The more I draw botanicals, the more I learn about plants, and the more I learn about plants, the more I love botanical drawing! I hope you feel the same endless cycle of joy 🙂
Drawing plants is a delightful opportunity to get to know them closely and detect repeated patterns. A pattern that has been most fascinating to me lately is that plants in the same family have similar characteristics (just like people!), notably among their flowers. My enthusiastic exploration has inspired my newest series of paintings of plant family portraits!
Over the years, I’ve practiced many individual plant portraits, starting simple with individual fruits and vegetables and progressing to flowers and larger compositions of one plant in its various life cycle stages. With a summer family reunion on the horizon, I was inspired to start my newest venture – a series of larger paintings showcasing the similarities and differences between plants in the same families.
There are many ways that botanists classify plants, grouping them based on several alike characteristics. Plant systematics has come to group plants by their phylogenetic relationships or morphology. As humans, we tend to group ourselves similarly into families, often based on our biological history. It warms my heart to see how traits from my parents and grandparents appear in my children and grandchildren. For example, I have really curly hair and I have wondered who might inherit this hair. I got it from my father, but so far it hasn’t turned up in any future generations.
This sparked my first large painting composition of the allium family, which you may know as the onion family. These family portraits are about connection, so I wanted to weave together some aspects of the plants to make the composition cohesive. Because alliums are monocots, they have long, strappy, parallel-veining leaves, so I utilized their elegant movement to connect the different species in the family. After finishing that painting in the spring (2022), it was just accepted into the American Society of Botanical Artists 25th international exhibition in October!
In the beautiful paradise of Hawaii this February (2022), I started working on a painting of the citrus family. I’m planning to weave those plants together in a different but similar fashion.
Here on the east coast, summer is nightshades season! Everything is coming to fruition and flowering all at once, so I’m working steadily on this big painting. Above, you can see the very beginning of my process: I write down potential plants in the family I might include, then plan and sketch a small composition.
To explore the plan further and get an even better idea of what I’m hoping to create, I hop into Photoshop and arrange images of (previously painted) individual plant portraits. Visually seeing the ideas in my head laid out on paper (or on screen) is a crucial step for me in creating a final composition that I enjoy.
I decided that the heart of my nightshade family portrait will be the popular potato plant because tubers are roots that I thought could look really cool coming down. I tacked the potato leaves and flowers onto my drawing board to plan out how I wanted to arrange them at the center of my composition. Later on, I will add in the rest of the stem and the tubers, the potatoes at the bottom, once they are ready to harvest.
I love that after all these years of drawing and painting plants, I still learn new things with every plant I draw. Recently, I discovered that petunias are actually part of the nightshade family! Once I learned this fun fact, I had to include a petunia in my composition to compare to the flowers of other nightshade plants. (Learn more about shared features of various nightshades here.)
Then, I started adding in the flower and the fruit of tomatillo, eggplant, and different kinds of peppers. I have chosen visually interesting and unusual versions of these vegetables, which I am fortunate to have growing right down the road at my son Jesse’s farm, (Tributary Farm in High Falls, NY). Some varieties I have illustrated thus far are Peppers: Carmen and Shisito, Eggplant: Fairytale. Tomatoes: Marnero, Sun Gold, and Sauce.
Don’t forget that one of the important parts of this exploration is to eat the edible plants, but be careful because some nightshades are poisonous! (Learn more about the different parts of nightshades that are nutritious and toxic.) This is an opportunity to taste and prepare different edible nightshades and celebrate this plant family’s bounty.
Next came tomato time! I’ve drawn too many different tomatoes to count them all, but I love how no two are ever the same. Each plant has their own individual personality, and each plant family has their own set of traits, just like humans! When I sit down to paint, I begin a kind of conversational interview with my subject, letting it tell me how to start and where to go from there. I love to capture each plant’s uniqueness in my paintings to share with you my neverending awe and wonder at nature’s ability to produce such variety and diversity.
My next step for this composition is to start working on a central motif to weave together all of the plants on the page. I love this part because I get the chance to solve the puzzle and figure out which elements tie together to create a cohesive composition. This connection component helps me make a statement about a plant family by highlighting their shared characteristics in an artistic way.
I don’t know exactly how I’m going to connect the nightshades yet, but you can help me figure it out at the Nightshades Zoom Drawing Workshop on August 7 & 11.
If you want help with your own compositions (of plants other than nightshades), I encourage you to join our online courses with video lessons, or just join our community, so that you can post your work to the Art Feed and get positive feedback from our instructors with possible ways to improve.
My portraits are more than just different plants on the same page; they reflect how families (of all kinds!) weave themselves together and combine their individual members into one cohesive unit. Thanks for being part of the Draw Botanical family!