News Stories in category: Illustration techniques

Botanical Illustration: Comparing Hot Press Watercolour Papers

Story posted: 5. May 2017 by Lizzie Harper

As some of you may know, there’s been a bit of a panic in the Botanical illustration community recently.  This is because the firm favourite hot press watercolour paper of many illustrators, Fabriano Classico (and Fabriano Artistico) has altered its manufacturing process.  This has resulted in the surface of the paper being given a different sizing, which results in it being less smooth than before, and now when you paint on it the watercolour bleeds and pools a little, clearly not the effect a botanical artist is after!

It should be pointed out that the difference is not…

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Botanical Illustration: Leaf painting workshop

Story posted: 9. December 2016 by Lizzie Harper

I recently taught a day-long session on how to do botanical illustrations of leaves, focusing on colour and form, at The Walled Garden in Treberfydd .  We set ourselves up in an airy glass house, and had ready access to the enormous variety of beautiful plants Alison grows and sells at the nursery.



Glass house and students at work

After some initial work on form, we had a look at mixing greens.

When I'm illustrating, I'll choose a leaf and try to mix a colour that almost exactly matches it, even painting a little of the mixed colour onto the leaf itself to see…

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Botanical Illustration: Step by step painting of leaves

Story posted: 18. November 2016 by Lizzie Harper

I recently taught a workshop of botanical illustration of leaves , and broke down the process of painting a leaf into incremental steps shown on a demonstration painting of a blackberry leaf.



Demonstration illustration showing different steps involved in painting a blackberry leaf, and a breakdown of the colours used to mix the greens that I used for each step.

I thought it might be worth deconstructing and explaining the processes in a blog.  The illustrations below are magnified, and so are a little out of focus; my apologies.

It also needs to be pointed out…

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Category: Botanical Illustration step by step, Illustration techniques    Comments: 0    Viewed: 13096

Natural History Illustration: Drawing is Vital

Story posted: 4. March 2016 by Lizzie Harper

It might seem self-evident that being a natural history and botanical illustrator involves a lot of drawing, but I don’t think the importance of this can be stressed too much.

A lot of my work involves creating detailed illustrations of plants and animals, carefully done and accurately noted.  This is part of the job, but without basic drawing skills I wouldn’t be able to begin these botanical and anatomical illustrations.



Illustration of Lilac Syringa vulgaris from The Garden Forager by Adele Nozedar

One of the main drawing skills is being able to record…

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Natural History & Botanical Illustration: Sketchbooks

Story posted: 31. July 2015 by Lizzie Harper

As a natural history & botanical illustrator, sketchbooks are a vital part of both the drawing and the learning process for me.  Being asked to consider my relationship with them recently by Illustrator Magazine has made me pause; it’s not something I’ve thought about closely before, but has made me realise these tools are even more important to me than I previously realised.

Much of this blog formed the base of the article soon to appear in Illustrator magazine.



Pencil sketchbook notes on lichen species studied at a Radnorshire Wildlife Trust event

All…

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Botanical Illustration: Working from Photo reference

Story posted: 10. July 2015 by Lizzie Harper

As a natural history illustrator, you often get asked to complete botanical illustrations of plants which aren’t in season, or bloom.  This is where sketchbooks, filled with notes and annotated details prove invaluable.  But what if you’re asked to illustrate a botanical subject you’ve not got notes on, and which you can’t get hold of?

The first thing is to ensure you can’t get your hands on a specimen.  It is so much easier to draw plants from life than from photos; you can rotate them, dissect them out, magnify them.  You can beg, borrow and steal plants; often gardeners are…

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Natural History Illustration: Using Negative Space in Botanical Illustration

Story posted: 27. March 2015 by Lizzie Harper

Natural history illustration, Sciart, and botanical illustration require the illustrator to draw accurately and with confidence.

One of the many tools I use almost daily is the idea of negative space.

The easiest way to think of negative space is as the space between and around objects; the triangles between spokes of a bike wheel, the ovals in the handles of scissors, the shapes made by overlapping leaves.   Here’s a demo I did for a botanical illustration workshop recently.



Negative space demo

I first learned about negative space from my mother, a fine…

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Natural History Illustration: Illustrating a Nature Reserve map

Story posted: 26. February 2015 by Lizzie Harper

I am often lucky enough to work with the Wildlife Trusts UK , creating scientific illustrations and botanical illustrations for their interpretation boards and leaflets.  A while back, Staffordshire Wildlife trust and (separately) Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust started comissioning maps from me.

