By Rita J. Egan
Diane Bouchier hopes to plant the love of botanical art in the hearts of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library patrons. The library, located in Setauket, will host an exhibit of Bouchier’s drawings, Native Plants of Long Island, through the month of February.
The Stony Brook resident said she has been artistic since she was a child, but her career path took a slightly different direction. For nearly 40 years, she was a professor at Stony Brook University where she taught sociology of art. While artistic activities fed into her academic work “in a very positive way,” over time she felt a need to hone her skills.
“I was always supposed to be artistic as a kid, but then I went into the social sciences,” said Bouchier in a recent interview. “I guess I was a child of the ’60s, and I thought it was important to understand what was going on. I don’t regret that choice, but along the way, in fact, when [my husband and I] moved to our house in Wading River I started a garden, I realized I could not draw the flowers to the level I wanted to draw them. I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, you’re supposed to be artistic, why isn’t this turning out?’”
Her frustration in drawing flowers inspired Bouchier to take courses at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx where she obtained her certification in its botanical arts and illustration program.
It was during her time studying botanical art that she met one of her mentors, Ann-Marie Evans, a teacher at NYBG. Bouchier said it was Evans who encouraged her to start the American Society of Botanical Artists, an interactive community dedicated to preserving the tradition and encouraging excellence in the contemporary practice of botanical art.
The artist has exhibited extensively, including having her work on view at the 8th International Exhibition of Botanical Art at Carnegie Mellon University’s Hunt Institute in Pittsburgh and the Long Island Museum’s juried exhibition, Animal Kingdom: From Tame to Wild.
Bouchier, who lists 17th-century French artist Nicolas Robert among her favorites, said when she retired two years ago, art became a full-time pursuit. She calls her most recent work her retirement project.
“They say that when you retire you need a project, so I needed something,” the artist said. “So, what do I really care about, and the answer was ecology and art. And what am I trained in? I was trained in botanical and natural history illustration, so I put the two together.”
For the last few months Bouchier’s drawings were in a traveling exhibit displayed at various locations in Suffolk County including the Smithtown Library, North Shore Public Library and Sweetbriar Nature Center. While those exhibits included 20 of her 16- by 20-inch pieces, the Emma Clark Library exhibit, which is the last stop in the tour, will consist of only 10 drawings.
Bouchier said she decided to select those that pointed toward warmer weather for the Setauket location since she feels that come February many are tired of the winter.
The artist said many of her drawings depict specimens she obtained from the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, an organization that encourages people to plant native plants that support birds, bees and butterflies, while her garden inspired her for others.
“In the course of drawing the plants and learning about them, I started planting them in my garden,” she said. “It’s a small garden but I’m very pleased that some of the drawings exhibited are from plants from my own garden, and that’s a special pleasure.”
Bouchier said for most of her artwork she prefers using colored pencils on Stonehenge paper, which she said is soft and smooth. She also works in pastels and egg tempera, a medium that has egg yolks in the paint that leaves a brilliant surface.
The artist said it can take a week to 10 days to complete a drawing when she uses colored pencils. She said one morning she’ll do the basic drawing and then another day the undercoat. “It’s very calming,” she said. “If you want to de-stress you should do this.”
Bouchier encourages people of all ages to learn how to draw, and she shares her knowledge by teaching classes at Gallery North in Setauket. In April she will head up a course on the fundamentals of botanical art techniques on Sundays, April 8, 15, 22 and 29. Call 631-751-2676 for times and cost.
“There are very few self-taught artists in the field because whether you’re drawing animals or plants, it’s important that it be accurate at a certain level,” Bouchier said. “You can still be expressive — these things are not opposites — but you don’t want to get the basic structure of the plant or animal wrong.”
When it comes to the artist’s classes, Judith Levy, director of Gallery North, said Bouchier’s classes are informative and relaxing and students leave feeling successful when the workshops are over.
“She’s very focused, she’s very organized, and she gives them a process of how to look at things or how to do a particular technique or use whatever the material is,” said Levy in a recent phone interview. “Sometimes it’s pencils; sometimes it’s colored pencils, it depends on what medium. She is very, very good, and her classes are popular.”
Bouchier also shares her love of creativity with her husband, WSHU radio personality and essayist David Bouchier. The artist said her husband asks her for feedback when it comes to his radio scripts, and she also reads and edits his book manuscripts. In turn, she tests out her ideas for drawings and paintings on him. In 2002, her husband released “The Cats and the Water Bottles,” a book of his essays of life in France, which includes line drawings by his wife.
The artist, who lists her drawing “American Holly and Winterberry” among her favorites, said she hopes the exhibit will inspire library patrons.
“It’s to encourage people to recognize the subtle beauty of our native plants and to perhaps consider planting them in their own gardens,” she said.
Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket will present Native Plants of Long Island by Diane Bouchier through Feb. 28. For more information, call 631-941-4080 or visit www.emmaclark.org.