November 2015: Botanical Illustration

November 2015:

Botanical Illustration



With over 12,000 pieces, one of our largest collections here at the Sterling Morton Library is our collection of botanical and natural history illustration. Spanning several hundred years, our pieces stand as beautiful examples of botanical art and illustration, from woodblock prints to beautiful paintings. All visitors to the Arboretum are welcome to make an appointment to see these treasures and study them up close. For the aspiring artist who would like to learn some of these techniques at home, we have plenty of circulating resources on botanical art and illustration techniques that will keep you busy and improve your skills. The Morton Arboretum also offers classes in botanical art and illustration with expert artists and instructors; you can find current and upcoming class listings here. The books outlined in the resources section below will give you a bit of history and a solid base in techniques, perfect for all levels of experience. Visit our resource page on botanical art and nature illustration to connect with even more resources, online galleries, and to find out more about local and internation botanical art organizations! For an upcoming opportunity to view the work of extraordinary artists here at the Arboretum, don’t miss:


The Nature Artists Guild of The Morton Arboretum Presents

Annual Holiday Exhibit of Natural History Art

Saturday November 7 to Sunday November 8, 10am - 4pm at the Thornhill Education Center



“An illustration with a name was a useful aid to finding and identifying a plant and passing on the traditional lore associated with it... An illustration normally includes a life-size habit drawing (a drawing of a representative portion of a plant), often made from a pressed herbarium specimen, together with enlarged details of the flowers, fruits and any other features which are important in distinguishing it from similar species… The rival method of recording plants is photography. This delightfully easy way of making a record of a plant is now taken for granted. It is fast and convenient for gathering illustrations for books, which can then be produced quickly. With digital photography, everything seems possible under almost any conditions, and one wonders if there is any need to continue making illustrations by hand. The answer to this is definitely ‘yes’, because although software makes almost anything possible for improving and editing a photograph, a line drawing can still be made quite quickly, is clearer in selecting which details to show and can be included in the text at less cost. Where colour is not necessary, a line drawing is cheaper and more effective. Coloured illustrations such as those made for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine might seem to be a luxury, but if there is an enthusiastic audience for them, either as works of art or as useful illustrations, people will continue to produce them. One hopes that this long tradition, with its links to the beginnings of scientific enquiry in classical times, will continue to promote people’s interest in botany and the fascinating world of plants around them.”
~from The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration by Christabel King, p. 8

Library circulating resources

The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration by Christabel King, 2015
Botanical Illustration for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide by Meriel Thurstan and Rosie Martin, 2015
Drawing and Painting Plants by Christina Brodie, 2007
Beautiful Botanicals: Painting and Drawing Flowers and Plants by Bente Starcke King, 2004
Botanical Illustration Course with the Eden Project by Rosie Martin and Meriel Thurstan, 2006
The Art of Botanical Drawing: An Introductory Guide by Agathe Ravet-Haevermans, 2007
Botanical Sketchbook by Mary Ann Scott with Margaret Stevens, 2010
The Art of Botanical Painting by Margaret Stevens, 2005


From the Suzette Morton Davidson Special Collections

Gouache of a Malus by Barbara Regina Dietzsche
Malus x domestica by Barbara Regina Dietzsch, gouache


Reader’s advisory

If you are interested in further information, check out our collections on the history of botanical illustration, botanical artists, or our collections on specific or related techniques such as watercolor and colored pencil.