Living in southern Vermont, I am surrounded by lush forests and verdant fields. There is so much to observe while trying to decide what to draw! Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) has always been one of my favorite shrubs, with attractive winter buds, brilliant white flowers that light up the edge of woods in the early spring, and rich fruits in the fall, soon after eaten by birds. A single seedling, such as Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is far simpler to draw, but equally satisfying to find and turn into a copper etching.
I have been drawing plants professionally for over forty years, and have always been obsessed with the precise detail that can be achieved with pen and ink. Several years ago, master printmaker Brian Cohen introduced me to the intricate art of copper etching, and I was immediately smitten. Accustomed to working within a defined space for publication, I appreciate the sharp boundaries of a copper plate. And since an etched copper plate is printed as a mirror image onto the paper, I work on my designs in reverse, checking it out on tracing paper and lightbox.
The final sketch is transferred onto a waxy ground application on a copper plate, and then I “needle” it, scratching the wax with a sharp needle under my microscope, impressing fine lines and stipples, creating soft tones dot by dot. The plate is then etched with ferric chloric acid, printed as a test, and then reworked two, three, or more times to add more detail and depth. I use oil-based ink, rubbed onto the copper, cleaned first with fine cheesecloth-like fabric and then wiped with my hand. Each print is done, one by one, on water-soaked paper on my Ettan Press. I add watercolor to a select few of my editions. The editions are limited, usually twenty or thirty prints.
Primarily a scientific illustrator, I am attracted to unusual plants, reflecting my long history working with botanists and horticulturalists. I created a collection of such etchings for an exhibit with Beverly Duncan at The Arnold in 2018 (Impressions of Woody Plants: Disjunction, Two Artists and the Arnold Arboretum). As Beverly and I walked around the Arboretum with Michael Dosmann, planning the exhibit, I saw the gorgeous Chinese sweetbush (Calycanthus chinensis) in full bloom. Having learned it had been introduced into cultivation in the 1980s, I eagerly went out to purchase a shrub to grow, and draw, in my own garden. Also impressive is seven son flower (Heptacodium miconoides), the elegant, fall-blooming flowers and fruits of which I had seen at The New York Botanical Garden. Arnold Arboretum staff had collected seeds from a garden in China in 1980, raising plants for other institutions, including the NYBG. Within a few decades, seven son flower, too, had become commercially available, and so I was able to grow it and turn it into a copper etching. Tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum), too, I first encountered at the NYBG, where I learned it had been introduced by the Arnold’s E. H. Wilson in 1901. Corylus fargesii was commissioned for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, describing the introduction of a wonderful woody plant from China. The Arnold Arboretum has over a dozen plants in the collection. Magnolia × loebneri ‘Merrill’, one of the finest hybrids ever released by the Arnold Arboretum, and named in honor of director Elmer Drew Merrill, was in full bloom during an early-spring visit to Smith College, stunning flowers displayed before the foliage leafed out. I was quite pleased when the Arnold Arboretum chose to use the resulting illustration for a logo for Arnold Selects, a newly created program to bring exceptional plants from the living collections to gardeners around the world.
Bobbi Angell illustrates floras, monographs, and new-species articles at the New York Botanical Garden, Harvard University, the Smithsonian, and other institutions. Her copper etchings are represented in exhibits and several galleries.