The Joy of Botanical Drawing
Introduction: An Invitation
“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”—CHINESE PROVERB
I first learned botanical-illustration techniques twenty years ago. The moment I understood these techniques, a door opened for me, and I immediately fell in love with the practice of botanical drawing. Since that day, it feels like the plants are leading me along a path that I steadily follow.
When I study and draw from nature, I feel a presence of something that never fails to take my breath away. I “undress” the plant to study the mystery within, exploring plants and flowers on a micro level, almost the way an insect does. Many people desire a deep connection with nature. They think botanical drawing is something they cannot do because they have no talent. Most of these people have never studied drawing.
I want to share two comments I have heard thousands of times from people when I tell them I am a botanical artist and that I teach this subject. The first thing they say is, “I can’t draw.” I ask them how they know this; have they ever studied or practiced drawing? They say, “I have never studied drawing because I have no talent.” The second comment I hear from students in my drawing class is, “I am afraid . . .” This sentence ends with several things: afraid to ruin a drawing, to mess up the paper, to begin. Through the botanical drawing lessons in this book, it is my hope that you will experience the relaxing and meditative quality of drawing from nature, and develop a toolbox of drawing skills at the same time. If you slow down and practice these techniques, not only will you learn to draw but you will experience a close and personal relationship with nature. This often leads to a state of flow or well-being, so you will approach each drawing session with enthusiasm, purpose, and confidence.
You might think this book is about results. Tangible botanical drawings to hold in your hands, hang on the wall, and share with others; however, the focus of this book is not on the results but on developing the practice—and the process of doing is the best part. I think it’s a privilege to immerse myself in nature’s world, and it fills me with joy on a daily basis. I’m not sure why this is, but my intuition tells me it is a combination of the repetitive activity of slow drawing combined with the close-up examination of nature on an intimate level. It might even be the plants’ qualities that help with this.
I remember once drawing a lavender flower, which has tiny flowers. While looking at the flower close up, the intoxicating scent of lavender filled the air. I kept looking closely at the flower just to get another whiff! Whatever the reason for the joy the natural world brings, the results are clear. I am happy in the doing and look forward to this every day, even at those times when I’m working on a particularly difficult subject. And I think the drawings reflect the joy of unlocking nature’s complexities. The tangible result is the botanical drawing I have created, and it serves as a reminder of my time spent studying and relaxing with this plant as well as a piece of art for everyone else to enjoy and see. I am pleased to show the world the details and magic I see in the plant world, something they might not have noticed without my help.
I practiced botanical drawing happily for ten years in a large city, inspired by the urban parks and botanical gardens. As I worked in the city, the plants called to me and encouraged me to put down roots in some fertile soil of my own. I moved to a horse farm in a small agricultural community, and with the help of family and friends, we turned it into gardens full of plants for food, beauty, and inspiration. I follow the plants at home and when I travel. Year after year, I track a plant that has caught my attention so that I can see how it develops from flower to fruit. Color is usually the first thing I see, a bright color against a backdrop of green. I need to get closer, and eventually when I have studied the flower parts under magnification, I feel as if a window into nature’s life cycle has opened. This has taken me to magical places all over the world where I can draw exotic, unusual, and common plants. I feel lucky that this is my daily practice.
I draw almost every day. My ideal day begins like this: I wake up in the morning, birds chirping outside my window. Coffee cup in hand, I go outside to see what nature has been up to overnight. As I walk around the gardens, I spy a new flower opening or a ripening fruit. It’s always exciting to see botanical developments, whether it’s a plant we have put in the garden that is thriving or an interesting weed that has shown up on its own. I am a student of nature, and I enjoy the opportunity to observe small details and remain open to nature’s surprises. This feeling reminds me of a small child experiencing everything for the first time, making new discoveries and revisiting something from the day before to rejoice in the memory of it. As I walk through the gardens, something inevitably grabs my attention, and I know I want to capture it in a drawing. Once I’ve chosen something I’d like to draw, my day has focus and meaning. I grab my clippers and take my subject to the table where my art supply kit awaits. I sit down, observe my plant closely, and begin to draw.
I invite you to join me on this journey and develop your own process for drawing botanical subjects inspired by nature.