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Botanical Drawing: A Step-By-Step Guide to Drawing Flowers, Vegetables, Fruit and Other Plant Life
Botanical Drawing: A Step-By-Step Guide to Drawing Flowers, Vegetables, Fruit and Other Plant Life
Botanical Drawing: A Step-By-Step Guide to Drawing Flowers, Vegetables, Fruit and Other Plant Life
Ebook375 pages1 hour

Botanical Drawing: A Step-By-Step Guide to Drawing Flowers, Vegetables, Fruit and Other Plant Life

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About this ebook

The definitive artist's guide to drawing detailed and accurate plants, flowers and other vegetation in pencil—including illustrations and exercises.

Botanical Drawing provides a thorough and expert guide to the subject, touching on the history of this fascinating art form as well as its rules and practicalities. Artist Penny Brown explains the materials, learnings and techniques required to produce accurate botanical illustrations. She also includes an accessible, basic study of botany for the absolute beginner.

By following Brown’s step-by-step instructions, close studies and explorations of the subjects, you will be able to produce your own illustrations of plants, flowers, vegetables and their myriad parts. Botanical Drawing offers knowledge, techniques, and inspiration as you create your own projects.
Release dateJan 1, 2018
Botanical Drawing: A Step-By-Step Guide to Drawing Flowers, Vegetables, Fruit and Other Plant Life

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I highly recommended this book for beginner since the book give a good explanation especially for beginner who are clueless about drawing.

Book preview

Botanical Drawing - Penny Brown


I firmly believe that drawing is supremely important, and the bedrock of all art. As a direct and immediate response to a subject, a drawing often comes alive, with a raw energy of its own. Drawing is also extremely enjoyable and satisfying, and can result in images with a distinctly contemporary feel.

However, there is much more to it than that: an under-drawing may provide the basis and structure for a painting; a quick sketch made in the field can provide essential information to work from later, or can capture – perhaps better than any other medium – the feel and character of a subject. A drawing can be a finished work of art in its own right, conveying the subject with as much interest and skill as a painting. With so much visual stimulation available to us nowadays, it is pleasing to see that there is an increasing fascination with drawing for its own sake.

Botanical drawing has a long history. Early plant hunters had to make detailed line drawings, including dissections, of new specimens. These drawings were archived, and are today considered invaluable as scientific documents. On the pages overleaf, I present a consideration of the history of botanical drawing; ultimately, though, my focus throughout this book is on botanical drawing as a way of making accurate, yet pleasing and decorative, images.

Within this volume, you will find a section on the materials and equipment required for botanical drawing, and the potential use of technology such as tablets and digital cameras. I have included simple exercises to familiarise you with graphite pencils; to encourage you to experiment with line and tone and to draw from life. Indeed, observation and learning to really look at your subject are primary drawing skills. I discuss the importance of composition: how to approach and lay out your subjects to create compositions that are vigorous and exciting but stay true to the individual character and nature of the subject itself.

The step-by-step projects in this book are graded by complexity, from a simple William pear to an intricate, intertwining pot marigold. Start with the simpler studies at the beginning of the book, and move through the projects as your confidence grows. You can approach each project in a variety of ways to suit your skill level.

Absolute beginners can trace the initial line drawings, while those with more drawing skills can sketch from the illustrations in the book. Once you have built up your confidence, try working from life. Arrange your own peas or freesias in the same compositions as the projects, and draw what you see in front of you, using the diagrams and instructions as a guide. Ultimately you can move on to the fruits, vegetables or flowers of your choice while applying the approaches and techniques you have acquired from this book.

I have featured a broad range of subject matter from plants and flowers, fruits and vegetables, grasses and lichens, to seaweed, driftwood and dried seed heads. I aim to share my fascination with finding the beauty in dead, decaying and fading plant matter and in discovering odd and unusual subjects to draw.

My own drawing is largely self-taught. This book is full of methods and approaches that work for me, and I have tried to convey my thought processes as I plan and work through each project. I hope that my methods will work for you too.

Keep an open mind, experiment and enjoy yourself. If you are not interested in the subject, don’t draw it. The subject has to grab your attention, engage your curiosity and arouse your desire to capture it on paper. As you will discover in this book, I am very drawn to twisty, swirling forms with lots of movement. Learn to recognise your own subjects and, most importantly, have fun. The purpose of this book is to give you the confidence and enthusiasm to tackle your own projects, to show you how broad a subject botanical drawing is, and how satisfying and enjoyable it can be.

An unfinished drawing of the flower of Miltoniopsis – Pansy Orchid.



