Natural History Illustration: Landscapes, a map, and an otter

Story posted: Friday, 9. September 2016 by Lizzie Harper

Recently my natural history illustrations and botanical illustrations have been used for an interpretation board for the Combe Mill visitor centre and nature reserve in Oxfordshire.

It was a pleasure to work with the excellent graphic and museum designer Linda Francis (who'se also a friend); this means I don't have to worry about laying out my illustrations, but can conentrate on doing the illustrations themselves.

There were a wide range of illustratioms required for this job, so I began by focussing on the straightforward natural history ones - namely a treecreeper Certhia familiaris, and an otter eating a fish.

Lizzie Harper Natural History and botanical illustrator discusses working on combe mill interpretation illustrations

Treecreeper Certhia familiaris

Although I already had an illustration of a European otter eating a fish, the client very much wanted to show a brown trout as the species being eaten.  Piecing together various sources of reference made this possible (but was tricky!)

Lizzie Harper Natural History and botanical illustrator discusses working on combe mill interpretation illustrations

European otter Lutra lutra eating a Brown trout Salmo trutta

Next came the small matter of an enormous map of the site, based on overhead photos, guidance illustrations from the client, Google earth images, and a video of a drone flight over the site.  The client was excellent at explaining my queries, so pretty soon I had all the information straightened out and was ready to draw up the rough of the map.

Lizzie Harper Natural History and botanical illustrator discusses working on combe mill interpretation illustrations

Some of the queries and explanations bandied between myself and the client in understanding the details of the Combe Mill map.

The map measures 120cm by 60cm, so was a challenge to work on in my little garden studio.  However, by taking photos of it we could thrash out any areas that needed to be tweaked and altered.

Lizzie Harper Natural History and botanical illustrator discusses working on combe mill interpretation illustrations

Pencil rough of the Combe Mill site

Once I got the go-ahead, it was a matter of layering colour on the map.  Lots of watery sap green and viridian for the fields and landscape (I use several different greens to add interest).  In this case I had some full-on panics about watermarks and lines being left on the larger fields as the paint dried.  I fixed these by applying a very watery top wash of Doctor Martins hydrous Hansa yellow light, and a touch of sap green.  This smoothed out the tide marks and unified the green countryside.

Next each tree is painted with a few dark green marks on the right hand side (this helps to give the map some weight, and to look as if the trees are being hit by light coming from the top left hand corner).  Each tree then has a lighter top wash of green applied.  As with the fields, I make sure there's a proper mix of green hues used to add variety.

The turquoise (with a little green) river and pond go in next, then reddish buildings.

Lizzie Harper Natural History and botanical illustrator discusses working on combe mill interpretation illustrations

Combe Mill map in prgoress (raods and shadows yet to be added)

The pale grey roads are blocked in next; I use a purplish shade and keep it really pale so these routes don't overwhelm the map.  Finally, I put in the shadows - a watery mix of purple and blue beneath each tree, building, and roadside verge.  These add a bit of depth, and I hope make the viewer think that the site is bathed in that glorious late evening golden light of summer.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator and botanical illustrator discusses doing illustrations for Combe Mill

Combe mill map detail

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustrator and botanical illustrator discusses Latin and scientific names of organisms on Combe Mill illustrations

Finished Ariel vie of Combe Mill site

Next came a few landscape vignettes.  these were simple as I had good reference to work from.

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustrator and botanical illustrator discusses Latin and scientific names of organisms on Combe Mill illustrations

Pond in Julie's Meadow

Here's the photo of the footbridge from the site:

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustrator and botanical illustrator discusses Latin and scientific names of organisms on Combe Mill illustrations

And here's the (slightly idealised) landscape vignette of the same view:

Lizzie Harper Natural history illustrator and botanical illustrator discusses Latin and scientific names of organisms on Combe Mill illustrations

Vignette of the footbridge by the visitor centre at COmbe Mill in Oxfordshire.

 

All told, it was a good and interesting job which I enjoyed.  I look forward to seeing the interpretation board on site, and visiting the working mill, in due course.

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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