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An artist’s field guide to nature’s overlooked wonders

Cloud formations and sunsets get our attention, as do volcanoes — the showy, dramatic phenomena of our planet. In “Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World,” published at the end of January, Julia Rothman also pays attention to the ecosystem of a rotting log, or the vast lattice of white threads, known as mycellium, that branch out from mushrooms underground, rendered in delicate, hand-drawn illustration.

Rothman's book covers both the micro and macro in nature. For example, the book includes the anatomy of a mushroom and its life cycle to fungal colonies. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Rothman’s book covers both the micro and macro in nature. For example, the book includes the anatomy of a mushroom and its life cycle to fungal colonies. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Rothman said she was particularly excited to tackle bird eggs among her first illustrations for the book. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Rothman said she was particularly excited to tackle bird eggs among her first illustrations for the book. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Although the book includes several illustrations of bird beaks, feathers and eggs, Rothman says it’s not supposed to be like an Audubon field guide, which are known for their scientific accuracy. It’s not a “nature book,” Rothman said, since it was impossible to include everything. Instead, it offered Rothman, a city dweller, a chance to better appreciate the container garden or small park nearby.

“You can have a giant forest in your backyard that’s gorgeous and moss-covered or you can have a fire escape that has a flower box on it, and they equally should be appreciated,” Rothman said.

Tucked in among several illustrations of animals, Rothman includes objects like a rotting log, which wouldn't necessarily receive a lot of attention of a nature walk. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Tucked in among several illustrations of animals, Rothman includes objects like a rotting log, which wouldn’t necessarily receive a lot of attention on a nature walk. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Rothman details edible plants that can be foraged in the forest. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Rothman details edible plants that can be foraged in the forest, like wild ramp or acorns. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

“Nature Anatomy” is her second book. In 2001, Rothman published “Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life,” which similarly captured scenes from the rural countryside.

Rothman said the idea for the new book came about one day when she was running at Prospect Park, just outside her Brooklyn apartment.

“I would just look around at the trees and the leaves and down on the ground, notice an unusual flower or seed pod and realize I didn’t know anything about any of them,” she said. “It just felt silly that they were right there and I never took the time to learn about them.”

With the help of her friend John, Rothman got acquainted with the flora and fauna living amid all the concrete and human life in New York. On a walk in Prospect Park one afternoon, John picked plants, such as dandelion leaves, for her to taste. Rothman was hesitant.

“I was like, ‘Oh no, a dog peed on that,’ or ‘somebody sat on it or walked on it, and I’m not gonna put that in my mouth,’” she said.

More edibles that could be foraged in a forest. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

More edibles, like chicory and plaintain. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

An anatomy of an ant. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

In addition to depicting flora, Rothman illustrates the anatomy of animals, such as ants. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

After some convincing from her friend, Rothman sampled the variety of vegetation in the park, discovering it offered different textures and bitterness and sweetness, like the ingredients of a salad mix found in a fancy grocery store.

“You just don’t think it’s the same thing,” she said. “You don’t think it’s all these things you could collect from your park.”

Rothman wanted to infuse her book with that same sense of discovery, interspersing painstakingly painted illustrations of bats, beavers, seashells and flowers with trivia tidbits.

A diagram of a progressing field succession. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Here, Rothman illustrates the progressing field succession, showing how a tree changes over time. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Rothman drew several shapes a snowflake can take. Excerpted from "Nature Anatomy" by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Rothman drew several different shapes of a snowflake, explaining how temperature and humidity affect its design. Excerpted from “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

As a child, Rothman would draw from the pictures in science textbooks, such as looking at an illustration of an ant to make her own copy. Now, her books are inspiring other young artists.

“It’s so amazing because I did this ‘Farm Anatomy’ book and now people are putting pictures of their kids drawing things out of my book,” Rothman said. “I was just so happy that some little kid is doing what I used to do.”

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