Arum maculatum – Cuckoo Pint

in the style of the Anicia Juliana Codex

The history of botanical art and illustration could fill volumes. In this short overview, I concentrate solely on the artists – including one photographer – whose work has appealed to me and who have most significantly influenced my own. Some of the earliest examples of botanical illustration are the limestone bas relief carvings of two hundred and seventy-five Syrian plants on the walls of the Temple of Thuthmosis III at Karnak (dating from 1450


). Many of these plants are still clearly recognisable.

The medicinal use of plants led to the creation of herbals, which included illustrations to aid identification. In 70


the Greek physician Dioscorides, attached to the army of the Roman emperor Nero, recorded the existence and medicinal properties of hundreds of plants; his work remained the authority on the subject for 1,500 years. In 512


, a Byzantine artist illustrated Dioscorides’ herbal for the imperial princess, Anicia Juliana. The resulting codex includes nearly four hundred quite naturalistic paintings of plants on vellum. A fascinating portrait of Dioscorides himself remains in existence; in front of him is an artist painting a mandrake root. The artist is painting from nature, looking across at the real root held up by a servant girl.

The Renaissance saw art and science advance hand-in-hand. The studies of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) and Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) depicted plant structure and growth habit and are considered the first modern botanical representations. Leonardo applied the same meticulous scientific style to his plant studies that he used in his studies of human anatomy. He worked in a variety of media – red chalk for a study of a bramble; pen and ink for a drawing of the Madonna lily.

Dürer’s studies are astonishingly fresh and modern. Only about twelve survive, all rendered in watercolour, some on paper and some on vellum. Dürer’s study of Columbine shows a whole plant growing from a clod of earth with wisps of grass surrounding it, and accurately conveys the growth habit and ecology of the plant. It is also a beautiful work of art.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, new varieties of flowers were cultivated alongside exotics from the East, the New World and Africa, brought back to Europe by the first great plant hunters. Wealthy people cultivated gardens and commissioned artists to record them in order to display their wealth and status. Many of the flowers cost more than the paintings. At the height of Tulipmania in 1637, during which the price of tulip bulbs peaked, a bulb of ‘Semper Augustus’, with much-prized red on white striped markings, was sold for 260,000 stuivers – more than a lifetime’s earnings for a skilled artisan.

The 1730s saw a similar mania for hyacinths. The Dutch flower painters of the time, such as Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), produced stunning, colourful flower portraits depicting multiple varieties of flower piled up in vases, usually against dark backgrounds. Some included skulls and other ‘vanitas’ symbols, reminders that wealth cannot protect from death. Ruysch was a pupil of the entomologist and botanical artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717). From the age of thirteen Merian was fascinated by the life cycles of insects and began to document them, contradicting the accepted theory that insects were ‘born of mud’. She travelled to Dutch Surinam in 1699, at a time when it was almost unknown for women to undertake scientific expeditions. Her notes and sketches formed the basis of her great work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (1705), which comprised sixty plates showing butterflies, reptiles and insects with their respective food plants. Merian’s paintings were beautiful and also true to life – the leaves are pitted with holes chewed by the caterpillars, and the flowers have lost petals. Her classifications of butterflies and moths are still used today, although Merian herself died a pauper after a stroke left her unable to work.

A floral arrangement

in the style of a Dutch flower painting.

Pomegranate plant and insects

after Maria Sibylla Merian.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw botanical artists produce collections of paintings for botanists and horticulturalists. Many of these are now stored in institutions such as the Lindley Library or the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, London. Illustrator Sarah Ann Drake (1803–1857) worked for the botanist Professor John Lindley, producing illustrations, particularly of orchids. Her illustrations are watercolour, but she used a mixture of colour and monochrome washes, sometimes changing from colour to black and white to portray a leaf twisting over, for instance.

Arthur Harry Church (1865–1937) was a botanist who lectured at Oxford University and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1921. He was interested in plant morphology and depicted his subjects in cross-section, meticulously dissected. His style was bold and simple, with crisp, sharp edges and clean washes of watercolour. His detailed, accurate drawings beautifully illustrate the complex internal structures of flowering plants.

In 1928, Karl Blossfeldt (1865–1932) published a portfolio of close-up photographic images of plants and flora called Urformen der Kunst (‘Art Forms in Nature’). The photographs became instantaneously popular, and Blossfeldt was celebrated for discovering an ‘unknown universe’. A sculptor and professor at Berlin’s School of Arts and Crafts, Blossfeldt had created his catalogue of natural forms as a teaching aid. He used a homemade camera that could magnify by thirty times, and produced six thousand photographs that are stylistically consistent. The black and white images stand out against pale backgrounds and give an architectural feel to the humblest pumpkin tendrils, abutilon seed capsules or opening ash buds.

The last word on the artistry of botanical drawing goes

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