Secret Gardens in Black and White

The uncurling of bright blooms and vibrant greens is the telltale sign of new life in a garden, but if you ask artist Rebecca Venn, it is arresting these elements in black and white that truly brings out a garden’s character.

Venn is one of more than 40 regional artists represented in Miller Art Museum’s current exhibit, The Garden: An Artist’s Interpretation. Her ink sketch “Secret Garden; Under the Lilacs, Lake Geneva” is just one piece in her Secret Gardens in Black and White series, capturing the intricacies of outdoor spaces in Chicago and southeastern Wisconsin.

The 13-piece series marks a noticeable departure from the Kenosha artist’s typical watercolor and colored pencil work.

“The Tree, Chicago” by Rebecca Venn.

“I thought, what would happen if I took the simplest of tools – ink and paper – and see if I can capture what I think I see in gardens?” Venn recalled. “It made it easy to travel with so I thought it’d be nice. It’s almost like an abstraction; you’re not getting the color, you’re getting the forms and the composition of the gardens.”

Working with Staedtler fine point ink pens and Strathmore medium-surface drawing paper, Venn takes advantage of the ease of transportation to seek out “hidden gardens” in both public and private spaces. Her piece in the Miller Art Museum exhibit was the result of exploring the neighborhoods of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

“I found this backyard and I knocked on the door but no one was home so I parked on the side of the street and I could sketch from there,” Venn said. “That’s what happens. Time kind of stands still, especially with the ink with the lines and everything. You just kind of get yourself lost in it until you see what you want.”

“Patio; Palette and Chisel Fine Art Academy” by Rebecca Venn.

Each piece begins as a light pencil sketch before Venn starts making marks. While she admits the permanence of ink can make it a risky choice for artists, the simplicity of a final piece can provide the viewer with an appreciation for, in this case, a gardener’s aesthetic.

“Because it is in black and white, you tend to notice the overall experience of the garden – the roughliness of a tree or the spikiness of a plant rather than getting caught up in the details of what color, how many leaves it has,” Venn said. “It abstracts the scene just like a black-and-white movie…it’s rare that we see those but every now and then you’ll see one and it’s sort of refreshing. You can enjoy a space without being too bombarded with the scene; you can enjoy the composition and the talent of the gardener, where they place things rather than just the color. It kind of helps you focus.”

The Garden: An Artist’s Interpretation continues at the Miller Art Museum through April 17. For more information, call 920.746.0707 or go to

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