Artist Finds Her Paradise at the Botanic Garden
Northbrook artist Heeyoung Kim exhibits her renderings of native plants at the Smithsonian Institute.
Heeyoung Kim began taking art classes at the Chicago Botanic Garden just seven years ago. Today, her watercolor painting of the rare, red Royal Catchfly flower hangs in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., as part of the traveling exhibit Losing Paradise? Endangered Plants Here and Around the World.
The Northbrook resident's painting was chosen from among 200 submissions worldwide for the show, which features drawings and paintings of endangered species. It originated at the Missouri Botanic Garden and then was here at the Chicago Botanic Garden before traveling on to New York and then the Smithsonian. Next June, Kim's painting will cross the ocean along with the rest of the exhibit to hang on display in Kew Garden, the Royal Botanic Garden in London.
"The Smithsonian is very focused on this show," Kim explains. "They are using it as an educational tool, bringing public awareness to the endangered species that are disappearing at a rapid pace due to overdevelopment and invasive non-native plants."
Royal Catchfly took two years to complete, as Kim sketched and painted outdoors at the Chicago Botanic Garden, waiting months at a time to see the plant in the various life cycles. She is now working in the same way on another rare woodland plant, the Green Dragon, and her pen-and-ink drawing of the plant is now on display at the garden.
Kim's pen-and-ink skills may run in her veins. As a child, she recalls watching her father practice calligraphy as a hobby.
"He was really, really good," she recalls. "Perhaps I picked something up from watching him."
Kim grew up in South Korea, where she was an English teacher for 10 years before her husband was transferred to Chicago. Despite her background in the language, Kim enrolled in English classes once she arrived in America, and it was in one of these classes that she met two retired women artists who encouraged her to take art classes instead.
Equipped with her 11-year-old son's school art supplies, Kim began with a botanical illustration class at the garden. When instructor Derek Norman noticed her drawings, he quickly came back with a list of art supplies that she should be using.
"He told me I should use the best materials possible," Kim said. "He became my mentor, really."
Norman encouraged Kim to enter an exhibition at the DuPage County Forest Preserve in 2008 with a rendering of the Pale Vetchling, where she received an honorable mention. Since then, Kim has gone on to display her work at many other exhibits, including Carnegie Mellon University's 13th International Exhibition of Botanical Art and Illustration.
"She has a natural talent that is quite extraordinary by any standards," Norman says.
"Her sense of style is fabulous," adds fellow artist Jacqueline Willrich, who has known Kim for the past three years. "Sometimes she works almost like a graphic designer."
Willrich also raves about Kim's warmth and generousity, noting that she often shared her drawing techniques to help other artists.
Kim's generous nature extends beyond her fellow artists. She trains her meticulous eye on rare, endangered and Midwest native plants because she hopes that through her artwork she can share their beauty with the world, she says.
"When I first moved here from South Korea," Kim says, "I was shocked that people considered some of these beautiful woodland and prairie native plants weeds. I try to paint them to show how beautiful they are and to encourage people to plant them in their gardens to make a healthy ecosystem."