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Natural Beauty

Printmaker Robin Tomlinson works with botanicals as both subjects and tools for her one-of-a-kind art pieces.

              Botanical.  What a pretty word.  Say it aloud.  Botanical.  What kinds of things come to mind?  Flowers.  Gardens.  Open fields of earthy hues drifting gracefully in the breeze.  Perhaps you see someone serenely walking there, amid the tall grass, or maybe you see her under a canopy of trees.  Maybe you put yourself in that imagery, in some natural place or under a soaring glass ceiling surrounded by an array of carefully cultivated flora.  In any wanderings of the mind, the word suggests something beautiful and inspiring, and it sounds like a merging of “botany” and “magical.”

Printmaker Robin Mapes Tomlinson in the fields that inspire and provide for her unique art, near Carversville, PA. Photo by Kristina Gibb.

            Walking through the woods and meadows behind her Solebury home, artist Robin Mapes Tomlinson finds a connection far deeper than any of our musings to that which is botanical.  It is, for her, a place of great inspiration and of opportunity to share, create, and grow.  As she goes, often carrying the youngest of her three children, she trims small pieces of plants and brings them home.  Years ago, Robin would simply press them, log them, study them, and record details about where and when they were found.  In more recent years, however, she has found a more inspirited interaction with her samples.

              Robin is a printmaker.  She uses the incredible variety of botanicals she collects in sparing amounts to create stunning, one-of-a-kind pieces of art, but she takes little credit.  “There’s a magic that happens as I’m doing it,” she says. “I am just the hands in all this.  Everything is guided by the plants, and they’re teaching me along the way.  It is really fascinating.”

              By this, Robin explains that her “totally self-guided” journey into this art follows the path nature allows.  What grows, when it is available, changes due to weather conditions, even how the plants react to the process of being dipped in ink and pressed gently onto the page are all aspects of her art that Robin cannot control.  After making an impression of the plant on paper, Robin uses photographs she takes of each trimming prior to the ink bath as a reference, and she fills in the finer details of the image with her well-practiced talent for illustration. 

Prints by Robin Mapes Tomlinson. Photo by Kristina Gibb.

She tries to capture the “personality” of the plant but improvises when the spirit moves her.  While she is presenting a natural item in a natural way, “it’s also a feeling thing.  I have very little to do with it.  [The plants] are pulling me in and capturing my interest.  They’re doing whatever they want when I print with them.  I’ve learned a few tricks composition wise, but for the most part it’s ‘let’s just see what happens.’”

              The resulting prints are gorgeously simple and elegant works of art.  Most often framed and sold individually as one-off pieces, Robin will sometimes take digital images of her work for reprint on small sets of notecards that she also sells.  “I’m very cautious” about over-production, Robin says.  “I always have Robin Wall Kimmerer’s voice in the back of my head.  You don’t need to just produce a bunch of stuff.  What I love about making these is that this is a moment in time.  This is it, and then it goes to whomever wants it; and that’s it.  It’s done.”

              Kimmerer, she has to educate me, is an environmental scientist, author, and professor.  “She talks about reciprocity a lot.  It’s about giving back whatever way you can with nature, and so I only take a few plants.  I try to take only from a spot where there’s a lot of one thing, so I’m not taking the last of anything.”

              Reciprocity is also why Robin donates a portion of each sale to conservation groups.

Robin collecting sample of local plants to print with in her home studio. Photos by Kristina Gibb.

              Grasping the constantly changing nature of the environment is what makes Robin’s art so special.  It is here today, gone tomorrow.  The large natural expanse behind her home, land owned by her husband’s employer – the Carversville Farm Foundation, provides season after season of native, wild plants.  In the five years Robin has lived there, she has learned each plant’s location and schedule.  She has worked with them in bloom and when dormant, by pressing, by printing, and even a unique composite in which she has pressed the inked flowers resulting in an almost gothic look.  They aren’t all beauties, Robin laughs.  “Some of them are hilarious.  Wild onions look like party girls.  They look like they have this crazy, party hair.”

              Whatever the character of the plant or its artistic impression, they are all educational.  “This process is making me learn so much about plants and getting me really attached to them.  I know where everything grows on this property now.  So, every spring, I look forward to, ‘Oh, where’s that patch of bugleweed?  I can’t wait to find it!’”

Spent dogwood and bulbous buttercup flowers, dipped in ink and pressed, display what Robin jokingly calls the “punk rock look.” Nature is the instrument of her art as much as her inspiration. Photo by Kristina Gibb.

I confess to Robin that I have never even heard of bugle weed.  She assures me I am more the rule than the exception.  Robin’s experience does not end with identification and knowing where to find the thing.  She is constantly researching and deepening her knowledge in a more scientific way.  Through books, videos, indexes, phone apps, and podcasts, Robin is educating herself on botany much the way emerging medical artists like Davinci and Vesalius studied the human form.  She doesn’t want to just print them.  She wants to understand them, and in doing so she comes to love them – an emotion that drives her art.

