What is Botanical Illustration?
Ancient Herbals and Floral Art
The first books to include floral art were ancient books about plants as medicine. These old herbals were used to both identify plants and to explain how to use herbs to treat illness. The oldest of these books were painstakingly copied by hand. The artwork was redrawn each time, as well.
Once the printing press was invented, artists figured out how to make illustration art a part of the bookmaking process. They carved woodcuts and engraved plates with the image of the plant. The image was printed multiple times in black ink. Each plate was then colored by hand with paint. Physicians and scholars used these drawings as reference books.
Antique printed plates were made this way:
Botanical Art and the Age of Exploration
In Europe, great ships sailed the world and brought back spices and other riches. They also brought back tales of unusual plants and animals in these new worlds. Each expedition included a naturalist who often drew and painted the new species he observed. These artists sent back pictures that amazed and intrigued people. Science and art flourished together as a result of these explorers.
Europeans began to have greater wealth and enjoyed more leisure time. People became intrigued with flowering gardens and exotic plants. This interest peaked in drawing and painting plants and flowers. New pigments and colors arrived on the scene and soon painting, especially in watercolors, became a popular pastime. Contemporary botanical art carries forward this exquisitely beautiful artistic movement.
Contemporary watercolor botanical illustrations are made as follows:
Botanical Illustration and Modern Science
Science illustration was kept alive in the field guides and documentations of botanists in the 19th and 20th centuries. At the same time, there were rapid advances in art media—graphite pencils, colored pencils, technical pens, watercolor brushes, and intense pigmented paints. In the 20th century, breakthroughs in photography expanded the printing process. This allowed high-quality copies of artwork to become readily available. Any type of media could be easily mass-produced.
Watercolor painting is the most traditional medium of botanical illustration, but, through digital imaging, any medium can now be reproduced for printing. Today’s botanical artists use a wide range of materials and techniques, such as
Illustration Art Changes with the Times
In recent years the illustration focus of botanical art began to change. Botanical artists still train in both botany and art. However, now the new art leans towards innovations in materials and in compositional design. Advanced techniques in materials and technique make the art seem so real it looks like it can be lifted from the paper. Contemporary botanical art has come a long way from the simple images of cave art and hieroglyphs.