About two years ago, botanical illustrator Linda Heppes Funk found herself forced into a three-month period of inactivity while recovering from a headlong fall down the cellar stairs of her East Blue Hill farmhouse.
Alone, despondent, and with her left arm in a cast, Funk faced many long hours, which she filled by reading.
One day, “a book leapt out of the bookshelf at me,” the artist recalled recently. Written in 1908 and titled “In Tune with the Infinite,” the spiritual tome made Funk examine her life and goals.
“It made me take responsibility for myself as a single woman,” said the formerly married mother of four adult children. “I decided if I didn’t do it, nobody would.”
Unprepared for a New York exhibition of her unique work set for two months after her accident, Funk realized that her broken arm had given her a second chance and that she’d better use that opportunity to make good.
“I started to work with my arm still in the cast,” she recalled. The show was moved back four months, and in the interim, she completed 12 paintings.
Since then, Funk has devoted herself to her work, determined to become self-sufficient, especially after a dry period of earning no income.
“I’ve worked all day and half the night every day for two years trying to make it work,” she said, adding, “I’ve given up all my community activities because I decided I had to concentrate on this totally.”
All her hard work and persistence is paying off. In the past six months, Funk has sold five paintings, including one to the world’s leading collector of botanical art, and that’s just the beginning.
The artist is in the process of designing a collection of botanical textile designs for the Jack Lenor Larson Studio in New York, with the expectation that the fabric sales will produce long-term royalties.
Her paintings, along with those of other instructors at the New York Botanical Gardens, are currently on exhibit at the Bartlett Arboretum at the University of Connecticut in Stamford.
In April, for the second year, she’ll teach a weekend course at the New York Botanical Gardens. She’s also judging an exhibit that opens in May at the New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods, in Sudbury, Mass. And in May, her work will be included in a juried exhibit at the Madison Avenue gallery of Ursus Prints in New York.
Add to that the two books she has been asked to write and illustrate for an art book publisher — one for children and one on the flowers of Williamsburg — and the one-person exhibit she has been invited to do at the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society next spring.
By any standards, Funk must be acknowledged as a critical and financial success, and as someone who has taken responsibility for herself.
The tall and attractive artist glows when she talks about her love of flowers, her work, and her house.
“I do this kind of work because it combines my love of drawing with my love of plants,” she said. “I can’t improve upon nature, but I can try to capture the essence of the life represented in plants.
“I also know I need to earn a living,” she said. “In doing it in this way, I’m being true to myself and my gifts.”
Funk is self-taught — her parents thought art lessons weren’t sensible and encouraged her to become an actress or a lawyer. She didn’t take drawing seriously, however, until, as a divorced young mother, she needed to generate some income. Like many women of her generation, she had always done what other people wanted her to do.
This time Funk chose her true love. She taught herself various drawing techniques, as well as watercolor and oil painting. The artist also privately teaches creating botanical illustration in watercolors, and people from all over the country attend her weeklong summer tutorials at her East Blue Hill studio.
“I find I can do anything I set out to, if I can tap into the Great Intelligence,” she said.
Rising at 6 a.m., Funk regularly works for the next 12 hours on her paintings and designs, crediting her stamina to the power of concentration and a love of living. Fueled by her love of flowers and her need to depict them with a combination of accuracy, authority, economy of line, and artistry, she continually works at that pace.
Her watercolor paintings, in their delicacy, grace, and subtle gradations of glowing color, seem to capture the essence of any plant she depicts, whether in its prime, in stages from bud to withered bloom, or from blossom to fruit.
Vibrant flowers, in pots and vases, set off tables, chests, and window sills in Funk’s house. Her paintings, almost as radiant as their living models, fill the walls with beauty and color. She always works from live plants, never from photographs.
“I love flowers,” she exclaimed, noting that they give off healing vibrations. “I build these little altars, I make these compositions with flowers all through the house; it’s as much a part of my life as drawing.”
The dining room table, covered with an immaculate white linen cloth, acts as a backdrop for a pale green, glass vase filled with bright yellow tulips. In the living room, a shocking pink cyclamen in a blue-and-white Chinese jardiniere rests on a mahogany chest, forming a composition beneath a painting of geraniums. Meanwhile, the real thing — huge, gorgeous plants — bend toward the light, filling the windows in the front hall.
When visitors ask what makes her plants flower so beautifully, Funk replies, “I talk to them.” Whatever it is, they certainly seem to respond to the love and care she gives them and offer the best of themselves for her paintings and designs.
Soon, lovers of botanical prints will be able to buy material bearing Funk’s designs of artichokes, or hibiscus, or pomegranate flower and fruits. The Larson studio also plans production of her designs of poppies, water lilies, and other plants, together with coordinating fabrics. The artist’s textile designs will be made up in silks, cottons, linens, and Jacquard woven tapestries, a process of weaving fabrics with designs in them.
Although Funk said she could probably earn her living painting botanical specimens on panels, she’s more interested in designing textiles.
“I love this work — it’s very expansive,” she said about the large fabric designs. “I can do what I want to.
“It drives me nuts,” she added, referring to the constant flow of ideas she gets. “I can’t even sleep at night.”
Funk, who supports herself entirely from her art, has earned her success. She’s now thinking of traveling and living in other places, starting with a trip to France.
“I’m making a world for myself on my income as an artist,” she said.