The three B's.... Beginner - Botany-Botanical Art

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

For those of you brave enough to watch our first live UTube broadcast on Monday the 18th May, this piece is a follow up from the presenter Elaine Allison, outlining the key aspects of the presentation. We hope you enjoyed our first online broadcast and look out for our next session in June which will focus on "Asteraceae" which includes daisies, sunflowers and asters. Elaine will look at our largest native daisy the "oxeye daisy".

For those members who missed the "live" session here is a link to the recorded version.

Session 1. Simple Flowers

If you have a few minutes it may be useful to view the broadcast first and then dive into this piece or the other way round.

The Three B's...

If I want to paint an accurate illustration of a plant what do I need to know about my specimen?’

Let’s start with a statement that defines "botanical art" as distinct from "flower" painting.

Botanical art

‘Botanical art strives towards scientific and botanical accuracy whereas flower painting is focused more on the overall effect of the image and much less on scientific accuracy.’

From a botanical illustration you should be able to identify the plant even when not all parts of the plant are shown in the illustration for example a pine cone, when accurately depicted, should enable you to identify the parent plant.

Since these terms are crucial to our work as botanical artists we are intending to post a blog on the differences between the terms botanical illustration, botanical art and flower painting in the near future. With pictures of course! This definition of terms has become rather crucial given the large number of entries we receive for our various online exhibitions and competitions.

So here we go.

Session 1. The simple flower

In this first session we explore a few simple points that can help us reproduce artwork that is botanically accurate including:

  • The botanical knowledge needed to produce an accurate botanical illustration

  • What you need to know about your plant specimen before you start drawing

To illustrate these points we will use a common British native plant the Geranium, which has a simple flower structure

What botanical knowledge is needed to produce an accurate botanical illustration?

The simple answer to this is none, you can in fact portray a plant accurately without knowing what the various parts of the specimen are called. However, I would strongly suggest that if you are going to illustrate botanically then it is helpful to learn some simple terminology. It is useful for identification purposes and when you are completing a piece of work it should be identifiable down to the species level. So it could be easy to miss out important botanical features that distinguish your specimen from any other.

What you need to know about your plant specimen before you start drawing?

There is something more important than knowing what parts of the plant are called and that is what does it really look like. This requires detailed anatomical observation. Where possible, it is really useful to see the plant growing in the wild. Get to know the habitat, location with respect to other plants and if it is the same species, how the form can change depending on where it grows. Look at the way the leaves, stems flowers are positioned in relation to each other and make sure you always look at the plant from different positions as you normally would when you are developing a composition for your image. Seeing the shape and form of the original plant from different angles is really important and this is where you cannot rely on photographs alone when you are drawing. A single photograph is an image frozen in time, perspective and illumination.

Equipment that might be useful when studying the morphology of your plant are:

  • hand lens

  • fine forceps

  • dissecting needle or equivalent (just tape a needle to a pencil)

  • ruler for a scale bar or an object with known dimensions

  • fine scissors

  • blade of some sort - pen knife or equivalent

Figure 1. Basic dissection equipment.

Wild plants should not be dug up but a few small pieces may be taken where they grow in abundance for further study e.g. one flower head or a leaf. If it is a protected species then make all your observations in the field and take lots of photographs from multiple angles. If you require magnification then use a camera with high resolution so you can blow up the image or alternatively, there are some great macro attachments you can pop on your mobile phone lens that can magnify the image usually around x15 for most of the basic devices.

A Simple Flower - Common name "Herb Robert"

The native plant we will use to demonstrate this is:

Scientific name: Geranium robertianum , (Genus - species)

Scientific names have two parts the Genus, a grouping of plants that may have several different species within it. Plus the species, a group of plants that can only exclusively breed with each other. You write both Genus and species in italics or underline them and genus starts with a capital. Once you have used the full name once you can then abbreviate the genus to capital letter and put a dot after it. For example our plant would be G. robertianum.

Figures 2 and 3 show the same plant but growing in a different location.

Figure 2. Herb Robert growing in full sun and low moisture environment.
Figure 3. Herb Robert growing in a shady location under a hedge with higher ground moisture.