Friday, September 9, 2016

Botancial Illustration

My father had a real talent for drawing; I was always envious of his abilities.  I considered my own talents to be limited.  In fact, I once drew an old grist mill as an illustration to accompany an article I had written for my organization's newsletter, and someone (who did not know that I had drawn the the mill illustration) commented, "I wonder whose kid drew that picture?"  If that wouldn't put the kibosh on any artistic aspirations I don't know what would.

However, since I've inherited half my father's genes, I've often wondered if I could improve my drawing skills with some coaching and practice.  Plus, with retirement looming, Kali questions me constantly about how I'm going to fill my time after I stop working.

So, when a retired high school art teacher offered to teach a three-evening introductory botanical illustration class for my organization, my program planner and I readily agreed to put it on the schedule, and I signed up.  Last evening was our first class.

The instructor asked the students to find a relatively simple leaf as a subject.  Then, we retreated from the oppressive heat and humidity to an air conditioned conference room and set about with plain, old Staples-brand No. 2 pencils to draw the leaf.  The instructor told the students it was perfectly acceptable to trace the leaf, but I decided to try to draw it freehand.  Once we had the basic form and venation on paper, we took fine-pointed markers and inked the outline.  Then, the instructor asked us to highlight features of the leaf in stippling.

My representation of a sourwood leaf (Oxydendrum arboreum) and my subject head this post.  Kali said that she liked my drawing, but didn't think it was a very accurate representation of the subject.  I'm not completely satisfied either (I'm a bit disappointed with the stippling, in particular), but I don't think I've tried to draw anything since my grist mill fiasco.

Next week, we add color with watercolors, and the third week we'll attempt a scratchboard project.  I'll post my results of each.


robin andrea said...

I'm impressed by your first drawing. You definitely inherited half your genes from your father! I think art is a wonderful goal for retirement. I rarely picked up a camera before I retired, and now I don't go anywhere without it.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Looks OK to me - and how many artists would have known the Latin name? Like most things in life hours and hours of practice are what's required. Then, as they say, it just comes naturally.

Grizz………… said...


Don't sell yourself short! You definitely have a measure of drawing talent. That freehand sourwood leaf shows you have a good eye for shape, proportion, and dimensionality. Necessary potential abilities which only time and practice, working on technical skills, etc. can fully uncover. I've been around the outdoor publishing business for decades—edited and done layout and past-ups, prepared mechanicals, on a number of magazines, owned one of those magazines (on flyfishing) plus a book company, and bought or looked at piles of line drawings and illustrative art—from the one-off work of just-starting amateurs and the best wildlife/nature artist professionals in the business.

I've happily BOUGHT and published, as article addendums, worse drawings than your sourwood leaf illustration!

BTW, you say you're not quite satisfied with how it turned out. Great! That means you can see and recognize little details which send up a flag to your critical eye…and that, my friend, means you're capable of rendering an improvement. You're getting the sort of positive feedback that will improve your work. How good can you realistically expect to become? I dunno. But more importantly, neither do you…and you won't have a real idea until you've done maybe 1000 illustrations of leaves and birds and old barns and whatever else in subject matter stirs the creative juices in you. You have to work and give your talent time to shine. Just don't quit early!

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Many thanks for the compliment. I SHOULD carry my camera with me everywhere I go, because (as I'm sure you know), as soon as you leave the camera home, that's the time you need it to get that fabulous shot!

Scott said...

John: You're right, of course. It's pretty good for my first attempt. We'll see how well I can do with hours and hours of practice. This week, we're going to use colored pencils to tint my masterpiece, and then we're going to do some watercolor washes, allow them to dry, and place a leaf over sections of the wash that strike our fancy. You'll see my results soon.

Scott said...

Grizz: With your encouragement, I won't quit early! At least with this initial attempt, I can see that I have something (i.e., ability) to work with and I'll keep at it. Kali and I went to a an outdoor art/craft fair over the weekend, I was was drawn (sorry...) to the one or two artists who had prints of drawings for sale. (Since we're in our de-acquisition mode, we didn't buy anything.)

I really won't have time to do anything serious about drawing until I retire, but then I should have plenty of time.

By the way, I saw my instructor on Sunday and mentioned that I was a little disappointed with my drawing. He said that I shouldn't be, because I had chosen a subject (a leaf with spots and with autumn coloration) that really didn't lend itself to being represented well using the stippling technique.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I am impressed! I wish I could attend the class- As a botanist, I love botanical illustration and use it all the time. I had the fortune to travel to the Missouri Botanical Garden early in my college career and spend time with the illustrators working on the various volumes of the FNA. Seeing their drawings with ink and pen marked up by the various experts was quite fascinating. The artists prided themselves in drawing exactly what they saw; they related that they, as artists, were better observers of the plants than the experts that were authoring the treatments. Anyways, I feel that natural history illustration is one of those things that will be completely treasured by the the time I am old (if I make it that far) because everyone that knew how to do it will be long gone... I'm looking forward to more. Tom @ Ohio Nature

Mark P said...

I think it's actually quite good. Many years ago when I was a youngster, I liked to draw. It was mainly cars for me. I got reasonably decent in pen and ink, with some occasional water color for shading. I gave it up a long, long time ago. Some years ago I picked up my old pen and tried drawing again. My hand felt stiff and awkward, like I had put it into a freezer for 30 minutes.