Bronxville News

Art Students Sketch Plants Along Bronx River to Assist Scientists
Bronxville, NY

In collaboration with science teacher Justine McClellan and her students’ research on the Bronx River, students in Courtney Alan’s Studio Art II class are creating detailed illustrations of a variety of plants found along the river. 

“There has been a relationship between art and science for centuries,” Alan said. “Before photography, botanical illustration was the only way of visually recording the differences between plants for medicine or scientific purposes. Students in the Bronx River Research class could use some of our final illustrations in their work.”

As part of the project, the art students recently walked along a stretch of the Bronx River at Scout Field to learn about the different native and invasive species and carefully observe the plants before beginning to pencil sketch them, paying attention to line quality and shape.

“This project requires artistic skill, attention to fine detail and knowledge of the plants, and, in the process, it teaches students craftsmanship,” Alan said. “Knowing the type of plants that they are drawing and the impact these plants have on the local ecology will make their artwork more interesting and purposeful.” 

Over the next several weeks, the students – who already identified a variety of plants, including Japanese knotweed, wild carrot, witch hazel, hops, bur cucumber, mugwort, jewelweed and goldenrods – will be fully immersed into their artwork and challenge themselves as technical artists. They will conduct watercolor studies and render the plants in pen and ink, using different mark-making techniques, such as hatching, stippling and scumbling, to depict value and texture.

“Many students were interested in drawing the porcelain-berry plants, which have a vine-like leaf growth pattern and these amazing blue-green berries,” Alan said. 

The final artworks will be a combination of pen and watercolor to produce detailed illustrations of the plants.

“I hope the students take away an appreciation of the nature around them and the connection between the classes they have available to them at Bronxville,” Alan said. “Scientists and artists have a similar process, and it’s fun to explore how each could learn from one another. It is important for students to think of their classes as connected and not compartmentalized.”