Getting Started with a Botanical Sketchbook | Anne Butera | Skillshare

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Getting Started with a Botanical Sketchbook

teacher avatar Anne Butera, Artist. Instigating creativity and joy.

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      What is a Botanical Sketchbook and Why Keep One?


    • 3.

      Choosing a Sketchbook


    • 4.

      Media and Techniques


    • 5.

      Testing Your Materials


    • 6.

      Finding Inspiration and Choosing Subjects


    • 7.

      Sketching Maple Seeds


    • 8.

      Sketching a Viola Flower


    • 9.

      Beginning Your Art Journey


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About This Class

Are you curious about art-making but hesitant or intimidated to try your hand at it? Have you always wanted to keep a sketchbook but didn't quite know where to start? Do you love plants and flowers and find inspiration in the beauty and magic of nature? 

It took me years to embrace working in sketchbooks, but today they're a big part of my art practice. Over time I realized that they aren't as scary or as intimidating as I once thought they were. I want to be able to share what I've learned along the way.

In this class I'll walk with you through the process of starting a botanical sketchbook. I'll help you choose a sketchbook that will be just right for you. We'll talk about what tools and media to try and how to overcome the fear of the blank page. I'll share some of my favorite ways to use a sketchbook and share examples of different types of pages. Then we'll spend some time discussing where to find inspiration and preparing to get started with the practice of working in a sketchbook. Finally, I'll take you through the step-by-step process of creating a couple botanical sketches.

When you're finished with this class I hope you will be filled with inspiration and excitement that will carry you into a continued art practice.

Meet Your Teacher

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Anne Butera

Artist. Instigating creativity and joy.

Top Teacher

I'm a full-time artist, art educator and writer, but for a long time I believed I wasn't good at art and could never be an artist.

The beginning of my story might sound similar to yours. When I was a child I loved to make things, but as I grew up I "learned" I wasn't good at art and stopped making it.

But that wasn't the end of my story.

I love teaching on Skillshare because through my classes I can help YOU reclaim YOUR creativity. I know what it's like to yearn to make art but not know where to start.

Are you ready to begin rewriting your story?

