Getting Started with Lines, Leaves and Botanical Art (Botanical Art Class Week 1 – Entry 1)

They say that the most important step on a journey is the first one, and the first step in my botanical art journey has been to sign up for a local class on botanical drawing and painting. These classes focus first on drawing lines, then adding tone and shading, and finally introduce watercolour to bring the drawings to life. For someone like myself who has no formal or informal artistic experience, save for the messes that I made a kid, I think that the gradual introduction of concepts is a great way to start.

And now, after going to the first class I definitely agree that structured introductions to these areas are a great way to get started.

In our first class, we covered accurately drawing outlines of gum leaves. Initially, I thought this would be a piece of cake, but once faced with a gum leaf in one hand and pencil and paper in the other the outcome seemed much further away than I expected. Over the course of the class, I ended up with a two sketched outlines of the leaf in question as you can see below.

Two sketches of eucalyptus leaves
Two sketches of eucalyptus leaves

Trying to get the leaf as accurate as possible is surprisingly challenging. I didn’t time how long it took me to get these leaves onto paper, but I know it was a substantial part of the three-hour class. But flat gum leaves weren’t the only challenge of the day, after that, we moved onto the mysterious curved leaf.

After spending more time that I would have ever expected drawing a gum leaf, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the challenge of a curved leaf, so I decided to try a rapid sketching approach in the hopes that moving my pencil faster might make my mind move faster too.

Basic Sketches of the Mid-lines of curved leaves
Basic Sketches of the Mid-lines of curved leaves

 

Reflecting on these sketches, I’m not really convinced that my sly plan to see a curved leaf come together faster worked, but I’m happy that I gave it a go, at least I know that it doesn’t really work for me. I think I realized that quick lines weren’t working for me in the class either, because after these quick lines I spend the remainder on the class directing my focus towards a single curved leaf.

Basic sketch of a curved leaf.
Basic sketch of a curved leaf.

I’m not sure if I was too tired for focusing my efforts towards a single leaf at this point in time, I didn’t understand how to get the outcome that I wanted, or I was overdrawing leaves but I don’t feel my final leaf for the day really worked, which is great news! It means that my homework for the week is to draw more curved leaves.

 

Top Tips

  • The standard convention for botanical art is drawing in a 1:1 ratio.
  • When drawing a leaf start from the mid-vein (this is the most prominent vein in the leaf. The rest of the lines that you draw will be centred on this leaf so if this line isn’t accurate then the rest of your drawing will be out.
  • When you’re drawing curved lines for botanical specimens like leaves, you can draw in the ‘hidden’ lines by using dots. This can be easier if you’re a little confused about how the form fits together. You can erase this line later on.
  • Make sure your work is accurate. Botanical art is all about being accurate. Botanical art came from a time before cameras where the art was used to show the features of a botanical specimen to someone who may never have seen this plant before.