Botanical art fuses art and science to produce images that have an important role in documenting and identifying plants. You can find out more about botanical art in last week's blog What is botanical art?.
While botanical artists follow certain requirements in order to create accurate images so that plants can be identified, each botanical artist and scientific illustrator follows a slightly different process.
Some illustrations are done as quickly as within three days, others can take months or even a year.
Firstly I have to locate the plant and this can take a long time! If I am locating a plant in the field I might have to revisit it at different times of the year to collect the flowers or its seeds. Using a sketchbook I take note of the essential features of the plant, measuring it carefully and noting its habit. Does it trail downwards or along the ground? Does it climb? Is it a tree or a herb? What is the leaf shape or how does it produce? I make note of the colours and might fill in some colour on my pencil sketch. Having got all the information I need I use tracing paper to organise the plant to fit the sheet of paper in a pleasing way. I trace it down and then after checking that it is accurate I will begin to paint in watercolour, building up layers of colour in a few washes followed by detail. This whole process can take one day, a month, or a whole year. Typically, a painting will take me two weeks.
Scientific illustration typically starts by determining which elements should be included in the illustration. This part is usually directed by the commissioning botanist. I then start to plan my composition by positioning the largest elements of the plant on the page and drawing them accurately onto what will be the finished sheet of paper. The details (for example, flower dissections) are then made in my sketchbook, often using a microscope to fully capture those parts which can’t be seen with the naked eye. All of these elements are then brought together and added to the final drawing, at which point they are checked for accuracy by the botanist. I then ink over the pencil drawing using rotring pens. When finished, I add a legend explaining all of the magnifications and reductions used, plus which specimens were used as reference. All this I try to do in three days (but it often takes longer)!
Feeling inspired? Get started with your own botanical art and illustration with the help of these tips from Kew’s botanical artists and scientific illustrators.
Kew’s foremost contemporary botanical artist Christabel King has been painting botanical art for 40 years at Kew. This book covers all aspects of botanical illustration, including the materials required, plant collecting and preserving, and drawing and painting techniques.
Buy the Kew Book of Botanical Illustration
This beautiful book is a celebration of 200 years of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, showcasing the botanical richness of these Gardens through the eyes of 64 exceptional Australian and international botanical artists.
Buy The Florilegium
The Golden Age of Botanical Art by Martyn Rix brings together the stories of the intrepid explorers and the many professional artists who recorded the flora that they discovered on their travels and expeditions.
Buy the Golden Age of Botanical Art