Read My Blog

Get My Free Sketchbook Guide

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm am Anne Butera. I'm an artist, maker, gardener, and joy collector. Collecting joy in sketchbooks, specifically botanical sketch books is what my first-class unskilled share is all about. I'm a self-taught artist and for a long time, I didn't work in sketchbooks because I was scared of and intimidated by them. Eventually, I overcame my fear of sketchbooks and now they're a big part of my creative practice. I went from not knowing how to paint and not being able to draw to where I am today. My art has been exhibited across the country and collected around the world. My collaborate Sketch Book Project with fellow artist Dana Barbieri was recently featured in Uppercase magazine. This spring, I just released my first fabric collection. I'm hoping that my story and my enthusiasm around my art will inspire you to begin your own art journey. In this class, I'll start by helping you choose a sketch book that'll be just right for you. I'll share my favorite tools and techniques for working in my sketchbooks and show lots of examples of different sketchbook pages. We'll get started creating some pages, testing out our materials in a no-pressure way. Then I'll take a walk with you through my garden and talk about how to find inspiration and to choose subjects that will help you be most successful when you're creating your pages. I'll demonstrate some simple drawing techniques and show you how to create some botanical pages. If you think you're ready to start your own art journey by beginning a botanical sketchbook, click 'Enroll', and I'll see you in the first lesson. 2. What is a Botanical Sketchbook and Why Keep One?: Before we get started choosing our sketch books and learning about different tools, media and techniques. I thought it would be helpful to go over a couple of definitions. What is a botanical Sketchbook? Here's my definition. It's a notebook used to collect mostly visual renderings of plants, flowers, leaves, seeds, or other natural materials. Why keep a botanical Sketchbook? To practice art. The more you do it, the better you'll become. To keep a record of the garden. If you have your own garden, it's fun to keep a visual journal of it. To work out ideas for projects. Sketching your idea before tackling the real thing can help you to be more successful. To study the Botany of plants. Even if you're not being scientific about it, observing and being accurate in your drawings can be very satisfying and especially for fun. Be sure to always enjoy yourself when creating your art. Whether the outcome is serious or more lighthearted. Art, should always be about joy. I'm sure there are many more reasons to keep a botanical Sketchbook. If you have some ideas for your own reasons that I haven't mentioned, begin a conversation in the discussion section of this class. In the next lesson, I'll help you choose a sketch book that'll be just right for you. 3. Choosing a Sketchbook: Choosing which book to use is your first step in beginning your botanical sketchbook. There are so many options ranging from the most basic to more fancy possibilities. One decision is what binding you want for your sketch book. I've tended to gravitate towards spiral bound books. I like that they lie flat, which makes them easier to work in. Spiral bound books generally have more pages in them too, which was one of my priorities, especially when I was first starting out, I wanted to get the most for my money. On the flip side, a book with fewer pages might seem less daunting if you're just starting out. Size is another decision you'll need to make. If you'll be carrying your sketch book with you when you're out and about, be sure to choose one that will fit easily in your bag. A sketchbook with smaller pages might also be a bit less daunting. I've been working in six inch square sketchbooks, but sometimes that size can feel a bit cramped. The decision, which is possibly the most important factor in determining what sketching you'll be doing is what paper type your sketchbook has. Most sketch books give recommendations for media. They may say drawing or dry media, mixed media, watercolor, or other specific media types. Generally, the heavier the paper, the more it can withstand. If you want to use watercolor, look for the heaviest paper you can find to avoid frustration such as buckling or tearing the paper. My watercolor sketch book is a £110, which is not as heavy as my favorite watercolor paper, which is a £140. Binding your own book that has the size, shape, and paper type you prefer is also an option. Or you can work on separate pages, bind them later, or even just attach them to pages of a cheaper sketchbook. That's just a brief overview of some different sketchbook types. While you're thinking about what type might be right for you, let's talk about some different media, which we'll do in the next lesson. 4. Media and Techniques: If you haven't already chosen your sketchbook, deciding which materials you want to use will help you make the choice. In this lesson, I'll share my favorite tools for working in my sketchbooks and give you ideas of different media you might want to experiment with. Most of my sketchbook work happens in the form of drawings. Whenever I'm working in my sketchbook I keep this mug of pens and pencils handy. It holds my favorite drawing tools. I use pens more than any other tool. Here you can see a variety of pens, but my favorite are the Pigma Micron pens. They're in the middle. They come in many sizes. I use 05, 03 and 01, 01 being the narrowest tip and 05 the widest. I like to keep my older pens whose tips don't work as well because they do a nice job with shading when I don't want such a dark line. I use black but they come in many colors. Experiment with different pens to see which ones you like the best. My other favorite drawing tool is a mechanical pencil. I have these paper make pencils that are called clear point I think and There 0.5 millimeter third. I use those a lot especially when I'm sketching out a water color painting. There are so many different drawing tools out there. Lots of different pencils, charcoals, there's lots to experiment with. Play around and see which ones you like the most. Because I'm primarily a watercolor artist, watercolor is another of my favorite media for sketchbooks. I prefer using the pan watercolors and mine are from a variety of manufacturers all in artist grade. but use whatever you have on hand. From the pans, I mix my colors on this palette. I have a lot of different brushes but I've found that I get the best results with higher-quality brushes. The brushes I use most are these from the Blick master series. