Botanical Illustration

One of the great benefits of working at Phipps Conservatory is having the opportunity to take advantage of their adult education classes.  I have taken classes in graphite, pen and ink, as well as watercolor and mixed media.

Botanical illustration is, at its core, a form of scientific illustration used for plant identification.  In most situations, the illustrator wants to make sure all parts of the plant are presented, including leaves, flowers, buds, stems, and roots.  While some illustrations may feature cross-sections and diagrams, others might have a more fluid and natural composition.  For example,  I rendered  the common knotweed (Polygonum Pensylvanicum) to show the morphology as closely as possible to how it would occur in nature, with all aspects connected to one another in context.

knotweedI took quite a different approach in the second piece, which features a plant found commonly in floral design: the Peruvian Lily (Alstroemeria).  Since this plant has very large and prominent flowers, I chose not to draw the entire plant but instead focus on the parts of the plant that would be most interesting and useful for identification purposes (stems, leaves, buds, flowers).  In order to illustrate clearly all parts of the flower, I had to break it down and show an example of a sepal (bottom left) and petal (bottom right), as well as the reproductive parts of the plant: two stamen (one with anther capped, the other uncapped), the ovum, and the pistil.

peruvian-lilyThe third botanical illustration, of a pine cone, appears to have a much simpler composition than the previous two, but in reality it was the most difficult to plan and execute.  I first had to decide at which angle the pine cone should be rendered.  The tops, bottoms, and tips of the scales all had to be represented in order to properly convey the features of the species, which in this case was Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris).  The second challenge was the actual drawing.  With so many scales it is easy to lose your place, and so I used a strand of embroidery floss to create a grid across the subject.



I also learned to work with watercolor, an activity that takes thoughtful planning.  First one must sketch a variety of different layouts to determine the right composition.  One must then make a very light pencil drawing on the watercolor paper and lay the underpainting down (a tonal study in a grey color in keeping with the overall color palette of the plant).  A green wash is then evenly added to the underpainting, which produces the result below.


Once the green wash has dried, I went over it with a reddish purple to indicate the variegated leaves of the plant Coleus.


After that layer was laid down, I used a very small amount of pastel and colored pencil to create more definition, producing a finished piece.


Below are some more examples of my work, in a variety of media including watercolor and ink.