Art, Science or Just Plain Fun?
By Elaine Regus, University of California, Riverside-Extension Newsletter


Donald Davidson believes if you can teach someone to drive, you can teach them how to draw. More specifically, you can teach them how to draw a scientifically accurate portrait of a wildflower.

Davidson is a botanical illustrator for the National Park Service's "Celebrating Wildflowers" website. He also teaches "Botanical Illustration of Desert Flora" for UCR Extension. His class has been called "botany for artists" or "art for botanists" depending on one's background. Or, for those with neither artistic nor scientific training, it's been called fun. "The real thrill is being out there in wild country, where the sun is shining; you're undisturbed; you have the camaraderie of a small group and you're out there doing it together," Davidson said. "You're learning how to look at things and then transposing that knowledge to the act of drawing."

The three-day weekend class begins Friday, March 30, at the Desert Studies Center in the Mojave National Preserve, about a two-hour drive from Riverside. The class fee includes two nights lodging and meals at the center.

Davidson, who was trained as a formalist painter in abstract expressionism, has been a botanical illustrator since 1999. "I found myself more interested in the outdoors. I gradually gave up working in the studio and started just drawing in nature," he said. Davidson said drawing out in the field gives him the great opportunity to commune with nature and to create his own environment. He started the "Traveling Artist Wildflowers Project" website www.nps.gov/plants/cw/watercolor/index.htm for the National Park Service about 12 years ago. He uses it to display his illustrations from various parts of the country including Puerto Rico.

In 2010, Davidson received the President's Volunteer Service Award for his dedication to the National Park Service. Davidson's works have been exhibited at various locations including: Carlsbad Caverns; the Death Valley Visitor's Center; the Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas, and Fort Conde de Mirasol in Puerto Rico. The Desert Studies Center is Davidson's favorite place to wander and to draw. He's been teaching there since 2004.

"I don't think I've ever had anyone who didn't learn how to draw plants, including people who have never done much art at all." Davidson said. "Everyone leaves learning how to draw a plant that a scientist could key out (identify). That's the goal. I can look at it and say, 'Yes, that is an Opuntia basilaris (a type of prickly pear cactus).'"

Learn more about the "Botanical Illustration of Desert Flora" class offered by UCR Extension


Back to the Traveling Artist Wildflowers Project.

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Last updated: 13 March 2012