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and they're available in both synthetic and male Kulczynski sable. Use what you have and experiment to see which you prefer before investing a lot of money in a set of brushes. For a fun change of pace, try using black paper and drawing with white, gel pens, paint markers, even dip pens with white ink. You can purchase sketchbooks with black pages but I prefer to use separate black paper and add it to my sketchbook later. I also like to recycle the paper that comes attached to the top of my favorite Arches watercolor paper. There's writing on one side but the back is blank and works perfectly with pens and markers. I'm mentioning block printing because it's a fun medium to experiment with. Its rather involved and I'm not going to talk much about it but it is another option and works really great for conveying botanical images. Markers aren't my favorite medium but I have experimented with them in my sketchbooks because they're colorful, convenient and portable. Many bleed through the paper. Even heavy mixed media paper or they tear up the pages. I've used these koi watercolor brush pens on mixed media and watercolor paper to good results. There's also marker paper which is smooth and transparent and it felt a little strange for me to work with. Blending pens help you achieve a lovely color mixture. Play around and use what you have. Many artists even used children's markers in their sketchbooks. Don't feel that you need to limit yourself to the tools and media that I prefer. Your sketchbook should be about you and you should enjoy working in it. Definitely pencil and pen are easiest to get started with but try a variety, stretching yourself and experimenting and playing to see what your favorite materials are. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Qouache, qouache is a paint somewhat between watercolor and acrylic. It takes some getting used to but it can produce beautiful results. Collage, use whatever papers you have on hand, scrapbook papers, paint chips, old maps and other bits. Try making your own colored paper with paint or markers. Colored pencils, they aren't a tool I use very often but they are a great possibility for your sketchbook and you might even have them already on hand. Acrylic paint, acrylic is fun to experiment with. I especially enjoy using it for abstract designs which isn't really part of this botanical sketchbook class, but try in your sketchbook and see what you come up with. This list is not exhaustive. The options and possibilities are nearly limitless. If there are some materials and tools that you'd like to use in your sketchbook that I haven't mentioned, start a conversation in the discussion section of this class and we can all learn from one another. Take some time to choose your sketchbook, then share it in your class project with either a description and or a photo. In the next lesson, we'll get started creating our first pages. 5. Testing Your Materials: Creating a test page, color chart, or swatch page is a great no pressure way to start your sketchbook. These pages not only give you a chance to try out your materials, they also serve as a reference later. Because different paper reacts differently with different media, it's a good idea to test out your materials anytime you try a new type of sketchbook, or new materials. Make sure to jot down notes and keep a record so your pages will be most useful in the future. You can use any page of your sketchbook for this, front, back, middle. For this example, created with my new set of gouache paints, I'm using a page at the back of my sketchbook, which will act like a glossary or appendix later. Don't feel limited to splotches of paint or simple lines either. A page filled with multiple renderings of the same subject using different tools, is both useful and attractive. For the second part of your class project, create a test page and your new sketchbook, and share a photo of it in the class project section of this course. In the next lesson, I'll take you for walk through my garden, while sharing ideas for finding inspiration and subjects for your own sketchbook pages. 6. Finding Inspiration and Choosing Subjects: Let's take a walk through my garden and my sketch books as I share some ideas for discovering your own inspiration sources. Inspiration is everywhere, perhaps literally in your own backyard. That's certainly true for me, most of my inspiration comes from my garden, but I also find inspiration on walks, trips to public gardens, nature centers, parks, even cities aren't entirely devoid of nature. If you don't have a garden, perhaps you have a friend or family member who does. A walk through the woods, a visit to the botanical garden, and even a trip to the florist are rich sources for inspiration. When my garden winds down in the autumn, fallen leaves, acorns, berries, and other seeds grabbed my attention. In winter, my house plants start appearing in my art. Magazines and books are a great source of inspiration. When you can't get out into nature, the Library can be the next best thing. Look for field guides, books on flower arranging, and gardening books with clear photographs of plants without distracting backgrounds. The internet can be a great sources as well. Taking your own photos to use as a reference later, will give you the most control. Try to keep the background as plain and out-of-focus as possible. So you can clearly see the shapes, configuration, and textures of your subject. Overwhelmed by possibilities? In the beginning, it's best to start with simple subjects. Think about the difference between a cosmos flower and a rose, or a fern leaf and a hosta, or an acorn and a pine cone. One stem from a plant is easier to draw than a complex weave of many stems. Simplifying your subject by reducing the number of flowers or leaves, will also help you to be more successful. Look for subjects that catch your eye. What is it about them that attracts you? Is it the color, the shape, the texture? When I look at a new flower or plant, I always ask myself, how would I draw that? How could I convey it on a page? Eventually you'll be able to identify the best subjects for your sketchbook, and with time your subjects and your pages will become more complex. Now that we have some inspiration, we're ready to begin creating pages. In the next lesson, I'll demonstrate some simple drawing and painting techniques to help you get started with your own botanical sketchbook. 