Plants, flowers, and trees are beloved subjects for all kinds of art. But if you want to improve your observational drawing skills, you might want to try your hand at botanical illustrations. 

What makes botanical illustrations different from abstract or impressionist-style flowers is that they’re based on science and careful observation. If you love spending time in nature and are looking for a new creative outlet, read on to learn more about drawing botanicals.

How to Draw Botanicals

flower drawings
Observation is key to beautiful botanical illustrations.

Botanical illustration is defined as the art of depicting a plant, including its form, color, and detail. Botanical illustrations are important in the natural sciences because they show the characteristics of each plant and what makes them unique. 

You don’t need to be a botanist or have a great knowledge of science to draw plants, though; if you enjoy observing and drawing the finer details of things, botanical illustration may be for you. As Skillshare instructor Maggie Heraty says, “The whole purpose of illustrating plants is to admire their beauty and to get more familiar with them and their environment.”

Step 1: Gather Inspiration

botanical drawings
Find inspiration for drawing botanicals on Pinterest.

There are many ways you can gather inspiration for botanical illustrations. If you have a garden or live near a park, find plants and flowers that appeal to you. If the only jungle near you is the urban kind, check out books or online resources for inspiration. Creating a Pinterest board is a good way of keeping everything in one place. 

You can also take your own reference photos. When taking photos, get as close up as possible while maintaining focus. If you’re getting the background in focus but not the plant in the foreground, try placing a blank book or notebook cover behind the plant. If you’re photographing plants in a botanical garden or arboretum, it’s also a good idea to take a photo of any signs identifying each plant, so you don’t forget what they are later.

photos of berries
Take reference photos of plants.

Step 2: Practice With a Copy Sketch

Copy an existing illustration for practice.

Looking through the resources you gathered in Step 1, find a botanical illustration (rather than a photo of a plant) that appeals to you and that you’d like to recreate. One of the best ways to learn to do botanical drawings is to copy good art. While it’s important to be original in your finished pieces of art, especially if any of them are going to be displayed or used commercially, when sketching and working out your ideas, it’s OK to copy existing illustrations for your own use. Just don’t pass the copies off as original work!

Select a simple illustration to start with, something that has basic linework and that’s not too small or too big and detailed. For this step, all you need is a sketch pad or paper, some drawing pencils, and an eraser.

Step 3: Draw From Your Reference Photo

sketching from photo
Use your reference photo as a guide.

After you’ve had some practice from your copy sketch, it’s time to draw the real deal. Using your reference photo as a guide, start by sketching the main lines and shapes with light pencil strokes. Pay careful attention to the scale and composition as you draw leaves, branches, and general shapes.

Once you’ve sketched the main shapes and lines, start paying more attention to the details that make your plant unique. Look closely at the shapes of the leaves and petals: Do they have bold lines or wavy edges? Deep lines or subtle ones? 

Step 4: Do a Line Drawing in Pen

Finish the line drawing with permanent pen.

Once you’re happy with your pencil sketch, bring in a pen to make the sketch bolder. You can either go over the lines of the pencil sketch or, if you’re comfortable drawing the whole thing again, use your pencil sketch as a guide but start on a new piece of paper with pen.

The next step – adding watercolor paints or other media to your botanical illustration – is optional, but if you’d like to do so, make sure the pen you use in this step is waterproof. 

Step 5: Bring Your Own Style to the Illustration

ink and watercolor drawing of berries
Add color with watercolor paints.

Traditional botanical illustrations are line drawings of plants used for identification and scientific purposes. Unless your botanical drawings will be used for science, though, you can definitely bring your own artistic flair to the page. 

A good approach is to complete your observational line drawing and then add some color, whether the real shades of the plant or something more imaginative and impressionist. Work with colored pencils, pastels, inks, or watercolor paints after you complete your line drawing. 

Step 6: Add the Name of the Plant

berrie sketch
Finish by labeling the plant.

Finish off by adding the botanical name of the plant to the bottom corner of your page, along with your signature and the date if you’d like.

Draw Yourself a Garden

succulent sketch
Student work by Phuong Lempinen for Find Your Style & Master Botanical Drawing With Ink Pens.
digital flower drawing
A botanical drawing made with Adobe Illustrator

Once you’ve finished a simple botanical illustration, try working on more detailed or complex projects. If you drew a simple branch and leaves for this first project, consider a flower for your next, or add color with paint or other media. Draw flower petals with all the veins or glossy berries adorned with dewdrops. 

The natural world is endlessly beautiful, and you don’t even need to travel to distant lands for inspiration. You might be surprised what you can find just outside your back door!

Let Your Creativity Blossom

Explore Your Secret Garden: Botanical Illustration for Self-Care

Written By

Elen Turner

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