Botanical Illustration: Painting an Ivy sprig

Story posted: Thursday, 22. January 2015 by Lizzie Harper

I recently had a commission to illustrate the common Ivy Hedera helix.  I'm often asked to do botanical or natural history illustrations of this common British plant, and always enjoy it enormously, not least because the reference is so very easy to come by.

I had a little look on the wall at the back of the garden, and decided the shape of this Ivy sprig was perfect; fluid but not extreme.  I picked it, and using my new Pentel Graphgear 1000 mechanical pencil drew it up.  I try to be as clear as possible with my pencil lines, and to include enough information, but no tonal differences.  They come with the painting.  I also chose a sprig of ivy with berries to draw up, these are always carried on ivy plants which have brighter green and unlobed leaves.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration of ivy

Ivy plant rough (pencil drawing) Hedera helix

Since I've made a film of this process speeded up on Youtube, I'm not going to pop in every stage; you can see it evolve in the video.  However, as an accompanying overview, I thought I'd do a swift blog on my approach to painting this ivy sprig.

I work on Fabriano artistico hot press paper, and favour Windsor and Newton paints and their fabulous Series 7 sable brushes.

When I paint, I start by plotting in areas of dark, and work backwards from these.  This means the whole plant becomes a jigsaw of lights and darks to be plotted in and then included into the rest of the leaf by judicious use of other brighter or paler greens.

I always paint the leaves first, then the stems.  I love painting stems, they're often flushed crimson or purple and so are great fun.  Darkest shadows come in at the end of the process.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator botanical illustration of ivy Hedera helix botanical art

Ivy Hedera helix specimen and botanical illustration alongside

It's always important to leave the veins pale, but not to let them assume too much visual importance.  Especially with the ivy, when the leaf becomes very dark the veins are almost invisible.

The fruiting sprig followed, and I nearly lost it for a while as I rather rushed at painting the berries.  With careful use of darker blacks and a touch of white gouache I managed to save the day, but it does show that even a moment's lack of conentration can cost you dear.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator botanical illustration of ivy Hedera helix botanical art

So here's the finished piece.  I'm actually rather pleased with it.  I often have real difficulties getting leaves just right, so I was very relieved that this time they fell into place so obediently.

And if you want to see the whole process speeded up, do have a look at my Youtube video.

On another topic entirely, I'm afraid I've had to turn off the "comments" button on my blogs due to spamming.  If you would like to give any comments or feedback, please do so on my Facebook page or Twitter account or email me at  Many many thanks; and apologies.


Category:  Botanical Illustration step by step   |   Comments:  0   |   Viewed:  4978

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