THE PROCESS OF
CREATING BOTANICAL ART

All botanical art is an artist’s interpretation of nature’s reality, and there is wide variation and much overlap in both style and technique.

   
© Ernie Cabat
Opuntia acanthocarpa
  © 2013 Susan Ashton
Lotus rigidus
  © 2012 Margaret Pope
Chilopsis linearis

Botanical art is educational, informing the viewer by presenting a clear and true-to-life picture of the plant and its construction.

   
Artist Chris Bondante's photo of
Opuntia basilaris
  Chris Bondante's final painting of
the habit of Opuntia basilaris
 

Keen observation and great patience are needed to produce realistic and accurate details of plant structure.  Illustration, drawing, and painting techniques are used to create form and depth.

   
    Artist Adrianna Hewings' sketch of
Asclepias subulata, Desert Milkweed
Click to Enlarge
   

Accurate drawings are created that can include enlarged or magnified plant structures otherwise not visible without a microscope, making them more easily understandable to the viewer.

   
Stamens of Opuntia basilaris   Chris Bondante's painting of
Opuntia basilaris showing a longitudinal
section of the flower
  Pistil of Opuntia basilaris

A series of steps is followed in order to create a successful piece of botanical art:

  • research
  • detailed observation
  • preliminary drawings
  • composition
  • the completed work of art

RESEARCH

Before beginning to draw it is essential that the artist understand the plant thoroughly.   The artist researches the plant by reading descriptive information about the species in existing treatments (written scientific descriptions of a plant species) on relevant websites, and in field guides and other plant publications.

Consultations with a botanist or horticulturist who is familiar with the particular species are also very valuable both before and during the process.

   
Artist Miriam Kogan referring to several treatments of Opuntia macrocentra   Treatment of Opuntia basilaris
from online resource Efloras.org.
Click to enlarge.
  Artist Chris Bondante and botanist
George Montgomery examine
Larrea tridentata, the creosote bush

DETAILED OBSERVATION AND PRELIMINARY DRAWINGS

A very time consuming part of the botanical art process is observing and sketching details.  Key to creating botanical art is the careful observation of the living plant, from its growth habit (overall form and appearance) to observation of minute structures using a microscope.  Sketching the habit gives the artist a general sense of the plant.  Drawings of external plant structures lead to an understanding of how the plant is put together and how structures relate to each other. 

   
Artist Miriam Kogan’s preliminary study
of Melampodium leucanthum shows the habit of the plant, an enlargement of the flower, and a color study to be used for the final drawing. Click to enlarge.
  Artist Chris Bondante using a dissecting microscope to examine Larrea tridentata   Artist Pat Anderson’s preliminary study of Oenothera caespitosa. The drawing indicates the size of the structures as well as their number and location. Click to enlarge

Observing details of the plant structures using a magnifying glass and microscope is the most exciting aspect of this process, which often involves careful dissection using a dissecting microscope.  Under this close scrutiny the artist is introduced to a miniature world of structures and forms not previously seen by the naked eye.

   
A camera with a macro lens can be useful for photographing smaller structures.   Magnified view of the ovules
of the flower of Opuntia basilaris
  Further magnification of the ovules
using a dissecting microscope.


Along with the live and written information about the plant,  photos,  pressed plants and herbarium specimens are used as references by the artist.

   
Artist Chris Bondante's photos of
Phaseolus grayanus
  An herbarium specimen of Phaseolus grayanus. Preserved plants can be found in institutional herbaria, many of which have images of their specimens online.
Click image to enlarge.
  Chris Bondante's completed
drawing of Phaseolus grayanus.
Click image to enlarge.

COMPOSITION

By arranging and rearranging the sketches and drawings, the artist arrives at a final composition that is not only artistic but also clear in presenting the plant habit and structures in a logical sequence.

Preliminary layout for Chris Bondante’s painting of Opuntia basilaris


COMPLETED WORK OF ART

After deciding on the composition, the drawings are transferred to archival paper using transfer paper, by lightly rubbing graphite on the reverse side of the preliminary drawing, or by using a light-box.  Pencil lines are lightly erased, and the artist uses various media to complete the final art.  Media may include ink, watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, and graphite.

Exhibit Item #109
Opuntia basilaris, © 2013 Chris Bondante

Image Credits