Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Attempting Botanical Illustration


Every artist moves through an evolution if they stick at it long enough.  Often desire for a subject or medium drives this evolution, sometimes its a technique.  

For some time now I've been working on my more technical illustration skills and have been using my love of flowers and nature as the subjects for my own artistic evolution.


I have been trying my hand at the 'botanical' style of art which requires enormous patience and considered brush strokes.  It's highly technical and evolves from realm of scientific recording.

However, today botanical illustration is a revered and admired art form because of it's requirement for absolute true to life detail, and meticulous rendering. With the evolution of art materials and papers, botanical illustration is more beautiful and more popular now than ever before.


It is said that the botanical illustration is like music; it requires a solid understanding of the processes, components, techniques, physical dexterity, knowledge of the subject matter, history, and many many hours of practice before and artist can achieve a high level of realistic/scientific representation. 

Flowers, fruit and nature have been my first and deepest love when it comes to subject matter, and applying myself to the consumption and learning of the skills required to paint in this way has been my secret, pained, and elusive pursuit.


I have been reading books, studying the art of botanical artists, consuming videos, and practicing like crazy, but the most difficult part for me has been finding the time to patiently render a image.

It is a very technical process that is meticulous and unhurried, and without the self-discipline to slow down and focus on the detail, effective results will remain elusive. It seems I have a lot of work to do in this area.


I've discovered that capturing the color variations, the texture, and the rich dimension of fruit and flowers takes very keen observation skills along with a deep knowledge of color mixing and brush strokes, most of which I am lacking.  

I am applying much of my spare time to learning a little of this art form, and I am LOVING IT!! I have discovered some wonderful books on the subject, along with some excellent web sites, and online resources.

But if I am to take this art form seriously, then in the end I doubt there is any substitute for undertaking formal studies in Botanical Illustration. 


This sketchbook study of "Oranges On The Branch" seemed simple enough when I began it. I painted it from a photo reference, and even so, I found it very challenging to create consistent color tones on all of the leaves, and realistic texture effects on the skin of the oranges. It's much harder than it looks and attempting it has given me a whole new level of respect for botanical illustrators and artists.

Let me take you through my process.


I began with an under-painting of blue tones on the leaves, then slowly built up the coloration and texture with many soft layers of paint.


Sometimes it's knowing where NOT to paint, and what to leave out that helps create the curves and sheen on the subjects, and at others it is about building up undertones in the right places.

(I have a long way to go)


After the leaves were complete I gave the oranges an under painting of yellow and began to build up the skin colors with a combinations of reds, pinks, and yellows.  I didn't actually use very much pure orange on the fruit, rather I allowed the colors to mix optically on the page to help enhance the texture and give the illusion of bright orange tones.


I painted one orange at a time so I could capture a uniqueness to each one.  I'm not sure if that worked because by the time I got to the second orange I had forgotten exactly how I mixed my colors for the first one and how I built up the layers.

Botanical artists maintain detailed and meticulous sketchbooks that contain not only studies of their subjects, but many color studies and swatches to ensure they achieve exactly the right results on their finished pieces.


The fine texture detail and contour shadows came last, allowing for some very slow and considered brush-strokes in order to achieve a roundness to the fruit. I found this part particularly difficult and realized there are lots of tricks and techniques that are required here.


The entire page was done in watercolor alone, which I found really enjoyable.  Often I like to mix in some watercolor pencil or water soluble crayon and graphite or ink, but I like the effect of the soft edges and subtle coloration that pure watercolor provides.


In the end I was happy with the result, but I know I have a long way to go before it could be considered 'botanical'.  You can expect to see more of this style from me as I indulge my need to sharpen my skills and learn this craft.


Of course, this composition was done in the only sketchbook worthy of this kind of work...the Stillman & Birn "Zeta" Series Sketchbook using the only watercolors up to the task, the Sennelier L'Aquarelle Artists Watercolors.

Thanks for checking in. xx