As you may know, two things we love here at Birds N Bones are science and nature. This week we’re going to give you a glimpse into the world of Jessica Roux, a talented illustrator with a passion for nature that rivals our own. Her incredibly detailed work is inspired by antique botanical prints, like those created by Beatrix Potter and Maria Sibylla Merian.
As we learned in the interview I’m about to share, Jessica Roux’s work is very influenced by history; especially the history of botanical drawings. When you look at the intricacy of her work, it makes sense that it was shaped in part by scientific illustrators. Two who captured my imagination in particular, are the aforementioned Beatrix Potter and Maria Sibylla Merian. I, for one, as a child was obsessed with Beatrix Potter’s art and the character Peter Rabbit. However, before speaking to Jessica Roux, I had no knowledge of her groundbreaking artistic studies of fungi. Not much was known about the lifecycle of fungi, and she studied their reproduction and growth from spores she experimented on herself. In her time, formal education was hard to come by for women, and her ideas were not readily accepted by mainstream institutions. The Linnean Society; the foremost authority on botany at the time; refused to take her research seriously, and did not issue an apology for about a century. More can be found on her fascinating life and contributions to art, science, and literature here.
Maria Sibylla Merion was another pioneering female scientist in her time. She lived when many scientists believed in “spontaneous generation”; the idea that animals actually generated from the places they were often found, instead of through reproduction. At the time it was accepted that insects generated from materials as diverse as dew, wool, or cabbage. From an early age, Maria Sibylla Merion took interest in an insect’s entire life cycle, as well as their place in the bigger environment around them. Some say she is the first true ecologist in history. While most scientists of her time were interested with classifying wildlife, she wanted to understand how wildlife interacted. She also took an incredibly bold journey to South America in 1699 just to study the environment. The illustrations she produced as a result of that two year trip were groundbreaking at the time, and still studied today. A wonderful overview of her life can be found here.
Maria Sibylla Merion
Now, let’s get back to the present. Jessica Roux’s stunning work is the spiritual successor to these pioneering artists. Her illustrations have been featured in prestigious publications such as the New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine. We wanted to know more about what inspires her work, and how her own surroundings influence her artistic process.
Courtney Goe: My first impression of your work was that it reminded me of detailed, antique botanical prints. What are some of your influences from the art world?
Jessica Roux: Thank you! Antique illustrated prints are some of my biggest inspirations. I love the work of Maria Sibylla Merian - she was an entomologist and natural science illustrator who documented the metamorphosis of a butterfly. I grew up looking at the work of Beatrix Potter - my most prized possession as a child was my Peter Rabbit pillow. Her animal illustrations are so sweet, and her mushroom studies are gorgeously detailed. John James Audubon is another favorite. I love how he captures the beauty and elegance of so many different birds.
Maria Sibylla Merian
John James Audubon
CG: How has your work been influenced by having lived both in the country closer to nature and in NYC?
JR: My personal work while I was living in NYC felt really nostalgic for the home closer to nature that I’d left behind. I drew the things I missed, and my inspiration came from things I would see when I’d go visit my parents in North Carolina, or when I’d go on vacation. This past year I’ve been living in Florida, and I feel a lot closer to what I’m working on. Inspiration comes to me easier, my head feels clearer, and I can work a lot faster. At the same time, I miss being in the creative community of New York. Talking shop with other illustrators was really valuable, and I miss my friends there a lot. It’s a tradeoff either way, and I’m still working to find a good balance.
CG: What is your favorite place in nature?
JR: I love being in the mountains. There’s something really special about the crisp mountain air in fall, walking through the woods while leaves crunch under my feet, discovering lots of plants and animals, with my dog by my side.
CG: What is your favorite animal to illustrate and why?
JR: I love drawing foxes! They have this really fascinating juxtaposition in folklore of being sly and untrustworthy, yet beautiful and playful. I call my dog “my little fox” all the time - she reminds me of a fox when she’s curled up in a ball sleeping, or hopping around the yard chasing bugs. I take a lot of pictures of her and use them as reference when drawing foxes to get more challenging poses.
CG: In your interview with Lisa Congdon, you mentioned that you love being connected with other illustrators in the art community. What would your dream collaboration project be, and who would participate?
JR: I’ve always wanted to make my illustrations move. I know how to make basic gifs in Photoshop - eyes blinking, things fading in and out, that sort of thing - but I’d love to collaborate with an animator. I’d love to make something longer than a few seconds that tells more of a story. I assume it would be a ton of work, involve sound design and things I don't know anything about, but it's something I've been thinking about for a long time now and I'm always ready to learn more.
CG: What is your favorite Birds N Bones piece, and why?
JR: If I had to pick just one, I’d go for the Hydra Maximus Dragon Skull Necklace. I love bones and anatomy, and I have a small collection of animal skulls, so this piece really speaks to me.
CG: Thank you so much for speaking with us!
And for your own piece of natural inspiration, don’t miss our Twig + Final Bug Collection! It is your last chance to grab some of these beauties and study your very own sterling silver beetle. It is only available until November 1, so don’t miss out!