Botanical Illustration: Diagrams for Dorling Kindersely/ Penguin Books December 27th 2013

Story posted: Friday, 27. December 2013 by Lizzie Harper

I'm currently doing a series of botanical illustrations for a book on Bonsai trees by Peter Warren for Dorling Kindersely/Penguin Books.  For now, we're concentrating on coloured diagrams of bonsai trees; but there may also be some step-by-step illustrations and there's talk of Japanese style "icons" too.

Unusually for me, I've allowed DK/Penguin the copyright on these illustrations; such a decision is never taken lightly and relates to the client's budget which (in this case) justified such a rash move.  As a general rule of thumb, NEVER sell your copyright to a comissioner, 9 times out of 10 they neither need it nor understand what it means.

First, I had to be vetted to see whether or not my illustration style was what the senior designer was after.  It also gave me a chance to experiment with different approaches to the subject matter.  We chose one of the bonsai trees to be illustrated, and I completed two illustrations of the same image.  The first was pen and ink (I like Pigma Micron pens, 0.05 tips, amongst other brands) with a light watercolour wash (as always, Winsor and Newton paints and their Series 7 sable brushes)The second was pure watercolour, without any pen.

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, test piece of bonsai tree

The designer preferred style 1, with the pen, as did I.  She's been amazing at providing reference and feedback, and it was a matter of hours rather than days before I had the go-ahead to work up more of the trees to final.

The trick is to keep the pen detailing to a mimimum, too much stippling will drown the image, too little will leave it looking unfinished.

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

Quick and light paint strokes help give the conifer the fluffy feel, and I made careful colour notes on the test piece to ensure I could mix up a consistent colour for each tree style that needed illustrating.  Above is the "cascade" style. Below, there's the "semi-cascade".

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

Thr trickiest thus far was the "windswept", because it was hard to figure out where the roots were, and what substrate they grew on.  With help from the designer and the author, we untangled the roots from the stones, and the stones from the dead wood.

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, test piece of bonsai tree

Here's the final

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

This is the slanting form of the tree.

Alongside the "informal" upright style I did as a test piece, you can also grow bonsai trees which are "formal upright" (as below.)

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

After a lot of debate with the designer and the author, we decided to illustrate the "broom" style without leaves or, as the experts put it "naked".  This was the hardest thus far as I had to continue trying to make the illustration seem elegant, yet be sure to show the tiny thin ends of each and every branch.

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

There are other styles which I really liked:

 

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

This one's the "Forest".

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

This one's "literati", and is based on an incredibly famous tree.  I seem to have scanned it in so the pot's at a very jaunty angle, apologies.

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

This one's the "Keshki" style.

Finally, there's the "Root over rock" which was tricky to illustrate but is rather a beautiful plant.

Lizzie Harper for DK Penguin Books, bonsai tree

One thing I wasn't expecting to come out of this job was a growing interest in and affection for the bonsai tree, but it's happened.  I think they're exquisite, and now I know a little of the painstaking work that goes into creating them I'm even more impressed by them.

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