I spent the last few days looking at flowers. It started with a trip to the New York Botanical Garden and ended with photos on my phone.
I don’t know much about flowers save for what I learned in middle school biology class. Flowers are pervy with their stamens and pistils and carpels and pollen hanging out in the open.
Georgia O’Keeffe taught us as much.1 Besides, I know no of nothing else that offloads the tumble of sex and reproduction, quite literally, to the birds and bees.
At least, this is what I think as I stare at these images. This is before I get lost in shapes: the delicate arch, light gravity and soft geometry of petals.
I should backtrack a bit though because while the shape and flow of flowers is amazing. So too is plant geometry. Specifically, cacti and their spines.
“You can’t criticize geometry,” the designer Paul Rand once said, “It’s never wrong.” Sure enough, you really can’t because it really never is.
Here we see hard-edged geometry familiar to the non-mathematicians among us. It’s beautiful.
As I said though, I know little about flowers and plants. I do enjoy a good Internet rabbit hole though and came across two things.
First, there’s a bamboo species that only flowers every 65 years in a mass flowering event. By mass flowering, we’re talking about any and every bamboo plant anywhere in the world flowering simultaneously. Theories behind this include a variety of math, and the idea that bamboo is trying to overwhelm its predators with an overabundance of food. Some legitimately fear bamboo flowering. With the flowering comes an onslaught of rats that move on to decimate crops.
Second is Darwin. He called flowers an “abominable mystery” that threatened his theory of evolution. He basically needed to solve their existence and evolution for his theories to survive.2
So there’s that.
And then there’s color. Literally, and not to be too practical about it, but I’ve sampled colors from the following flower.
I’m not color savvy. At all. Which is too bad since I do a lot of design.
I learned my 256 shades of gray years ago, considered it an accomplishment and have basically stuck with it ever since.
But “sunset is still my favorite color,” the poet philosopher Mattie Stepanek once wrote, “and rainbow is second.”
I generally agree but would like to nominate flowers as third.
Sill, if you’re somewhat color deficient, flowers are a good place to break out of monochromatic instincts. Take a photo, sample colors and build a palette. There are worse places to start.
Anyway, here are shapes and colors from the botanical gardens.
Production: iPhone 6, Photoshop.
- Yes, I’m aware that O’Keeffe emphasized form and color when discussing her work and didn’t particularly like the literalist, sexual interpretation of her flower paintings. Still, an artist only has so much say in how their work is perceived once it enters the public. ↩︎
- Here are a couple of good reads on Darwin, flowers and evolution:
Darwin and the Evolution of Flowers, Royal Society
Where Did All the Flowers Come From?, New York Times
The Abominable Mystery: How Flowers Conquered the World, BBC ↩