Hello and let me introduce you to my very first Artist of the Month! I decided to start this blog with one of my personal heroes and possible soul-twin, Beatrix Potter.
Facts to begin:
Life: Born 1866 in London, England; Died 1943 in Near and Far Sawrey, England
Known for: The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other illustrated children’s stories
Medium: drawings and illustrations in graphite, ink, paint, and watercolor
More to Know:
Despite being primarily known for her work in children’s literature, Beatrix Potter wore many hats throughout her life: author, illustrator, scientist, naturalist, conservationist, wife, farmer, sheep breeder…the list goes on and on.
She was born into wealth, and could have spent her life as most ladies in her situation at that time period did: living in leisure off of first her parents’ money and then a husband’s. Instead, she used her talents and hard work to become independently wealthy, and spent her days living and breathing the things she was passionate about.
Her stories and art are of course beautiful and adorable—
—and here are some lesser-known, but no less important, contributions of Beatrix Potter:
Her eye for detail, interest in the natural world, and quiet, methodical personality fueled trailblazing work in the fields of botany and mycology. In fact, she is credited as being the first British person to hypothesize that lichens are symbiotic life forms. This, and much of what she discovered and hypothesized, was not seriously acknowledged or reproduced by other scientists for as many as 40 years after her contributions.
In addition to well-recorded experiments and observations (including a paper presented to the Linnean Society), her meticulous and comprehensive drawings are still used in scientific reference materials today. Her work in scientific illustration extends from fungi and plants to animals, fossils, archaeological finds, wild flowers, and microscope drawings.
After the success of Peter Rabbit and other stories, she lived a quiet life breeding prize-winning Herdwick sheep and farming in the English Lake District. She used her wealth and local influence in conservation efforts, and by the end of her life singlehandedly saved 15 farms and over 4,000 acres of land from development.
And for those of us who get discouraged by lists like “Forbes’ 30 Under 30,” or worry about being single forever, just know that Potter was 31 when she presented her scientific paper, 36 when Peter Rabbit was first published, and 47 when she married.
Beatrix Potter inspires me to never set limits and to truly use my art and life for greater good. We can all learn from her examples in self-motivation, love of learning with or without formal education, and the importance of a more introverted approach to fame in the world. I feel that had we been alive at the same time and place, we would have been friends…or maybe Beatrix Potter is just me in another life? To quote(ish) another English author, “whatever our souls are made of, [hers] and mine are the same.”**
Time for a nature walk: Channel your own inner Beatrix Potter and become both a scientist AND an artist. Next time you are outside, find something small from nature that catches your eye and observe it as closely as you can. If possible, take it home with you (but if not, take a picture of it). Draw it/recreate it however you choose, but be sure to catch all the little details!
Another option: bypass taking it home or taking a picture altogether...sit down and draw it right where you are!
Take it a step further and start a nature journal where you can sketch out images, stories, and other inspirations during all your nature adventures. Here's a printable sample of one made by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, if you want help getting started:
A bit of an aside--as it turns out, my timing is quite serendipitous in that a previously-undiscovered/lost story manuscript of hers was found just a few days ago. It's all set to get published in September--a hundred years after it was written! So Ms. Potter is all over the news right now and I am loving it: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-35407846
Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear (book, 2007)
Beatrix Potter’s Journal by Beatrix Potter (journal/book, 2006)
Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Manasee Wagh (article, 2007) http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/24954/title/Beatrix-Potter--scientist/
The Tale of Beatrix Potter (article, 2014) http://publicdomainreview.org/2014/07/23/the-tale-of-beatrix-potter/
"Miss Potter" (film, 2006)
Peter Rabbit.com and the Life of Beatrix Potter (website, 2015) http://www.peterrabbit.com/
The Beatrix Potter Society (website, 2015) http://beatrixpottersociety.org.uk/
**I can’t believe I just quoted one of my least-favorite books of all time! (sorry, Emily Bronte)