After her successful career as a graphic designer in New York City, it took a mid-life move to Wellesley for Carrie Megan to find her passion. It all started at a golf game at the Braeburn Country Club, when a friend invited her to take a drawing course with Sarah Roche at the Wellesley College Botanical Gardens.
Megan, with a slender face, translucent skin, blond hair pulled back, and large serious eyes, looks more like a graduate student than the middle-aged woman she claims to be. By now, after moving to Wellesley with her banker husband and their three pre-teenaged children, Carrie Megan has bloomed into a full-fledged botanical artist with, she adds, the complete support of her family. Her exquisite graphite drawings and watercolors of plants, flowers, vegetables, and fruits have recently been on display at the Wellesley Free Library—her husband hung the show. She is also a member of the New England Society of Botanical Artists and for the past three years she has exhibited in their booth at the annual New England Flower Show.
That Carrie would find her passion for making botanical art was probably inevitable, but she came to it by a circuitous route. If you probe her about the origins of her artistic talent, she’ll look at you with an impish smile, shrug, and tell you that her father used to illustrate his letters with cartoons. Carrie admits that ever since she has used pencils to write, she has also used pencils to draw. Her story, however, implies that her muse spent years nudging her before studious Carrie took notice.
Growing up in Queens, New York, she was accepted at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, but stayed only for one year. After majoring in Anthropology at Johnson State College, she moved back to Manhattan, where her muse began to stir things up, pushing Carrie to take courses at the School of Visual Arts. She applied for an internship with Milton Glaser—the celebrated graphic designer perhaps best known for the “I NY” logo—and was accepted. The Glaser internship eased Carrie’s way into the professional world of graphic design. Carrie’s résumé is packed with the names of well-known firms in New York whose collective client list includes household names like Toys “R” Us, Alpo pet food, Godiva chocolates, Kraft, and Lipton, just to name few.
When Carrie moved to Wellesley with her family, she developed a part-time business for herself called “Carrie Megan Brand + Identity Design,” but the fateful day on the golf course changed her life forever. Carrie, like all of us, was lured by the siren’s call to the beauty of flowers, plants, and vegetables and the challenge of trying to draw them. On my visit, Carrie’s house was filled with vases overflowing with red tulips. The ones in the bright kitchen where she works were about to go to seed and shouted their last hurrah with an explosion of red and yellow. Her methodical, almost scientifically precise craftsmanship and her innate artistic ability are both enhanced when combined into her dramatic botanical drawings.
The day after meeting Carrie, I went to the place that started her on the road to her passion for drawing plants: the Wellesley College Botanical Gardens Visitor’s Center, a large sunny room warmed by huge windows on three sides. The center feels like a greenhouse for the human species, a place where people set buds and grow. Members of Carrie’s class are seated comfortably around a large square created by four long tables. Notebooks, tracing paper, and brushes sprawl around the students, as they examine and measure the Chinese vegetables they have brought in to draw. The assignment for that day is to create a Chinese salad.
Carrie introduces me to her instructor, Sarah Roche. We start around the table to look at the students’ work, and Carrie begins to explain the botanical-drawing process to me. First, you draft a tight pencil outline, next, with tracing paper, you sketch over your original drawing on a new piece of paper to set the stage for a tonal study of light and dark—no color yet. Then, before beginning to paint, the artist puts together a palette on separate paper, little squares of color that help determine which colors will be used in the final work. All botanical watercolors are done painstakingly with layer upon layer of diluted washes. Carrie usually starts, she explains, with light lemon yellow and builds from there.
Sarah tells me that Carrie started in the “fundamentals” class for beginners, but her design background soon became apparent and she was quickly promoted. Carrie looked over at me and said, “I’m here because I love Sarah!” I’ve been there five minutes and feel the same way. I wonder when I can start and at which level I should begin. According to best-selling author and environmentalist Michael Pollan, the human being’s passion for plants, fruits and flowers has been with us since the beginning of time. In his book The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World (Random House, 2001), he explores the impetus for the human interest in plants. Just as he notices that “the flower has cleverly manipulated the bee into hauling its pollen from blossom to blossom,” Pollan makes the point that human desires have always been manipulated by plants.
Carrie's work taps into my desires.While viewing her exhibit at the library, I wanted to buzz like a bee and nestle into the gradations of the soft colors that Carrie deepens skillfully into the center of each petal and leaf of azaleas, orchids, and lily of the valley depicted. Flowers, as Pollan points out, have always had that power over humans. Even though Carrie’s flowers are inanimate in their frames, I can feel their motion, as if they could begin to quake and shiver with the slightest breath of air. One drawing of bright orange peppers and four varieties of yellowish-red and green succulent pears burst into view. The pears are so beautifully tempting, that I almost want to bite into one to feel its juicy sweetness trickle down my chin.
To contact Carrie Megan, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org