Pencil Botanical Illustration: Drawing a Bean leaf

Story posted: Thursday, 29. March 2018 by Lizzie Harper

In order to complete a decent botanical illustration, you need to understand about lights and darks, and be able to see where your shadows fall.  One of the excersizes I recntly got my flower painting workshop to try was to complete a detailed pencil study of a relatively simple leaf, in this case the leaf of a runner bean.

Working on cartridge paper, with a soft eraser and a sharp pencil (I love mechanical pencils like the Pentel P205, and use HB and H leads), I started out by plotting the outline of the leaf shape onto the page.

Pencil tonality step by step botanical illustration drawing of a bean leaf by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Step 1: Basic rough outline

The second step is to start building into the structure of the leaf, by giving each leaf its mid-rib, or central vein.  With these steps, it's vital not just to put a line anywhere, but to closely examine the leaf in front of you and draw exactly what you see instead of what you think might be there.  Do this by observing the leaf closely.

Pencil step by step botanical illustration tonal study of a bean life by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Step 2: Positioning the central vein

The next step is to build into the structure by plotting in the intricate network of leaf veins.  In this picture you can see how this is done, start with the largest lateral veins (on the left hand side) then work into the veins and capillaries which branch off these.  If you think about it, the leaf needs to have every cell of itself serviced by a network of veins delivering water and nutrients, so it's no surprise the network is complicated!  A magnifying glass can be useful, and the key is to not lose your palce as you plot the veins in.

Pencil step by step botanical illustration tonal study of a bean life by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Step 3: Drawing in the network of veins, built around the main side veins

Now you need to start looking at the lights and darks. Although this sounds straight forward, it can be really tricky to see unil you get your eye in.  Having your leaf somewhere where it's lit by a directional light helps (traditionally in botanical illustration, your light source comes from the top left corner - don't ask me why).  Remember that there will be consistency here.  If the shadows tend to fall under the side veins, then they'll do this throughout the leaf.  Every shadow or area of dark has a cause, something being hit by light and casting that shadow.

Different areas of the leaf have different intensisty of shadow, depending on how prominent the vein is, how creased that area of leaf is; all variations based on the structure of the leaf.  Try to think about these as you draw, it helps to assign logic to an illustration.

I tend to work on one side of the leaf and then the opposite side.  Becasue I'm right handed, I'll draw up the left hand side first so that I dont lean on and smear the work I've completed when I move onto the other half of the leaf blade.  Work with your drawing hand leaning on a sheet of clean paper, it won't interfere with yoru drawing but helps protect the initial pencil lines lying under your hand.

To get dark tones, push harder with your pencil or try a softer pencil lead, perhaps an HB or a B instead of the ususal drawing point of an H or 2H.

Practice on scrap paper first if you feel anxious, gentle gradations of tone between white and very dark.  Getting this gradual darkening of tone can be tough, but it's neccessary to make a pencil drawing look natural and un-stilted.

Pencil step by step botanical illustration tonal study of a bean life by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Step 4: Working into the lights and darks on the left hand side of the leaf

Moving on to the other side of the leaf, look afresh at the lights and darks.  Becasue that section of leaf will be hit by the light differently form the side you've already illustrated the shadows may well fall differently too.

Remember that shadows often have distinct shapes, don't be tempted to smudge your work with a finger, your observations of shadow shape inform the drawing and shouldn't be muddied.

Finally, once you've faithfully recorded your shadows and tonalities, go over the illustration a final time and pick out your darkest darks with a sharp pencil and a heavier touch.  This often helps bring the whole picture together.

Pencil step by step botanical illustration tonal study of a bean life by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Step 5: Finishing up the tonality on the other side of the leaf and plotting in the darkest darks

I realise that doing detailed penicl studies may not feel very glamorous, or produce paintings you may want to frame, but it is an essential building block for anyone who wants to draw...anything!  The same tricks relating to seeing and recording lights and darks are directly transferable to your watercolour work, and the knwoledge you get from working into a detailed tonal study stands you in good stead for understanding leaf anatomy better (which means your pitcures will be better too).

Here are a couple of finished pencil tonal studies to show that pencil work can be a medium in which to produce finished art work, as well as a way to learn about tone. The cucumbers appeared in Rodale's Vegetable Garden Proble Solver by Fern Bradley, while the Reed mace and White waterlily were completed for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Pencil step by step botanical illustration tonal study of a bean life by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Cucumbers

Pencil step by step botanical illustration tonal study of a bean life by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

White water lily

Pencil step by step botanical illustration tonal study of a bean life by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Reed mace

 

 

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

 

Category:  Botanical Illustration step by step   |   Comments:  0   |   Viewed:  451

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