Holly Ward Bimba brings a touch of whimsy to backyard wildlife.
Here at Storey, one of our greatest sources of garden inspiration is Tammi Hartung’s The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener, and the beautiful illustrations that bring her nature-friendly gardening philosophy to life. Today, Storey Art Director Mary Velgos reveals a bit about the process of finding the right illustrator for the job, and introduces a Q&A with Holly Ward Bimba, the artist behind the artwork.
As art director for The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener, I had the enviable task of hiring an illustrator whose style would not only support the book’s content but also communicate Tammi Hartung’s Zen-like approach to gardening. I had begun my search for an artist by spending an inordinate amount of time on addictive sites like Pinterest and Etsy, when Jess Armstrong, one of our art directors with a background in painting, shared some her recent finds, including the work of Holly Ward Bimba (GollyBard on Etsy).
Holly is an artist with an illustrative, whimsical, and engaging style that I knew would capture the essence of Tammi’s love of nature. Her delicate watercolor renderings of the natural world have such an appealing twist, and they seemed like the perfect pairing for Tammi’s manuscript.
Holly’s interpretive illustration, or the artistic license she takes in her paintings, play a significant role in making The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener different from other gardening books, and for me, designing this book was especially fun, thanks to both exceptional author and artist! — Mary Velgos
Tell us about how your paintings evolve. What does the process look like?
I am inspired by just about anything and I love to read. Quite often words conjure images and lead the way to a painting. When I paint for myself I usually have a loose idea of what I want to do, and simply let the watercolor paint flow over the paper and start working from there, building layers and adding details. It’s very free-form and spontaneous.
Has the natural world always been your subject? How did that relationship begin?
I have always been interested in nature and natural history, the cycle of life and patterns. Moving to the Virginia countryside nearly ten years ago had a big impact on my work. My environment changed and I had greater access to observing nature.
On your blog, you often incorporate natural objects into photographs of your paintings, or photograph patterns and shapes you see in the natural world. Can you speak about the relationship between photography and painting for you?
I love recording what I see with photographs. It’s a daily diary in a way. I like to look at tiny details in nature. I like discovering things that look ordinary at first but upon closer examination are simply fascinating. The things I photograph certainly influence my paintings indirectly and they are a record of a specific time and place.
Your work captures the “personality” of your subjects so vividly — the sense of how they move or their expressions. How do you get to “know” the subjects of your paintings?
I work in a stylized manner and I love patterns. I like to exaggerate details that interest me. I paint serially and often concentrate on a subject for a while. Whether birds or nests, logs or leaves, these things simply take on a look and life of their own.
What was the greatest challenge of working on The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener? What was the most fun?
As a fine artist with an illustrative style, the greatest challenge of any illustration project for me is having a structured work process that is slightly different from my typical working style. The most fun thing about working on The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener was learning so many wonderful things that I never knew about gardening through illustrating garden flora and fauna and watching the pages come to life through the fantastic work of the art department at Storey.
And of course we have to ask: do you have a vegetable garden? What will you be growing this year?
I have a small cottage garden that is mostly shade so I do best with flowers and herbs. I have two raised beds for all of my kitchen herbs, tomatoes, and leafy greens in the spring. I dream of having a big vegetable garden one day!