Botanical Illustration Workshop in Paradise

There are several reasons why a Botanical Illustration Workshop at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai, Hawaii is one of my favorite places to teach and draw plants.

On March 15, 2018, we concluded our 9th year of this three-week intensive workshop, which grows more popular each year. We now have two full time instructors, myself Wendy Hollender and for the second year, Veronica Fannin. I am left-handed, and I consider “Vern” to be my right hand. Together we make a great team, planning, teaching, and demonstrating illustration techniques with colored pencil and watercolor. We are also joined by accomplished watercolorist Esther Carpi, who gives great demos and advice on using watercolor.

The NTBG Education Center has a large classroom with walls of windows overlooking the breathtaking Lawai Valley and the two unique gardens that make up the NTBG on Kauai. The valley spans two miles, starting at a high elevation, down a spectacular waterfall and along a river that ends on a beautiful private beach on the Pacific Ocean. Along the two-mile stretch is the largest collection of Native Hawaiian flora in existence. McBryde Garden has an extensive collection of palms, flowering trees, Rubiaceae (including gardenias and coffee), Heliconias, orchids and many plants collected from all over the tropics by botanists and transported to the garden for research and cultivation. At the bottom is Allerton Garden, home to tropical fruiting trees, Heliconias, Gingers and many exotic tropical plants in romantic settings creating a series of outdoor “rooms.”

The staff at the garden, including botanists and horticulturists, visit the classroom daily, bringing plants to draw and answering questions about the plants.  In addition to covering the basics of names and plant identification, they give us unique tidbits of plant history, ethnobotany and stories of discovery, sometimes from the botanists who originally discovered and brought the plants to the garden.

This year’s group of 22 students was varied and international from a variety of backgrounds. More than half of the students came for the entire three weeks, and many have been coming for years. Over the course of the workshop, friendships are built and progress is impressive as we all work together in the classroom 4 – 6 days a week. We provide in-depth instruction and demonstrations for four days each week, in addition to open studio days for independent study.

Though class is held officially from 10am – 4pm with a break for a delicious freshly prepared tropical lunch, we find that most students can’t wait to draw, and they arrive as early as 8am and often stay till 6pm.

Several days a week we offer optional walks in the garden, exploring the plants with the knowledgeable staff, and we always spend time in the world class Rare Book and Original Botanical Art Archives in the climate controlled Botanical Research Center.

The energy and enthusiasm of the students, instructors, staff, and local visitors that come in and out of the classroom, along with the trade wind breezes, rainstorms, rainbows, and the singing birds, makes for an exciting and stimulating environment for all.

Everyone works hard and is creatively spurred on by the exotic sweet-smelling flowering plants, unusual seedpods, delicious tropical fruits and varied leaves in all colors and sizes that call out to us asking to be studied and drawn.

And of course there are the results – a cornucopia of brilliant botanical illustrations full of life, vitality and uniqueness that each student creates.

As if this isn’t enough to create and inspirational and life changing experience for all, we added in almost daily giveaways this year of art supplies, botanical inspired silk scarves, and books on botanical art. If someone was having a frustrating day unable to draw a flower just so, there was always the possibility of winning something, and if all else failed there were the local chocolate, coconut, macadamia nut cookies or other delightful desserts created by our chef Will. Swimming beaches are nearby and breathtaking hiking available around the island makes this truly a workshop in paradise!

And now here is a picture gallery so you can see for yourself!