Botanical Illustration: Step by step illustration of a Wild Strawberry

Story posted: Friday, 18. December 2015 by Lizzie Harper

One of the botanical illustrations I’ve been asked to paint as a natural history illustrator, is the Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca.  This will be one of the plants featured on a fold-out identification chart of Edible British Plants produced by the Field Studies Council.  There's also a 2 minute Youtube film of this illustration being completed online, in time lapse.

I begin by drawing up the rough in pencil, using a mechanical pencil such as the P205.  I draw direct onto the paper I’ll paint on, Fabriano Artistico hotpress.  There are lots of wild strawberry plants around, despite it being autumn, and I even found one in flower in the garden!  Very convenient, and it meant sourcing reference was pretty straight forward.  I also used the illustrations of Stella Ross-Craig for back-up; her drawings combine botanical accuracy with a real “feel” of a plant and are an invaluable resource for any botanical illustrator of British plants.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca rough

Once the FSC have ok’d the rough, it’s time to get the paints out.  I use Winsor & Newton watercolour paints, and a number 1 Winsor & Newton sable series 7 brush.  As always, I begin by plotting in the shaows.  This is made lots easier because I have a leaf to work from, rather than working from photos.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

The green of these shadows is quite yellow, so I used hooker green light with cadmium yellow light and lots of yellow ochre.  In truth, the colour I mixed was a little too dark.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

Then I watered the colour down a touch and painted in the edges and some of the other dark areas of the leaf.  I was keen to keep the dentate margins crisp, and allowing the drying of wet paint to supply this sharp edge is a useful technique.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

Next I put a unifying wash on the leaf; this one’s based on a green but is rich with yellow and yellow ochre.  Only the brightest highlights are allowed to remain untouched by paint.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

I mix up a darker green to work into the shadows and edges; hooker green light with a winsor blue, a touch of vandyke brown, and a little purple or violet.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

The same technique is then applied to the other leaflets; although as the smaller, younger leaflets are a brighter green the colour mix incorporates more cadmium yellow light, and I don’t take the margins and shadows as dark in tone as with the larger leaf.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

I paint in the stems, surprisingly yellow.  I like to finish different elements of the plant in turn, so for now the strawberry flower is left as unpainted white space.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

The little flower is tricky; although it’s white it needs to have shape.  I used a very light cerulean blue to show the slight shadow towards the centre of the flower, and by making the sepals a rich and slightly dark green you can ensure the petals look starkly white.  Placing a leaf behind a white flower is a good trick, and makes life easier; have a look at botanical illustrations across the board and you’ll see how frequently this approach to painting white flowers is used.  For more on painting white flowers, please look at my earlier blog.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

The smallest leaflets and tendrils need plotting in, again, keeping the green light and fresh is important, and remembering where the shadows fall.  I also took the toothed margin of the large leaflet a little darker to make it stand out.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

Roots and old, brown sheaths are a delight to paint, I positively relish the challenge.  Now there’s nothing left to paint but the berries.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

The fruit came next.  Although I love mixing the red of the wild strawberries; scarlet doctor martin ink, alizarin crimson, opera rose and cadmium orange light; I was at a disadvantage as there were no fruit to be seen.  Luckily I could work from my sketchbook study (which appeared in The Hedgerow Handbook).

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

Sketchbook study of wild strawberries

Initially I was miserable with the strawberries.  They looked unappetising, dry, too brown and flat.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

I decided to take the darkest areas of the berries darker still, and to put a rich red wash on top of them, based on doctor martin’s scarlet watercolour ink.  It worked!  The berries were redeemed!

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

There’s almost nothing that fills me with more relief than managing to turn a poor bit of illustration around.  It’s never as good as it would have been it you’d got it right in the first place, but to turn it from awful to passable (and thus save a day or two of repeat work as you start all over) is a great sensation.  There are plenty of ways to fix mistakes in watercolour, as my blog on the subject shows….

So, at the end of the working day, here’s a photo of my desk.  Bits of strawberry leaf torn up all over the place, sketchbook pored over, paint-box needing a good clean but, most vital of all, a botanical illustration of the wild strawberry plant completed.  Phew.

Wild strawberry botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

 

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 lizzieharper@tinyworld.co.uk.  Many many thanks; and apologies.

 

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