Since my last botanical art class, the idea of capturing the character of botanical specimens has been on the top of my mind. However, where to collect a subject that is simple enough to draw but is detailed enough to show a distinct personality has been more challenging. One idea for a subject that had been rattling around my head was a frangipani branch. While the flowers and leaves themselves are fairly simple, the branches have all kinds of interesting knobs and distortions that have intrigued my newly developed botanical mind. Getting my hands on one of these branches was proving tricky, as short of climbing up a tree, I didn’t see how I would be able to get my hands on a branch. But they do say, seek and you shall find, and I had a little stroke of serendipity this week when a large truck tore off a considerable section from a frangipani tree in my street. Never one to waste a good resource I toddled the branch home, plunked it in some water and got out my drawing supplies.
The frangipani branch has to be one of the largest and most complex subjects that I’ve attempted so far, so I took a considerable amount of time setting up my specimen and making sure it was well supported before I got into the drawing itself. With this larger subject, one of the first things I tried to do was to mark out where each cluster of flowers would sit. This really was harder than I expected, and I spent a while drawing up basic sections, observing them, rubbing them out and trying again. After a lot of measuring and trial and error, I managed to finalize the locations of each section and fill in the details. After a little clean up you can see that the final product is a relatively accurate drawing.
Although accurate, I feel that this drawing doesn’t have that extra touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’ that would bring it from a good to great. I think to get to great I would have to return to the lines and tidy them all up so that they are fine and clear from hesitation marks. Despite this, I’m still pretty impressed with the end result.
When I collected the larger frangipani branch, I also picked up a smaller one to apply the tips to after drawing the first. Comparing the two, you can see that the finer and cleaner lines in the second drawing have improved the overall look of this sketch. However, there are a few patches that were of less confident and clean lines take away the overall strength of the drawing. But as this drawing is quite clearly of a frangipani branch I’m still pretty chuffed with the results.
After spending so much time with frangipanis, that I felt like I had them on the brain, I decided to play with some rapid sketching of one of my indoor plants (a green and white speckled Fittonia), a green shoot I picked from a hedge that’s on my block and some little purple flowers I picked from the house next-door.
Out of the three sketches, I think that the small green shoot was the most closely matches the subject, however, the other two really aren’t too far off. Again, over the course of the sketches, I think it’s clear that I’m developing some finesse when drawing stems, but larger sections like leaves or flowers need more work as the actual shapes themselves still aren’t as precise as they need to be for botanical art.
One of the areas I really want to improve is drawing delicate subjects, so I moved onto tackling fern from my small collection of indoor pot plants. And after looking at the final result, I’m glad I own this plant, as I will defiantly need to draw this plant again because the sketch doesn’t really look like a plant at all, let alone a fern! I’m not really sure what went wrong here, but I think it was a mixture of:
- Not getting the shapes of the leaves correct
- Not removing any trace of mistakes from the sketching process
- Not cleaning up lines that have hesitation marks
After the unsatisfying attempt at capturing fernery, I decided to return to the Guelder Rose berries that I had exchanged after class with another student so we both had slightly different subjects to work on during the week. I was mostly happy with my last attempt, but this time I wanted to see if I could convey a little more finesse by sketching these berries while I had more energy to devote.
Dried leaves are one of my favourite subjects to draw as their twisted and wizened shapes always give me the impression of a life that has been so well structured it lasts even beyond the green tinge of summer. I love the challenge of bringing this structure to life on paper, and this time I think I was able to deliver a fairly solid structure to the viewer. One of the main reasons why I think that this sketch works so well is the dark lines emphasizing the two more foremost crinkles in the leaf. Before I darkened these lines, all of the lines in the leaves melded together to create a pretty poor leaf. Honestly, I was surprised how much depth was created focusing on these lines (and since I didn’t have the foresight to take before and after photos, you’ll have to use your imagination), but hopefully, it’s clear how much power three lines can hold in your basic botanical sketch.
- Top Tips
- If you make a big mess in a section of paper don’t try and draw over the top of it. If the mess that you’ve made in the paper has left substantial grooves or marks on the paper continuing to work in the same spot will ruin anything new you want to draw. Sometimes you need to admit that you need to move on and select a new section or entire piece of paper to work on.
- If you’re drawing multiple specimens on a single piece of paper, remember to leave enough space around each drawing so that you can use the drawings separately (either by taking a photo of the drawing(s) you want to work with or cutting them out). If you don’t leave enough round around them it will be very difficult to work with them individually.
Darker and bolder lines can be used to create emphasis and draw attention to specific sections of your drawing.