A Personal Herbarium

In the last impulse “A Walk in the Forest” I encouraged you to collect and press leaves and other plant parts. You can now use these pressed parts to make collages with natural objects from the realm of plants.

The practice of pressing and drying plants is an old one. The oldest surviving herbarium dates back to as early as the 16th century (1524). It’s located in Kassel, Germany. Originally, people dried plants to have decorative material in winter. That’s how the tradition of the herbarium began. Over time, people realized that they could do this with all sorts of plants and that they could systematize the herbarium and add the roots, the buds, the flower heads, and the fruits. They became scientific works. Nowadays there are herbaria worldwide, most of them in Europe and North America. Often, they can be found in botanical gardens or natural history museums. The largest herbaria are in Paris, St. Petersburg, London, St. Louis, Vienna (they were established mainly in the times of the monarchy) and in Berlin.

Now what does this have to do with our contemporary art activity? The idea is to make a collage out of plants, just as you would with paper scraps. That’s a very rewarding task. Start by placing the pressed plant parts on a white sheet, your drawing sheet, and study the plant carefully.
What is this object on your drawing sheet? It’s a three-dimensional object that you can then glue to the sheet. The best way to do this is with transparent acrylic binder. That’s a viscous, colorless liquid that you can buy in art supply stores. You apply it to the plant with a brush, place the plant on the drawing sheet, and thanks to the binder it sticks to the paper. The acrylic binder leaves no traces on the sheet. You can also use waterproof wood glue, a narrow strip of acid-free tape or glue.

The most important part of this task is to look carefully and attentively. There’s a lot of information in this object of your collage. There are outlines, like the shape of the stem. There are lines within the leaves and flowers. There are different shapes and patterns. What do the lines look like? How do they relate to each other? Are there accumulations, are there scatterings, and where? Where do the leaves and blossoms overlap, where do they leave empty spaces?

There are several options for how you approach this exercise: You can pick out a few elements of your collage and repeat them on a separate drawing sheet. You can draw the whole plant next to the collage. You can create an aura around the outline of the plant parts and magnify it like a sound wave. There are many different possibilities, these are just a few suggestions. The important thing is always to look closely, to look deeply into what you’ve chosen to continue by drawing. This makes it a very rewarding task.

Try out a few of these possibilities. Think of this impulse as the starting point for your own, very personal, artistic herbarium. Your herbarium can go through all seasons. It can later include small twigs or branches or needles. You can include every season, every stage and development in nature, and continue it in your drawing with the lines and structures you can find in these objects from nature. Let the object itself inspire you. My advice is to take only objects you’ve fallen in love with. Something that you like.

Start your drawing session in a relaxed mood. When your mind is wide open, conscious, and observant. When you’re in a situation that is not compulsion, that is not duty, that is not a must. But only in the moment when you would like to do it, for you. Because it feels good for you.

Looking is also an important task. So, look and draw and then look again, look at what you’ve drawn. Then maybe draw some more. If the day is too short and there are many other things to do, just look. That’s enough.
I wish you much joy in this task and many new insights into the world of plants!