Working with just about every regionally available plant, from poplar tulips to milkweed, Robin has explored designs with single items and rows upon rows, shifting designs from sets of different things to multiple prints of one type of plant, and combinations thereof.  She has worked independently, building collections that she has sold in online gallery shows through her own Instagram and at art shows and exhibits like the Bucks County Audubon Society’s Art in The Barn show and at the RATT Gallery in Point Pleasant (PA).  She has also taken commissions to do work for private buyers.  She loves the challenge of commissioned projects since working within perimeters expands her mind and pushes her to see her art in new ways.  She hopes to eventually find a way to transfer her prints to fabric for garment making.  In fact, the original inspiration for the print process was born of a handbag she designed for a friend’s birthday.

“I wanted to make her something really cool.  She loves dogwoods, and I thought, ‘I wonder what it would look like if I just dipped it in ink.’” Robin deemed the result worth practicing and wound up creating the process for her prints with some experimentation and honing.

Robin at work at home with some of her current pieces on display. Photos by Kristina Gibb.

With degrees in accessory design and fashion merchandising from FIT in New York, Robin is no stranger to wearables.  She spent some time working in fashion after graduation, but ultimately decided that the industry didn’t suit her.  After a stint in an architectural setting and meeting her husband, an industrial designer from Newtown who was also living in the Big Apple, Robin and Steve headed to Virginia together with an eco-conscious building company that collapsed with the market in 2008.  That’s when they came to Bucks County.  Steve transitioned into farm management, while Robin found great satisfaction as the jewelry manager at Heart of The Home in New Hope.  It reminded her of her first job at an eclectic retail shop in her native East Hampton, Long Island, where she made and sold her own handbags, in addition to more regular retail duties. 

              East Hampton, Robin explains, was very different when she was growing up there.  It was heavily wooded, full of modest-income locals, and small shops were stocked with things locals both needed and could afford.  Much like the slow transformation New Hope locals confront today, Robin’s home was made unrecognizable by an influx of concentrated wealth.  The small shop in which she laid her creative roots is now part of a much larger Ralph Lauren storefront; and the Mom-and-Pop shops were not the only casualty of change.  The woods and shoreline she explored endlessly with her father were also lost to development.  Those places were not only where she bonded with her family, they were formative in her love of the natural world.

Robin’s appreciation and respect for nature is a core value that is evident in her art as well as how she interacts with her environment. Photo by Kristina Gibb.

              “I was totally inspired by him,” Robin says.  “My dad was super into nature, would always take us out to the duck pond, trail walking, always pointing out birds.  He wasn’t really a plant guy; he was a wildlife guy.  It was deeply embedded in me, just from growing up out there.”  Now, herself a parent, she is passing down that love of nature to her children.  During Covid, Robin and her two young sons spent whole afternoons in a tributary to the Paunnacussing Creek that passes through the acreage behind their home, just south of Carversville.  They studied wildlife and plants, splashed in the water, and caught (and released) snakes.  When the boys returned to school, her daughter, Wren, appeared on the scene and began coming along.  Now 11 months old, she is her mother’s constant companion and goes happily into the woods on just about every expedition.

              Robin knows where to find every inch of that tract of land and relishes in her time there.  “It’s such a connection.  I can’t even tell you because I don’t have the words for it.  I feel like if I don’t get out there, into the meadow, I feel like a bad friend – like I’m neglecting it.”

              In conversation about the friendship she has built with the natural world around her, Robin references Rachel Carson often.  Robin and Rachel, author of Silent Spring, share the foundational idea that by helping others understand and appreciate nature, they will intrinsically come to defend and protect it.  By learning to see nature as something more than a perishable commodity, by coming to embrace our deep physical, physiological, and spiritual connection to the it, we just might be able to find a way to live in sustainably and to bring an end to the global environmental crisis.

              The list of plans for her work embraces this ideology and expands beyond giving people something beautiful to look at.  Robin talks about running nature focused printmaking classes for children, hosting botanical hikes and art explorations for adults, and a variety of other applications for her work – including possibly illustrating indie ‘zines or more formal publications on botany.

Robin and daughter, Wren, on a collection walk in the meadow, passing on the legacy of connectedness and a love of the natural world. Photo by Kristina Gibb.

              “I’d love to push for the understanding of what’s growing all around us. It makes people fall in love and want to take care of it,” she says, echoing the ideology of Carson, Kimmerer, and many others whose tomes of wisdom line the shelves of her home.  What’s more is that being outdoors and embracing nature is proven, medically and scientifically, to contribute to overall physical and mental wellness.  “It opens it all up,” Robin says.  “It does something really good for the brain.”

              Admiring Robin’s art is an excellent starting point.  Spending time with her is even better.  After just one visit and a short time following her Instagram, I find myself noticing plants by trail sides that I have seen in her kitchen and her art.  I feel more curious to know these unfamiliar and formerly overlooked beauties.  It has indeed opened me up and done something good for my brain – and my soul.

              Ooo, is that yarrow?…

I am a published poet and ghostwriter, an aspiring novelist, and finding my way through blogging. I keep two Wordpress blogs. A creative outlet that bears my name as the title, JillArcangela M. Kopp, and The River Bridges, a local interest blog that focuses on life in along my stretch of the Delaware River. I am thrilled to work with the talented photographer Kristina Gibb on the latter. I am also realtor working in Bucks County and a mother of three boys. You can also follow me on Facebook (names match respctive blogs) and see the visual world that inspires me on Instagram (@jillarcangela or @BucksCountyLifeAndHome). Like what you read, have ideas to share, or need ghostwriting services? Drop me an email:

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