These are quite tricky to do as they have to be correct and clear; and all the information I include has to be checked by the Trusts' staff whilst still at the pencil stage.  This is a challenge for all of us: I have to make the map clear, they have to go over it with a…

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Natural History Illustration: Evolution of a lansdscape painting April 18th 2014

Story posted: 18. April 2014 by Lizzie Harper

Natural history illustration incorporates a wide range of sientific illustraion and general illustration techniques.  I realised about ten years ago that a desirable type of of natural science illustration was one that incorporated numerous species of plant and animal into a landscape, as in this wetland landscape done for Natural England.



Recently I've been commissioned by Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) to create a lanscape of one of their reserves, Hartslock.  Hartslock reserve has a glorious hill in it which is blousy with seven…

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Botanical Illustration: Composing a sketchbook study March 21st 2014

Story posted: 21. March 2014 by Lizzie Harper

Winter, and my natural history illustration work continues.  No problem painting a botanical illustration specimen in February if it's a conifer, like this Douglas fir.

Instead of examining the techniques involved in mixing colours etc., I thought perhaps it might be an idea to discuss composing the way a botanical subject sits on a page.

Here we are at the very start; lots of specimens, a blank sheet of paper, and a deadline.



I know what elements I need to include in this  sketchbook study. I need a decent sized "habit" drawing; a picture which shows how the…

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Botanical Illustration: Why it's still relevant March 7th 2014

Story posted: 7. March 2014 by Lizzie Harper

I recently read a good blog by Susannah Spier about why botanical illustration still matters in this modern era of photography and digitalisation.  I agree strongly with it, and am using it as the basis of this week's blog.

It's a relevant question.  Why, when there are so many good ways of recording botanical subjects with digital devices, should the traditional skills of botanical illustration still need to be needed?

The answer is multi-faceted.  I don't want to come across as someone who thinks there's no place for photography in botany, nor as someone who thinks…

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Natural History Illustration: Gardening step-by-steps: Drawing hands November 9th 2013

Story posted: 8. November 2013 by Lizzie Harper

As scientific and botanical illustrators; it’s unlikely that you’ll choose to draw the steps involved in various gardening techniques unless you’re getting paid for it.

However, there are benefits to taking on this sort of work (it can be quick, the pay’s not too bad, and I know a great deal more about gardening now that I did four years ago).  One of the greatest benefits is that you HAVE to lean how to draw hands.



The illustrations in this week’s blog are taken from the How to Garden series of books by Alan Titchmarsh, those I’ve done over the years for…

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Natural History Illustration in Pencil - 6th September 2013

Story posted: 6. September 2013 by Lizzie Harper

Pencil doesn't seem to be a very fashionable medium for scientific illustration, or indeed for illustration as a whole.  I think this is rather a pity as highly rendered pencil illustrations can be not only stunning but also a true joy to work on.

I always use mechanical pencils, preferring pentel P205 0.5mm HB or H leads above all else; and a soft eraser rather than the one built onto the end of the pencil.

I love pencil for quick line drawings, and habit sketches of plants.  The way you can alter the depth of the line by applying varying pressure, and the crisp but…

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Scientific Illustration of a Death's Head Hawkmoth - August 3rd 2013

Story posted: 3. August 2013 by Lizzie Harper

I received a private commission to do a scientific illustration of the Death's head hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos for someone who is passionate about moths.  Normally the first step is to get a specimen to work from, but alas in this case there were none at the local museum, and the deadline was tight.

I collated picture ref from as many sources as possible (it's always so much harder to work from images than from the real thing which you can rotate and examine), and combined it with the geometry and anatomy of the hawkmoth.  I chose to do a male as I prefer the tapering point…

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Category: Illustration techniques, Zoological step by step    Comments: 0    Viewed: 3058

Scientific illustration: Getting reference for zoological illustrations - 24th May 2013

Story posted: 24. May 2013 by Lizzie Harper

It is a trueism that "you are only as good as your reference."  As a natural history illustrator, I am always searching for good reference of both plants and animals.  You never know what the next job will ask for, so need to be prepared for any request.

Plants get sketched and details noted, in my botanical sketchbook studies. If a job requires illustrations of people (say, a hand in a gardening step-by-step vignette) I have my body and family to draw from.  But animals?  They move.  They're elusive.  And when there's a deadline looming, sourcing good ref. can be a real…

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