7. Sketching Maple Seeds: Maple seeds are one of my favorite subjects to draw, sketch, and paint. I've even created a fabric design based on some of my paintings. Their shape is simple enough that even beginners can be successful drawing them. They're also readily available, picked up on walks or from your own backyard. I love that there's so much variety in their shapes and colors too. Start your sketches by observing your subject. Here, the maple seed consists of two oval seeds attached in the middle. The sail or propeller part of the seed is oblong, extending below and art an angle. I'll demonstrate three versions of this seed on one page. I'll start with pencil, I begin roughly creating the shape, light overlapping strokes help define the top rounded parts, then I quickly sketch the outline. Maple seeds have a lot of veins which I draw with quick light lines, adding more as needed as I create this sketch. I draw one side and then the other, touching up and adding as I go. Pencil is nice in that it's easy to erase. Here, I soften the line with the eraser, which wasn't entirely necessary. I then add a bit more detail. Next, I'll paint a maple seed with watercolor using leftover paint already mixed on my palate. Using a moderate amount of fairly wet paint, I create the dark green shape of the seeds and the stem first. Then I add a bit more to darken it, and pull down a line to be the main rib of the sail part of the seed. Using a brush with less paint and more water, I pull down from the seed to create the lighter color of the cells. I add a bit of pink color to one, and then some yellow to both cells. Then I even out the color, define the shape and darken the edge and seeds a bit more. For my third maple seed, I'll use a micron pen, starting with my nearest zero one tip. This sketchbook I bound using watercolor paper and the ink seems to create a very dark line on it. I create the simplest outline and then go back to add details. Because the line is so dark, I switch to one of my older pens with a zero three tip, so I can create lighter marks on the page, first darkening with seeds with quick overlapping motions. Then doing the ribs and veins of the cell, you'll be most successful if you periodically move your page so that you are at the best angle to draw, make sure you're comfortable. Swift light marks work best, go over anything that needs a bit more definitions. Then you're finished with your sweet page of delicate maple seeds. Try practicing with these or other media, making simple pages or getting a bit more complicated. Here are a few different possibilities. Fill a page with multiple renderings of your subject all in pen, or try sketching out multiple versions, testing out different types of pencil to see how they vary in color. Sketching with a white pink marker on black paper makes a dramatic page. Or try getting more detailed with watercolor sketches by using a small brush to paint fine details. In the next lesson, we'll work on sketching a different subject. 8. Sketching a Viola Flower: Start by observing your subject and thinking about how you'll draw it. The vial flower may look complicated, but it's simple shapes make for a successful drawing, even when you're just starting out. Here, I'm drawing a viola flower using a micron pen in size 03. Viola has five petals. The two central petals are each roughly effect teardrop shape, with the pointed ends meeting in the middle. Below is a petal that's almost a triangle with the bottom points rounded and the bottom line bowing in. The top two petals are around and overlap behind the others. Using simple outlines, I start by defining the shapes of all five petals. Once I have the main shape outlined, I then go back and add details. First light lines that I make by barely touching the page, create the shading. The more I go over those lines, the darker they'll become. Using a finer point pen, I create the delicate lines on the face of the flower. Then I'll add a bit more shading with the 03 pen. To keep it light, I barely touch the page. Changing to a 05 pen and using strokes that aren't quite as light, I create the darker top petals. The more you overlap your lines, the darker they'll become. Leaving some areas lighter and darkening others, creates depth in the drawing and helps convey a three-dimensional shape. To keep this drawing as simple as possible, I've decided to portray only the one flower, a single stem, and a couple of leaves at the bottom. Light strokes created close together give a sense of the stem. Viola leaves are interesting in that they are not all the same shape. Here, I'm just conveying a few of the lobed leaves and one paddle shaped leaf. Again, I'm adding details with quick light strokes, finishing up this sketch. Now you have a sketchbook page of a viola flower. This simple page is nice just as it is, but there are many possibilities with each subject. Once you have the basics down, practice by creating other types of pages, try covering a page with many versions of the same type of flower. Create a color test page with watercolor and sketch some flowers with pen. Create a page of flowers in watercolor in, or as here outside of a sketchbook. Try painting your flower with squash, or make some sketches and design a block print of the flower. The possibilities are nearly limitless. In the next lesson, I will review your class project and send you off on your own art journey. 9. Beginning Your Art Journey: I hope that now you're excited and inspired to begin your own botanical sketchbook. Even with just the two subjects that I demonstrated in this class, there are lots of different options for interesting artistic pages. In the class projects section of this course, be sure to share either a photo and or description of your new sketchbook. A photo of your first page where you created the swatches and tested out your materials, and then your first botanical sketchbook page. I provided lots of information in the handouts that come with this class. But if you have any questions, be sure to let me know. Just post them in the discussion section of this class. That's also a great place to bounce ideas off of other students or to share things that you've learned along the way. The only way to begin your art journey is just to begin. Work in your sketch book as much as you can and don't let fear or hesitation stand in your way. If you don't like a page, turn it. There's always a blank one waiting for you. Thanks so much for taking this class. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Remember, always have fun with your art and always look for beauty and joy.