Botanical Illustration step by step - Painting a Sweet Pea - July 26th 2013

Story posted: Friday, 19. July 2013 by Lizzie Harper

I'm currently working on a series of sketchbook style illustrations of common cultivated garden plants; there's a possibility these will illustrate a book on foraging in the garden in the next year or so.

One of the plants needing illustrating was the sweet pea.  While visiting a friend, I espied her sweet peas, and immediately begged some of the dark purple and bright red-pink ones from her.  I ended up with an enormous bunch of flowers as well (thanks to Layla who runs The Majestic Bus, a wonderful converted bus where you can stay, in the gorgeous hills near us in Hay); but the sweet peas went straight into the fridge to stay fresh until I could draw them the next day.

If you put cut plants into a closed plastic bag in the fridge, with a paper towel wet with water, it really extends their lives and keeps them fresh for illustrating.  Plants, paper and pencil ready, and most important of all, the cup of tea.  Good to go.

Lizzie Harper's studio; all ready to start ilustrating sweet peas.

The first step is to draw the plant in pencil (I use pentel P205 mechanical pencils).  Keeping the line crisp and simple helps avoid mess when you work into the illustration with watercolour.

Lizzie Harper step 1 of botanical illustration of a Sweet pea flower

When you draw a plant, it's vital to think about tis position on the page and the composition, as well as copying the plant itself.  I spend a while choosing what angle to draw the flower at; one that not only shows tha aspects and form of the plant, but whihc is also aesthetically pleasing.

Lizzie Harper step 2 of botanical illustration of a Sweet pea flower

As you can tell, it's the twirly tendrils on this sweet pea that I particularly loved drawing.


Lizzie Harper step 3 of botanical illustration of a Sweet pea flower

I also wanted to look at one of the pink sweetpeas, but decided this would be a study of the venation within the petals; a line drawing in watercolour, if you will.  This helps if asked to draw a sweet pea again; once the purple ones are complete, some of the detail will be swallowed up in the dark colours.

Lizzie Harper watercolour paintbox mixing up purples

This is my trusty paintbox (what a mess) with me mixing up some purple to go into the green on the stem.  I favour Winsor & Newton paints, and much prefer using Winsor & Newton series 7 brushes to any other sort.


Step 4 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

Having put down the initial green on the stem and calyx, I work into it, adding the flush of purple.  I try to keep my colours fresh and light, and don't erase the pencil in these sketchbook studies, which gives me a little more freedom with the paint as it doens't have to delineate any edges.


Step 5 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

More detail on the stem and calyx, this is alizarin crimson and purple lake, with a touch of vandyke brown.

Step 6 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

I simply loved painting these tendrils, the way they knot and twist is fascinating.  A simple green line either side then a very pale top wash suffices.  Here I'm adding some darker areas; the green mixed with prussian blue and purple.

Step 7 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

I start the flowers by plotting the weins, and working up a network of darker lines where the petals are deepest in colour.  This purple is alizarin crimson, purple lake, a touch of vandyke brown, and some violet doctor martin inks which add real kick to the mix.

Step 8 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

Both flowers have now been drawn in paint.

Step 9 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

All I've done now is to add some more depth to the darkest darks by putting more little lines in thse area.  These will help add depth when I put the watercolour wash over the top as this picks up pigment lying below it on the page.

Lizzie Harper watercolour paintbox mixing up pinks

Mixing up the wash to go on the sweet pea.  This is a similar mix to before, but with much moe water and no brown.

Step 10 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

I apply the wash very wet, it naturally carries pigment to the edges but is supplemented by the colour already on the page.  Keep the pale areas pale, and be sure not to smudge the wash as it dries.

Step 11 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

This is a detail of the flower once the wash has been applied.

Step 13 of botanical sketchbook study of sweet pea flower

Here the illustration is pretty much finished.  All that I altered is adding some darks.  With the purples, these were quite an extreme mix of purple, brown, and prussian blue.

Finished botancial illustration of sweet pea flower by Lizzie Harper

This is the completed sketch.  This image is a scan rather than a photo; it's interesting to note the difference in tone and colour due to the different ways of recording the illustration.  Generally, scans are lighter and yellower.  You can always adjust for discrepencies between colour of scans or photos and the true illustration's colours in an image editing programme such as Adobe Photoshop.


Botanical illustration of Sweet pea flowers by Lizzie Harper

The final sketchbook sheet. The map of veins of the pink sweet pea is complete, along with notes to remind myself of specifics of the plant.  I also test my colours on these sheets, and keep notes of them on the same page.  It's important to keep notes of size and scale too.


Category:  Botanical Illustration step by step   |   Comments:  5   |   Viewed:  41743

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Your Purple Sweet-Peas

Wednesday, 7. August 2013, 23:09:21 – Linda Haston Ely:

Amazing! Simply astonishing! Speaking as a person who has no artistic talent whatsoever, I am just in awe... and that you then reach out to people over the web and share your talent--wow! Thank you!

Sweet sweet

Thursday, 8. August 2013, 04:01:36 – Christine Thompson-Lucas WV artist:

This is wonderful... such detail. and so much color.. I love it.....where is the love button....


Wednesday, 29. January 2014, 13:30:35 – Joan Thomson:

Wow!!! I can't wait to try this beautiful method of painting sweet favourite flowers. Though I don't expect mine to look anything like yours I'll give it a try. Thanks for such a great demonstration.


Thursday, 1. May 2014, 22:03:35 – Dorothy Gray:

What a beautiful painting, it is quite amazing that you can reproduce nature so accurately. I feel quit envious of such ability. Thank you for sharing.


Thursday, 14. August 2014, 08:10:18 – Dorothy Gray:

I have now attempted to paint your Sweet Pea, whilst it is nothing compared to yours I am quite pleased with the result. Thank you for your online guidance, I shall now try your. Nasturtium.