Getting Started with Botanical Illustration

July 26, 2021 | Jen McB

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Have you ever seen a checkered tulip? In real life, perhaps not. Maybe in a book, then.

Personally, I have seen one in a book. Given the nature of the character that drew it, I was of the opinion that they were made up and completely fictitious. It was by a Swede named Olof Rudbeck and, as the recorded "last true Renaissance Man," he held some eccentric views. Then I saw checkered tulip seeds advertised in a catalogue. Huh.

If you'd like to learn how to draw some flowers, either real or fictitious, here are some books to get started.

The Golden Age of Botanical Art

The Golden Age of Botanical Art by Martin Rix 

The Joy of Botanical Drawing

The Joy of Botanical Drawing by Wendy Hollender 

Over the years you may spend a lot of time looking at books, photographs and illustrations. Some of the more pleasant options are botanical illustration books. They are truly calm. 

A Step by Step Guide to Botanical Illustration

Botanical Illustration for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide by Meriel Thurstan and Rosie Martin 

Botanical Illustration From Life

Botanical Illustration from Life by Isik Guner

Scientific illustration has been around for a long time. There is really only one purpose, to educate others who are not there to witness life firsthand. Draw what you see and only what you see. Botany has been the most popular form since the rinceau (floral illuminations) exemplars of medieval manuscripts. But if you travel further back in time and across continents, botany has been a constant popular motif. For example, in Islamic Art. It’s nice to have something in common with other cultures.

Botanical Art with Scientific Illustration

Botanical Art with Scientific Illustration by Sarah Jane Humphrey 

The Trees of North America

The Trees of North America by David Allen Sibley 

There is also skill building in botanical illustrations. In my department, customers often ask if we can identify specific plants. These are usually great adventures for the persistent reference team. We're always learning along the way. It is great practice for observation and development of curiosity according to Keeping A Nature Journal. Curiosity is a sought after skill in the work world because it is not something artificial intelligence can reproduce.

Did reading this make you want to know more about subjects other than plants? Botanical Illustration can be a gateway. Make connections over inspirational Kew Gardens or the magnificent landscape scrolls from Hong Kong. Dream about the places you would visit like the Morgan Library or Robert Irwin Getty Garden. Bring your notebook, the Villa d'Este is waiting (The builder did not get his dream job, but his disappointment looks wondrous). 

The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration

The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration by Christabel King 

Botanical Sketchbook

Botanical Sketchbook by Mary Ann Scott

Keeping a Nature Journal

Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie