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We had the distinct pleasure recently of attending a workshop on botanical illustrating through our 4-H Plant & Environmental Science committee. Rebecca loves to draw plants in her journals and has been honing her talents. The workshop was a fun way to reinforce skills she’s been working at on her own.
Botanical Illustrating Has a Long History
Our artist instructor shared reminders about people drawing plants throughout history. We know that Lewis & Clark took with them naturalists and they themselves kept extensive journals on their journey west in 1804.
She also mentioned that Charles Darwin drew many pictures of plant life during his infamous sail aboard the HMS Beagle.
In addition, Beatrix Potter is well known to have been a natural scientist and an illustrator of the natural world in addition to writing stories for children.
An Artist’s Advice for Drawing Plants for Botanical Illustrations
Botanical illustrators are still needed to provide detail that a photograph may not easily reveal. Cross sections are drawings because the artist can render an accurate image of the many layers of detail in the plant. So, how do you approach making a botanical drawing?
- Pay attention to detail not the plant’s surroundings.
- Box off quadrants of the plants and focus on drawing the shape of one quadrant at a time.
- Notice and draw individual shapes not the plant as a whole which will lead to the best accuracy of the specimen.
Opportunities for Illustrating Plants
Need a reason to draw the plants you find?
- Keep a garden journal and draw the various stages of growth.
- Illustrate your leaf collection.
- Improve your nature journaling by drawing the plants you see on a walk.
- Collect for your nature table and draw what you find.
Rebecca has already requested one garden upgrade for this next season and she’s working it out with Dan. They are going to make a cement table top from the directions in The Family Handyman. Before the slab sets, she will draw plant designs into the cement. It’s going to make a fantastic garden table. She can hardly wait to sit out there in the warm weather to observe the garden and do her school work outdoors!
Resources for Botanical Illustrating
We enjoyed a look at some of these books. I added a few of my own discoveries on the topic. Pick them up at the library for an added bonus to your nature journaling.
- The Art of Flowers- Botany basics and how it relates to drawing flowers
- Drawing & Painting Plants- Great pictures and detail on how to draw plants.
- Picturing Plants- An Analytical History of Botanical Illustration
- Botanical Sketchbook- a master class in botanical illustration
- The Art of Botanical Drawing- a beginner’s guide to drawing plants
Tools for Botanical Illustrating
Where art is concerned I prefer to provide the best tools we can afford. It’s frustrating to any budding or seasoned artist to work with inferior implements. I’ve also noticed the better the tools, the better the results.
- Drawing pencils- not just your ordinary #2 pencil, but a set of drawing pencils ranging from soft to hard. Rebecca recently got her first set and it’s made a big difference in her ability to shade. With this being her first try with them, we went with a modest priced set.
- Watercolor Pencils- Our favorite moderately priced sets are the Prang pencils. They have thick color and you can use them in a variety of ways. Have you ever seen Harmony Art Mom’s Watercolor Pencil 101 Tutorials? This post opened up some new ways of using the medium. It’s a must view!
- Colored Pencils- We use Prismacolor pencils for our art projects. They lay down the color so nicely and they are worth the investment if you take care of them.
- Pencil Sharpener- I like the Prismacolor sharpener because it is kind to the expensive pencils!
- Watercolor Paper- Nothing beats water color paper for when you are using this medium. I find it helps to take in the water and leave the pigment nice and brilliant in the finished product.
- Sketch Book- Rebecca loves the smaller sketch books with a hard cover and thicker pages for use with wet or dry media. The hard cover lets her sketch out on the trail which is a favorite past time for her.
Plant & Flower Anatomy and Taxonomy
Before we drew our botanical illustrations, we were given a review of plant anatomy. Understanding the various plant parts and where they come together is important for making an accurate drawing with labels.
Floral formulas help to identify what family the flower is in- is it a rose? A lily? Orchid? Flowers have a certain number of petals (corolla) and sepals (calyx) along with the reproductive parts- the stamen (andrecium) and pistol (gynecium). Of course floral formulas only apply to angiosperms (flowering plants). Do you remember the taxonomic name of non flowering plants like conifers and ferns?
Botanical illustrating is a great way to combine art and biology. Of course, as children grow, their skills will change. Not all of my children love to sketch, but they have all done it. I find that Rebecca can be very inspiring to her brothers and she will often take them out on excursions or rope them into helping her collect. Enjoy these resources and get ready…spring is right around the corner, right?