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  • By Rita M. Ford

How I became a botanical materials artist.

Updated: Jan 16


Firstly, in fact, I became a gardener and a garden designer. I have begun gardening for the first time in my life in March 2007. For a long time before I had a dream to create a beautiful garden for my family with my own hands and also, I wanted my garden to be like a professionally made garden. My dream looked like a very strange dream for everybody, including me, because I lived that time in Saint Petersburg, Russia in a blockhouse and did not have even a small piece of ground where I could make a garden. I had only not a very big size balcony. But in spite of that, every year I made my little balcony looks like a luxury patio with all kind of annuals and perennials in containers. I had also a table, a chair, a charcoal grill and a small pond in a basin with different water plants in it. But I persistently believed that in the future I would have my dream garden. I did not have an idea of how it would happen, by the way.

But meanwhile, I finished two garden schools to know about gardening. One of that garden school taught students for the four months about gardening and especially kitchen gardening. Another one taught students for seven months about garden design. So, eventually, I passed the exams and got a certificate as a garden designer. Meanwhile, my beautiful garden continued to exist only in my brain, in my dream, in my imagination. By the way, most students in a garden school made their diploma projects having a real piece of ground, only I made a diploma project without any ground. I saved my design for some reason.

To see excellent examples of the most beautiful gardens created by famous landscape architectures I have been to England for seven days on a special garden tour. I visited with my great pleasure such English gardens as Garden Wisley, The Hamah Peschar Sculpture Garden, West Green House Garden, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kew Gardens, Savill Garden, St. James’s Park. And also I saw hundreds of modern gardens in one place, visiting Chelsea Flower Show 2005. That time in some of the English gardens I visited a temporary exhibition about botanical figure or drawing of botanical. On such a botanical figure, the artist draws some botanicals as realistic as possible and adds the description of the drown plant.

Example of a drawing of botanical I saw in England.

One more example of a drawing of botanical I saw in England.

I remember I liked that botanical drawing so much that I decided I’d try someday to do it. I need to tell you, that I never was an artist. I was making a living as an accountant.

I think my Angel understood that I really want to change my life and helped me to make my dream to become true. I met an American who proposed to me. I moved to the USA to my fiancé Ralph. We married in 2007. I changed countries. I have flown over the ocean to the other coastline from Saint Petersburg, Russia to Louisiana, USA.

The arrow in my garden directed to Saint Petersburg, Russia.

I have changed my lifestyle very much. Instead of living in a 6,5 million population city, I got life in the countryside far from any big cities. I stopped working and became a housewife. I was not a young girl at that time, I was already 45 years old. But time showed me that these were good changes in my destiny. Thank you, my Angel!

Well, my new life began and now I could start to build my dream garden with all my ideas existed only in my brain before. To tell you the truth, I did not know much about either living in a subtropical climate, no about subtropical plants.

But my dream about having a beautiful garden eventually became true.

A garden sign.

Of course, I am very happy. Thank you, my Angel! All the time I was sure I would have someday my own beautiful garden. Once, when I was looking close up our place, our house and our garden using computer program “Virtual Earth” I was really thrilled – I created something on the Earth I can see even from the space.

My blooming garden in its pick of beauty.

I remember, when I just came to the USA and saw house and place, where I was going to live I was really surprised that shape of the property, location of the house on the property, water edge on the one side of the property and even one big old tree – everything was like on my student design from the garden school many years ago. This was a real miracle.

In 2010 when my garden became still young (3 years old), but already a real garden I had thought that I would be able to start to draw botanical figures as I saw in England a long time ago. I had already a lot of blooms which I could use to draw them. I was going to draw flowers from my garden with watercolor. I need to mention that I never had such a hobby before drawing with watercolor. And once in a book of mine about creating art from pressed plants I read: “If you can’t draw, but you want it so much, then to create art from dried botanical materials is just for you. People never can draw better than Mother Nature. Every leaf, every flower is already ready art and a floral artist needs only to behold and manage to show this beauty to people. In nature, there is an inexhaustible quantity of shades of color, and the human never can reproduce even their small share. The human has not created any pattern, all are taken from nature. Nature gives to the floral artist a material possessing extraordinary opportunities. It is possible to create products in any manner, in any technics. Like a painting by oil, when leaves and petals are as strokes of paint. Like the schedule when haws are as strokes. The poplar down imitates a pencil. The skin of gladiolus bulbs can be used for creating floral art that looks like a stamping”.

So, I have forgotten about botanical figures and made the decision to make pressed plant art. It happened to me in May 2010. I was very interested to check what I read in my book about. I bought some gladiolus bulbs and before placing them into the soil in the spring I peeled some of the skin. I dried gladiolus bulb skin and used them to create several arts to learn how to work with this material. Each time I made art more difficult. I had about ten different shades of the skin of bulbs. This was my first art with such interesting botanical material, as gladiolus bulb skin and the last one, which was the most difficult for making.

But when I sent this art (the second one) named “Nefertiti. Beauty through the ages” for taking part in the competition in South Korea, it was chosen for one year for exhibition in Gurye, South Korea. I made Nefertiti’s face and neck with a gladiolus bulb skin.

I learn new stuff from the garden how it can be used in my art all the time. This is a very interesting process and, it’s clear for me, it is endless.

The harvest from my garden: muskmelon, watermelon, butter squash and many kinds of garden flowers.

Different sorts and hybrids of Azaleas and Rhododendrons.

Different sorts and hybrids of Day Lilies.

Once our local newspaper wrote about me an article after my successful exhibition and they gave the intriguing name for that article “Rita’s garden grows floral art”. I agree that is true.

I was creating my garden with inspiration. Now my garden pays me back. I get inspiration from my garden.

I’m smelling the aroma of Rio Samba Rose.

I was creating my garden with inspiration. Now my garden pays me back.

My favorite flowers for pressing are Pansy, Salvia, and Larkspur. My favorite leaves for pressing are Wild grape,

Wild grape leaves.

Grape,

Eucalyptus, Banana, Sycamore, Fig.

A new fig leaf in the spring.

Besides of garden plants, which are grown by me, I use some natural plants, which people usually call “weeds” in my art sometimes. For example, thistle and dandelion. Once, I was growing dandelion very carefully, like a very rare flower in my garden to get its leaves and fuzz. In fact, I just was looking very attentively not to destroy a dandelion growing itself.

A dandelion growing in the garden.

Eventually, I have made this art named “Fairy of the wind”, where dried leaves of dandelion and down of thistle were used for the creation of a huge dandelion.

The fluff of thistle.

Original Pressed Plant Art “Fairy of the wind”.

I’m an artist, who is very close to Nature, who gets inspiration from Mother Nature and who “paint” with stuff, which is taken by me from Nature.

Video of my garden on YouTube.

Pressed Plant Arts are HERE and HERE

Real butterflies in shadow boxes are HERE

Resin pieces of jewelry are HERE

My bio is HERE


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Many, Louisiana, USA