Tips for Botanical Illustrating

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There are so many ways to enjoy learning about drawing plants. In our series on Plant Journaling for Homeschoolers, we share many resources for recording the things you explore about plants and the world they live in. Tips for Botanical Illustrating demonstrates the features of plants that are key to good plant illustrations. Don’t forget to sign up below for our free 40 page eBook, Plant Journaling Pages for Homeschoolers so you can get started today with your own botanical illustrations!

sycamore seed in a journal

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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.

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

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.
Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

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!

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

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.

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.
Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

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?

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for Botanical Illustrating

More Nature Journaling Ideas

pages of a journal with colorful plant notes and drawings

We’ve got more to say and teach about botanical illustration.

Check out these posts:

Subscribe for Plant Journal Pages for Homeschoolers

If you want a small start in the world of botanical illustration, consider a set of our Plant Journal Pages for Homeschoolers.

These pages are available in full or quarter size and offer 40 pages of plant science goodness.

It comes with Plant Journaling support and more free printable content!


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…plants are always right around the corner, any time of the year!

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    1. I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to start it! Spring comes slowly in upstate NY.

  1. I saw a pin on Pinterest and am glad I clicked through. What a wonderful and informative post. I especially liked the comment you made about photographs not revealing all the details of a plant. I had not thought of that before.

    1. Sheila, thanks for clicking through!

      Yes, I hadn’t thought about that either but even a great photo doesn’t show and accurate cross section of a plant. It was a great session where we learned a lot.

      Thanks for reading!

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