I first conceived of this project as a response to theme of the 2019 Exhibitions at the San Diego International Airport, Forces Of Nature:
From Charles Reiffel and the California plein air painters, to mid-century Land Art, artists have long been drawn to San Diego’s unique natural environs as a source of inspiration. San Diego County encompasses 4,500 square miles — larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined — and encompasses four distinct geographical regions: the coast, valleys, mountains and desert. The four geographies that make up our county can be aligned to the four classical elements: the 70 miles of coastline and our vast beaches represent water, the fertile inland valleys embody earth, the mountains that tower over our urban centers provide us with clean, crisp air, and the dry, sweltering deserts whose wildflowers spark to life each spring symbolize fire. All four elements and their corresponding geographies can also be conceptually linked to artistic processes, materials and techniques. San Diego International Airport's Arts Program invites artists, curators, and cultural, community, or educational organizations working in all media to submit proposals that use the four elements as a framework for reexamining San Diego’s environment. Responses may feature projects that use a material with a direct correlation to an element, that address issues of environmental stewardship, or that reflect on the biodiversity of the region.
While I wasn’t selected to exhibit this year, the process of researching and executing my ideas into sample charts was fascinating and I think that shows how much potential this project truly has. Presently it’s on the shelf for me as I’ve got a lot of other projects in the works, but it’s something I’d like to revisit again in the future. Keep scrolling to read all about it.
The finished work will be a series of 10-12 cyanotype charts on 16”x22” inch archival paper. The charts will be similar in style to Emily Noyes Vanderpoel’s Color Analysis Charts from her painting guide, Color problems: A practical manual for the lay student of color, (1902).
I anticipate that the completed series will be reminiscent of her beautifully organized color charts juxtaposed with the charming hues of Anna Atkin’s Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843).
I will be using the same methodology Vanderpoel uses to create her analysis charts, but I will be applying it to a much different subject: describing the variety and density of different native plants present in San Diego’s urban canyon areas. In each of the gridded squares I will place a small clipping of a native plant species that is thriving in the canyon I am analyzing. If there is a large concentration of a particular native plant, that will be represented in the grid by assigning that plant species more squares in the grid. Ultimately, I want to create a unique graph of each canyon that describes the particular native vegetation in a visual way, and hopefully captures some of the essence and “personality” of one of San Diego’s most treasured features: our urban canyon spaces.
I created these digital images using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign which utilize images from a variety of academic Herbarium databases that have graciously digitized their specimens inlcuding: CalFlora, Jepson, SDNHM.
After I ran a few tests I determined that it was much easier to discern the plant images in the grid if the image was inverted in color. This is due to the nature of the cyanotype to produce a negative impression — and by that I mean cyanotypes naturally invert whatever impression they capture to white and prussian blue, with white being equivalent to black and prussian blue equivalent to white (as in a black and white photo). So below are the revised digital images which I printed in black onto transparencies that I used to expose the cyanotype papers.
You’ll notice that next to each of the scientific names below the grid, there is a thumbnail image. The thumbnail shows which specimen image corresponds to each scientific name in the grid above, so the viewer can make sense of and recognize the various native plant specimens referenced above in the chart.