WILLMAR — For people who have held dreams of doing something different or learning something new, Mary La Patka has two words: “Do it.”
La Patka, who’s worked in the business office for the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Department for 30 years, has a long list of hobbies and talents under her belt, including a black belt in judo. But up until four years ago, she had never painted a picture and didn’t consider herself an artist.
Today a collection of her paintings that bring the intricate details of science to life through watercolor is on display through Jan. 31 at the Willmar Education and Art Center, which is currently closed to the public because of COVID-19.
The paintings are works of art, to be sure, but they are also depictions of plants and insects that are botanically correct and could be used for scientific identification and study.
Before photography, creating illustrations is how early scientists recorded their observations and research. The painting typically includes seeds, bulbs and roots of plants, along with an overall view, to provide an accurate identification of a plant or insect.
La Patka, of Willmar, became interested in this style of painting after attending a lecture and workshop four years ago at the Minnesota School of Botanical Art in Minneapolis. She’s been taking classes there ever since, including virtual ones during the pandemic.
“It’s really been fun,” said La Patka. “It’s really been my thing.”
Using watercolor paints is less expensive than other types of mediums, including acrylic paints, she said. But the investment in time is considerable.
“When you really like something, it’s easy to do,” she said.
She uses just six basic colors: cadmium red, quinacridone gold, cerulean blue, permanent alizarin crimson, lemon yellow and ultramarine blue, which she mixes to create multiple colors.
Because this style of painting is scientifically based, the illustrations are life-sized, she said.
A painting she did of a Scotch bonnet pepper is 3½ by 3 inches, she said. Most are about 15 inches tall.
Even the lighting is standard procedure for botanical paintings, with light coming over the left shoulder to create a uniform look, said La Patka. The structure and format of how the paintings are presented and even how they are matted and framed for display must meet the standards of the Society of Botanical Artists.
“I just like the small, detailed work,” she said.
Although capturing nature in watercolor is scientific, it is also beautiful, she said.
This is the first exhibit of her work.
La Patka said she intends to keep taking classes to expand her skills as a botanical artist and is on the lookout for the next plant or insect to paint.
“I’m a firm believer in trying new things,” she said.
If there’s something that interests her, La Patka said she’ll jump in and give it a go — which she encourages others to do.
She said it doesn’t make sense to sit and think about doing something for three hours or three days or three years. “Just do it,” she said.