The walls of Studio 2 &3 are lined with dozens and dozens of drawings, paintings, and photographs bursting with bright hues. Overlapped watercolor paintings are arranged by colors of the rainbow and square photographs organized in a neat grid across the south wall invite visitors through the double doors to study each image. The common thread connecting all the different media represented in Jody Williams' studio is stated in her moniker: Botanical By Nature.
After a successful career in mechanical engineering and raising a family, Jody trademarked Botanical By Nature, opened her studio, and became a full-time artist. "Watercolor was always in the back of mind while my kids were growing up," admits Jody. "I took a night class in watercolor painting before they were born; I always wanted to learn and get better." Creative time was scarce between working, travelling, and raising a family so Jody would often pick up her camera and photograph nature. "I was always taking photos," she remembers. "I would see things I didn't have time to paint and would take photographs instead." Creating a composition, finding a focus, a voice, and an eye for photography were all endeavors Jody cultivated on her way to becoming a painter. She had an archive of about 40,000 photographs when she arrived at the Foundry Art Centre.
Jody had been hosting a guest from India, showing her around Saint Louis' and Saint Charles' popular sites, and stopped in the FAC on their tour. Her guest insisted that Jody get a studio here and cultivate her art career in this space. "It hadn't occurred to me until she suggested it; I submitted my work for jury and was accepted in 2013. It's wonderful to have so much space... it's a beautiful building and a beautiful setting." Jody enjoys keeping her subject matter on view and having enough room to have a working space and gallery within the same room. "I don't have to put things away when it's time to serve dinner," she smiles. "Keeping my work in front of my eye is important. With watercolor, I can keep going later on; having my work visible each day makes it clear in my mind what else needs to be done."
A place to work and display her plant specimens were not her only priorities in selecting studio space. "I wanted to have a physical place to establish a group just for botanical artists," she says. "Saint Louis is a world-wide hub of plant science, with the Missouri Botanical Gardens as one of the top public gardens in the world. I wanted to start a botanical art community in Saint Louis." This group has now found its footing and continues to grow with Jody's studio serving as the cornerstone for the Saint Louis area. The group meets once a month, welcomes newcomers, and is an Artist Circle within the American Society of Botanical Artists, an organization in which Jody serves as Board President.
The Society, established in 1994, boasts over 1500 members in thirty countries with its headquarters located at The New York Botanical Garden. They hold annual conferences for their members to congregate, learn at workshops, and enjoy lectures from prominent contemporary botanical artists. Saint Louis will host the ASBA's 2018 meeting and the Foundry Art Centre will welcome their traveling exhibition Out of the Woods in fall of the same year. Jody's goal for the start of the new year is to focus completely on her submissions for this exhibition. The subject matter of each piece in the exhibition is a tree in a botanical garden or registered arboretum, especially notable or historically-significant trees. This call gives botanical artists a chance to connect with local botanical experts and learn more about the stories contained within a garden.
To be a botanical artist, plant depictions must be scientifically accurate and reflect the natural color, structure, and scale of the plant life. Shadows, surfaces, and backgrounds are generally not depicted. Scientific plant illustrations share a lot of these qualities but the difference is in the intent; scientific illustrations are made to document and define a plant for a botanist, while botanical art exists to display the beauty and aesthetic appeal of a plant, and to evoke emotion of any viewer.
"I like to do things in season," explains Jody. "The last couple weeks I painted holly for the holiday season, now I'm working on pears which are holiday-esque for me." Many leaves, plants, and other botanicals displayed on her table, once vibrant with the colors of fall, are now brittle and dulled, taking on a new kind of beauty. She collects many of her subjects from her farm in the St. Francois Mountains, where she and her family enjoy their weekends. Although she relishes travelling around the world to view and photograph plants, she promises that Missouri has enough plant life to keep her endlessly interested.
"I love mushrooms, which are not plants but a traditional subject of botanical artists. There are so many mushrooms in Missouri and I love drawing them and painting them," she gushes, listing a variety of edible mushrooms found in Missouri: morels, chantrelles, black trumpets, chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, and lion's mane. "There are lots of other ones, as well," she adds. She even attended a mushroom-cultivating workshop in Olympia, Washington, led by expert Paul Staments, to better grow and understand mushrooms. Jody plans to do a series of watercolor pieces on these beloved subjects.
Serving as a leader of an international botanical artist community allows Jody to interact with and learn from some of the most talented botanical artists in the world, such as Karen Kuglein, Beverly Allen, Fiona Strickland, and Jean Emmons. "Seek out people whose work you admire, learn their techniques, " she recommends. "Use what they teach, then create your own art and your own style. Make artwork that you love instead of trying to please someone else. I want to make something that I have confidence in."
Visit Jody Williams in Studio 2 & 3 at the Foundry Art Centre to learn more about botanical art, inquire about classes, and purchase original artwork for your home.
Article & Photographs by Jillian Schoettle.