Teaching Botanical Illustration - How and Why I began

again pear botanical illustration
Botanical Illustration Demonstration Page

Nature is a perfectionist when it comes to the arrangement of form and color.  Let nature guide you and you will always find the process of drawing educational and exciting.

I studied art in college at the Rhode Island School of Design and became a professional textile designer. I never studied teaching, though many art students get a teaching degree as it is a way to have a career involving art. I never went this route in part because in college I was uninspired by many of my teachers.

The students at RISD were extremely talented and accomplished. Often they could draw and paint very realistically. If you were unable to draw realistically, understand perspective, and use of light and shadow to render three dimensional form, the instructors would not give you individual attention and help you understand these core concepts. I was never sure exactly why they wouldn’t help with basic concepts:

Was it because you were supposed to know this already?

Was it because they didn’t want to encourage only realistic art?

Did they want you to develop your own style and not necessarily be concerned with realistic art?

The result was that I graduated college feeling frustration when rendering of realistic form. I had other talents. 

I was good with color and pattern and was able to develop an ex


citing career as a home furnishing textile designer, but I always wanted to paint and draw plants realistically.

First floral designs in college – unable to draw a realistic flower but pattern and color was easy for me.
Textile floral design in college
Textile floral design in college – An attempt at a realistic flower!

Eventually I discovered Botanical Illustration and the certificate program at the New York Botanical Garden.

Instruction there was very specific, started at a basic level, and was individual with instructors helping each student improve.

My work was transformed overnight. With some basic techniques I was able to improve my drawing very quickly. I studied intensively over 5 years and applied my newfound skills in my textile designs.

Iris scarf design
Iris Scarf, after studying botanical illustration
Textile Design using botanical illustration techniques

About 3 or 4 years after starting to take classes I was asked to teach at the New York Botanical Garden.

By then I had studied with many instructors there, some that came from Australia and England to teach. I also still remembered most of my instructors  in college– those that were helpful and those that weren’t.

My teaching was largely based on what I had seen in various instructors. I put together the characteristics I liked, versus those that were really frustrating. I think I learned as much from the bad teachers as the good and vowed to be really helpful to the students, not only to those that were obviously talented and accomplished already.

I try to be specific with comments, and create teaching concepts in a simple easy to understand way. For some reason I never teach the same way twice. I always re visit a lessons and tweak things until I get it concise and easy to understand.

I think that what makes me a good teacher is my obvious enthusiasm for my subject and the joy that drawing plants gives me and my students. I mostly try to share the joy!

I also always let the subject (a particular plant) we are drawing determine how I will teach a lesson. I take my lead from the pant. Nature has so much to offer as inspiration and an opportunity to learn about form and function in nature. I teach a relationship between a person, the plant they are studying,  and how to use basic drawing and painting skills to reveal nature’s intrigue, beauty, and complexity.

I freely admit that my favorite part of teaching is drawing along side my students. I always work on a drawing and as everyone draws so do I. This way, as I get to an important concept I can show students how I work on a particular aspect of a drawing. There is still plenty of time to walk around the room and help students as they draw, but this way I don’t hover over students as they work.

Botanical drawing takes time, and it is important to have time to draw and work out concepts and practice techniques over and over. The journey is as exciting and fulfilling as any travel or adventure. Enjoy it!