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Longmont is where the granddad sketches beautiful botany

Campbell believes that botanical art offers a deeper connection to the subject matter than mere photography.

While the granddad sketches could be where the crawdads sing, Michael Campbell mostly sketches flora in Longmont where he also puts his artwork up in the Firehouse Art Center.

Longtime Longmont resident Michael Campbell is a dedicated pencil artist whose passion lies in depicting the natural world's intricate beauty and teaching the scientific artistic rendering of botany. 

Campbell, a seasoned artist and instructor, has a unique journey that spans decades, traversing the realms of graphic design in his former career and more recently the world of botanical art. 

Campbell worked for the University of Colorado for 25 years as a graphic art director. During the end of this period, he stumbled upon the School of Botanical Art & Illustration at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and botanical art immediately captured his interest, sparking a fresh passion within him.

Campbell's unwavering commitment to botanical art drove him to obtain both a certificate and an advanced diploma at the School of Botanical Art & Illustration which not only honed his drawing skills but also opened doors for him professionally. Campbell's expertise gained him a position as an instructor at Front Range Community College and then at the very institution that had ignited his passion for botanical art — the Denver Botanic Gardens.

“So now I teach pencil drawing, and some other stuff in the program. And that’s sort of like my second career. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. But leaving CU is probably the best thing I ever did,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s dedication to mastering the art of botanical illustration led him to invest both time and effort into honing his skills, a journey that spanned almost eight years and included extensive coursework. Campbell’s age, nearly 70, is no barrier to his passion for teaching and creating art. 

“When you spend all that time going to meetings, and marketing, and organizations, and academia and all that stuff. The natural world and drawing the natural world, it’s just so soulfully fulfilling,” Campbell said. “It’s just endlessly interesting to me. And the older I get, the more I focus on the tiny little things. I can spend hours just trying to get the shape of acorns correct, or pinecones.”

The rigor of botanical art demands precision and accuracy, especially when collaborating with botanists. Campbell’s dedication to portraying plants authentically reflects his deep respect for the scientific aspect of botanical illustration. Campbell’s preference for drawing with graphite over painting is the simplicity of using something as slight as a pencil to create something so detailed and exquisite.

“Pencil is just so direct. All you need is any kind of pencil and a piece of paper. That’s all you need,” Campbell said. “I love the directness and the simpleness of it. Even when it’s so subtle, and you can be so elegant with it.”

Campbell believes that botanical art offers a deeper connection to the subject matter than mere photography. Through his artwork, he strives to convey not only the accuracy of the plant but also his personal interpretation and perspective. His illustrations provide viewers with a comprehensive understanding of the plant’s anatomy and beauty.

For four decades, Michael Campbell has called Longmont, Colorado his home. His connection to this community and its natural treasures has not only fueled his passion for botanical art but has also become an integral part of his creative journey. 

Campbell's involvement in documenting heritage trees in Ireland has translated into a unique local pursuit. He scours Longmont's natural spaces to find specimens native to Ireland, which serve as subjects for his illustrations. Within Longmont's flora, Campbell has found such subjects as the Scots Pine and English Oak trees. 

. courtesy photo

“There’s a whole science behind this thing called the spring gentian, which comes up for like two, three weeks in April and May. It’s an Alpine, the deepest, darkest blue I’ve ever seen like velvet, I cannot match the color. But that’s probably my favorite,” Campbell said. “I started illustrating bird’s nests with graphite. And I still do it. There are a couple in that exhibit. But I just find those very, very therapeutic.”

Nature and art lovers can find Campbell’s botanical art sketches on the second floor of the Firehouse Art Center until the end of September.