means Joshi is constantly travelling to pick plants in the wild to draw; she has been from Gosaikunda to Jomsom, and many places in between.

Joshi’s only formal training was the three-month long course she undertook in Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Florida, USA. But she inherited most of her talent from her father, the famous artist Ramananda Joshi, founder of Park Gallery. Under his tutelage, she learned the basics of drawing and painting, and this early exposure to painting gradually steered her towards an art career.

“You don’t necessarily need a background in science. All you need is the patience and passion for art,” said Joshi, for whom the art form is both educational and a pleasure. Experimenting with water colour and gouache, it typically takes Joshi up to three weeks to complete one drawing.

While the free hand botanical paintings do not require any tedious planning, the scientific illustrations have their own rules. They must be painted on a white background and with precision, using tools such as proportional dividers and microscopes. Even more difficult is learning and applying the techniques to give the plants in the drawings a 3D effect.  

“It is a powerful visual communication which helps document biodiversity,” said Joshi. From culturally significant plants like pipal and tulsi to rhododendron, Nepal is a floral paradise, and Joshi is determined to make full use of the natural studio of her homeland.

Today, besides managing her father’s gallery in Pulchok, Joshi also runs Studio Petals in Khumaltar, mixing science with art, hoping to inspire young minds. She says: “I really want more people taking on botanical illustrations, especially young artists who are the future of this country.”

Read also:

200 years of botanical art

Puran Khadka in the abstract, Stéphane Huët

Blossoming art, Stéphane Huët

The wildest dreams of Kew, Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha

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