Good botanical art is a painstaking affair; there are a hundred things to keep in mind to ensure that your finished art is both botanically accurate and beautiful. I’ve learned over time (and from the many hurried paintings that were eventually binned) that in botanical art your finished artwork is only as good as your initial preparation. It’s of course understandable that one would want to hurry through the prep and get to the “fun” stage of adding the colour. But a little extra patience in the beginning can make a whole lot of difference to your final artwork.
In this blog, I have outlined the basic steps that I follow before I reach the colouring stage. I recently completed a mulberry (Morus indica) drawing in coloured pencils and I am using it as an example to illustrate my process.
Observing the specimen
Before I begin a painting, I always like to spend a little time observing the plant. If the plant is commonly available around me, I try to bring home a small specimen to observe at leisure. I might even make some notes and do a few basic studies in my sketchbook (though not always).
Photographing the plant
I rely on photographs a lot as specimens can wilt very soon and I am an unusually slow artist. But the photographs I use are always the ones taken by me and not sourced from stock photo sites. This way, I can get the light source right (top left) and take many pictures from different angles. I sometimes end up taking 30-40 photos of the specimen!
I usually photograph the specimen against a white background. I’ll typically prop up a large sketchbook and take the photos using the white of the paper as the background.
Planning the composition
I can confidently say that this stage is the most important and I usually spend a long time finalizing a design that appeals to me. In the beginning, I will often take to Pinterest to look up similar plants and see how other artists have painted them. Composition can be very tricky to nail but practice does make it easier to get it right.
I usually draw rough thumbnails to plan the composition. Once I feel confident of how I am planning it, I will draw it out to scale. This final sketch takes some time as here I will make sure to include all of the tiny details of the plant. Once I have sketched out the design, I make sure to leave it for a day or two and come back to it later; seeing it with fresh eyes always helps me see the small areas that might need fixing.
Transferring the drawing
Now that my sketch is complete, I will transfer the drawing before beginning with the colour. I mostly use parchment paper (that is also used in baking) as it works well for my purposes and I always have it at hand. Transferring a drawing can be a painstaking process but I always try to complete it one sitting.
Once the drawing is transferred, I go back to my initial sketch and use it to plan out the tones in the drawing. This helps me to plan and mark out the highlights, the midtones and the shadows. I will often skip this step myself but I have noticed that if I spend some time doing this, my final process is much more hassle-free.
I always take this stage of preparation very seriously. If you know your pencils well, finding the right combination of colours should not take you very long. Since I was going to add graphite also to this drawing, I created a tonal chart of my graphite pencils as well.
After this, it’s time to begin with the colours. This particular drawing took me over a month to complete, especially because I like to step away from my paintings and usually work on two pieces concurrently.
I hope this was helpful for some of you out there. Leave me a comment if you have any queries about my process.
Thanks for reading!