Local artist Brandi Malarkey isn’t afraid to admit she’s a “total urban girl” who knows little about the many plants coexisting with humans and other animals in our world.
But through her recent adventure into botanical art, the curious and bubbly Fargo artist embraces the opportunity to learn about flowers, vegetables and other plants as she paints them in vibrant watercolor.
“One of the things they tell you in botanical art school is that anytime you paint something, you really have to fall in love with it,” says Malarkey, who took a six-week class at the Minnesota School of Botanical Art in Minneapolis two years ago.
The art form requires plenty of patience, persistence and precision to capture every little detail of the featured plant, the California native adds.
“You and whatever it is you’re painting have to have a very intimate relationship,” she says.
Although Malarkey is still “green” in the botanical art world, her progress is evident in her work currently on display at Nichole’s Fine Pastry, 13 Eighth St. S., Fargo, as part of the “Flora and Fauna” exhibit with photographer Birgit Pruess until Aug. 31.
Malarkey’s pieces hanging in the north room of the local pastry shop each portray a specific plant painted with scientific accuracy on a simple white background. Light wood frames add the finishing touch. These are some of many guidelines for botanical art that distinguish it from other visual art forms, Malarkey says.
For centuries, botanical art was associated with science, as documenting the full life cycle of plants in intricate detail before they perished was key for learning about our natural environment, according to the American Society of Botanical Artists website. But with the advancement of technology and evolution of the art form in recent decades, those lines have become blurred, Malarkey adds.
“There has been discussion about if traditional botanical illustration counts as art and if it should be displayed in art spaces or in nature museums,” Malarkey says. “Depending on who you talk to, it can fall on either side of the line. I get to be the cheerful hack who does what I want.”
More advanced botanical artists showcase the complete life cycle of a plant in each piece, but Malarkey says she is still “learning from scratch” and starting small by painting individual parts of one specific plant, whether it’s an apple, a pepper or a maple leaf that catches her eye during routine walks outside.
“If you look at some of the great (artists) in botanical art, my pieces are clearly beginner work, but I have the advantage that no one else around here does it,” says the artist, who is one of two members of the American Society of Botanical Artists in North Dakota. The other artist lives in Mandan.
Malarkey explores nature in her other artwork, including calligraphy, illuminations, medieval manuscripts, photography, gouache and mixed media. Botanical art is the most challenging and time consuming art Malarkey creates. But she says the beauty of it is including the imperfections that showcase the true essence of a plant — every bruise, yellowing leaf or haphazard sprout.
“We can take out all of the parts that are starting to rot, but then we just have a pretty painting,” she says.
The artist had the opportunity to hone her skills when creating 50 botanical pieces for The Arts Partnership’s Community Supported Art program this season. She also recently joined Gallery 4 in downtown Fargo and became a member of Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists to grow her artistic presence in the community.
She’s grateful to share her work at Nichole’s Fine Pastry, which is “a natural fit” for her botanical work, and looks forward to continue learning about the world around her through her art. As Malarkey states on her website, “I like to focus on the small things that exist around us that can remind us that we are surrounded by little miracles.”
To learn more about Brandi Malarkey or follow along with her artistic process on her blog, visit itsallmalarkey.com.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, July 1, 2019.