Artist's statement:
Niki Simpson, 2018

My images are inspired by, and are heavily based on, the values of accuracy and detail found in traditional botanical art. But for me, the future of botanical illustration lies in exploring the potential of the dynamic digital workspace. I am keen to develop botanical images for our time, to work alongside and supplement current botanical research and botanical education, and to be suitable for future online publication possibilites. I am interested in exploring how technology can be used to create new descriptive data, rather than for simply digitising existing data. Highly informative scientific illustrations can convey complex descriptive botanical information, yet, being largely independent of language, they can be understood by readers around the world and are accessible to viewers of a wide range of interest and age. My underlying interest is in using the power of images to raise awareness of, and communicate information about, plants.

Scientific enquiry demands time-consuming research and observation, and often painstaking attention to detail. These composite images, or ‘image specimens’ or 'image vouchers' are no exception  - in order to include the diagnostic and, where space permits the characteristic, features shown by the plant throughout the year, each one can take many weeks or months to create. They are based largely on digital photography, but may also contain scanning electron micrographs of pollen grains, flatbed scans, computer drawings and scanned hand-drawn work or photographic transparencies. The images have been developed primarily for onscreen use - where magnification or zoom tools can be used to reveal and explore micro-characters that would otherwise remain hidden, and for future interactive viewing.

While I make use of digital photography, much of the creative process is just the same as working traditionally - the research, the finding, identification and collection of the specimen to work with, direct observation from life, hand-eye skills, measurement, detail and the accuracy of form and colour, a heavy emphasis on composition and working in collaboration with a botanist. It is just the tool that has changed.

The primary aim of these images is not beauty, but to document and convey a scientific visual description of the plant concerned. Each image portrays a particular plant, but each illustration also tells a story – a botanical narrative of growth and reproduction. Where depictions are inadequate for portraying features like smell, gender or time of flowering, recourse is made to the inclusion of symbols, a time-bar and minimal text. There is no place for obscuring shadows, or for the charm of old paintings. There is no aim for a ‘look’ or a ‘mood’, or even the ‘essence’ of a plant – just what is, or importantly for comparative scientific work, what isn’t. My creative focus is on attractive detail and accuracy, with no fudging, fading or false colour, and ultimately for the botanical truth.

Niki Simpson, 2018