My love of Botanical Illustration

I’ve always loved botanical illustrations. I would stare at exquisite plant “portraits” and wonder, How did the artist do that?! How does that flower or fruit look so real, so vibrant, so three-dimensional, so colorful, and detailed? The tradition of botanical illustration continues to this day, and I am thrilled that I am able to make it my life’s work.

I have been a botanical illustrator since 2001, and my medium of choice is colored pencils and watercolors combined. Everyone who has seen my work thinks I always knew how to draw. Drawing is something I love to do, but it wasn’t always that way. In high school I loved crafts, color, and doodling, but I was never one of those people that could draw realistically. I loved art and did go to college at a top art school, but I didn’t know how to draw.

Life drawing class was required as a college student, and I was overwhelmed. I did not understand perspective, how to create light and shadows, and how to render three dimensional form on a two dimensional piece of paper. I was surrounded by talented artists, most of whom knew how to draw their whole lives. The instructors taught at their level, and I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what they were talking about. I was frustrated and figured I just didn’t have the talent for realistic drawing. It was only when I started to study the techniques of botanical illustration many years later, that I finally found a way to unlock the secrets of drawing.

Are you one of those people that has the desire to draw and loves botanical art, but you don’t think you have the talent to learn these techniques? I know from my own experience and years now of teaching others, that if you want to learn and are willing to put in the time, I can show you how.

I finally learned botanical drawing after college when I became a textile designer and studied botanical illustrations closely, for reference in creating realistic floral designs. I could copy an old document or even a photograph of a flower, but whenever I tried to use a live flower as a model, I was frustrated with the results. I loved nature and wanted to capture some of its beauty in my work. I wanted to work from live plants.

I got out my watercolors and started to paint flowers. I kept a journal of the watercolor sketches of wildflowers I drew on walks in the country. I have these journals to this day, but try as I did, they were not “botanical” enough. I had captured pretty colors, and clearly rendered identifiable flowers, but they lacked the depth, detail, and realism that I noticed in historic botanical illustrations.

botanical painting of trumpet lily with watercolors

Here is one of my first attempts at a botanical painting with watercolor.

Botanical Illustrations have similar characteristics, regardless of the artist. There seemed to be a tradition, a series of techniques, that they all seemed to follow. Did the botanical artists all go to the same school? Wanted to go  there, too! I was fortunate to find a program for studying botanical illustration practically in my own backyard—in New York City at the New York Botanical Garden. I studied there for many years and traveled across the United States and Europe to learn these techniques as well.

I consider the introduction to the techniques of botanical drawing a gift in my life, and it is my passion to share it with you. I have three published books and many of my illustrations appear in established publications. I have taught workshops to thousands of students from all over the world.

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