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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

A Rose By Any Other Name

Exercise Six

I found myself quite interested in this exercise from the very beginning. Botanical illustration has always fascinated me for the accuracy and intricacy in the details. I would always find myself getting as close to the drawings as possible to study the lines and the colours, trying to understand how they have been done. Are they traced, drawn from projection or freehand from life or microscope? It just blew my mind how accurate they were and how I always felt like I was looking at an old science paper. This style just seems to be only for masters of science and biology, that only those that dedicated their life to a field and spent hours patiently studying every single plant could draw such work. It was never for me, I just never had the knowledge. But, do you need the knowledge to document, or was the point of botanical drawings based on discovery and understanding? So in a way, learning the nature of plants through illustration.

It is weird that botanical illustration exists in a way that it seems incredibly important to mankind. As they are like scientific recordings on nature, it seems more important as a highly detailed and isolated drawing than it does as a photo. Perhaps in this detailed drawing there is more of a sense of them being educational. When the drawing isolates a part of a plant, is it easier for us to learn from? Would a photo be as effective?

What I like about the composition of botanical drawings, is that they almost feel like designs. The example that is included in this exercise from Botanical Pattern Book - 20th century, really feels like I am seeing a product design sheet, showing the overview of a product, it includes a different view or the product plus small isolated sections demonstrating the colour and shape.

A couple of years ago I visited the botanical garden in Oxford where there is a space dedicated to the illustrations. I found two photos from this trip that I had taken of some of the works there and remembered being completely in awe to the details. As much as I like to draw details, I just sometimes wonder how it is even possible to be so accurate with texture, patterns and with including every petal, flower or leaf. The works photographed below are incredibly realistic and detailed. Unfortunately I do not have a name of the artists who did them and I wish I did!

I wondered if I could achieve this level of detail using ink in my own drawings. I really wanted to give this exercise a good effort as it is the only time I would have focused on producing such a piece in this style.

To find my subject I took a trip to my allotment. I set about drawing a couple of pieces from life in my sketchbook, nothing too large as I wanted to get a few different thing down in my book and then add details when I got home.

I took home a cutting of the Fuchsia and a couple of the Cornflowers to continue the drawings. I didn't get any photos of them when they were freshly cut which I do regret, however I was able to add some colour and ink in the Cornflowers whilst adding some more shade to the Fuchsia. I decided to look closer at the Fuchsia, it was looking so pretty and perfect that I wanted to make this the subject of my botanical illustration. Before it wilted, I managed to get a second sketch done in my sketchbook.

It was an ok start to hopefully a more detailed study, but I do want to take it further. To explore my options, I decided to not take a risk on the drawing itself, and instead try getting details digitally. I took a photo of the sketch on my iPad and worked over the top. How much detail can I achieve, can I get close to those I mentioned above?

So whilst I was making a start on trying out "ink" lines over my pencil drawing on ProCreate, I realised this just didn't feel right at all. I was no longer drawing from life. I didn't have a reference in front of me either by photo of the flower itself to help add fine details, so it all suddenly felt pointless and flat. I didn't hate what I had done, but I just couldn't imagine how it would be any better once I spent the time on it. The halfway result:

The only option to try with working digitally, was to work with colour only. I did feel that painting would be much easier for me to attempt showing more details, but could the same be said by painting digitally? I had one little go just to test this. The flower cutting that I had worked from on this drawing had sadly died by the time I had the idea of trying this, but I did have a photo I took from the allotment of another flower so I used this for reference to colour in the original sketch.

It was fun to work on but I hate the result. I stopped what I was doing and decided to stick with drawing from life. Digital just wasn't cutting it for me on this occasion.

I really wanted to achieve a nicely composed page that shows a close study and an overview study with stem, leaves and flower. This just felt like the natural outcome for this exercise. I decided to make another trip to the allotment, this time with a larger sketchbook, some watercolour pencils and a positive attitude.

The result wasn't exactly the perfect drawing I hoped for, but it is certainly closer to what I wanted to achieve in this exercise. I settled on this being as good as I could get it with the tools used. Perhaps painting would bring a different result, but I didn't want to keep trying to get perfect, when just the process was rewarding enough.

Firstly, I sketched the flowers so I could at least understand how they fell, moved and overlapped one another. This was going to be my overview on the Fuchsia's.

Using watercolour pencils, I began colouring. I didn't hesitate on going heavy with the colours, and the more I layered thickly the more I became used to the material and what I could do with it.

I took several photos of the plant so that I could continue working on it at home. I felt I had collected enough real life drawing and colouring that I could continue creating the same and feel from a photo. The benefits of working from photos is that you are able to zoom in on certain areas. This allowed me to then add to the page with more "detailed" close ups on areas of the plant. That positive attitude was really kicking in!

I carried on with the piece as planned. I loved working with the colour, I think it helped hugely when trying to show what the plants characteristics were. Where I stumbled was the close up of the flower. I created the pencil sketch like I had done before and thought about leaving it as you see it above. However, during this entire exercise I found myself toying with the idea with working in ink. I enjoy using pen, however I think my ink style is more suited for cartoon, not realism. I say this lightly as do sometimes enjoy working with pen, however I think biro is possibly the preferred pen in situations like this.

For some reason I couldn't resist a fine line attempt here, and proceeded to draw over the sketch. Where I really find the problem when working in fine liners is one, it can be too clean, two, I never know when to stop. Sadly, the second problem came shining through and it ruined the page for me, because not only did I do the lines, I then thought it would be a good idea to add the pencil - leading to a very dark drawing that does not show the flower accurately.

The final stage of this exercise was to simplify the illustration.

And on that note, that concludes this exercise. I can firmly say that whilst I do enjoy drawing from nature, I do have a long way to go if I ever wanted to do more botanical illustration. It was fun to draw something from life that was not a person moving around. It was really interesting to get closer to the flowers, which I do find myself thinking to do more of when I see interesting plants. I was even peeling my lychee and thinking that it would make an interesting study, wondering how much of the texture I could draw.


This week I spent a lot of time around mushrooms. One evening I took a walk through my local woods and foraged for any mushrooms I could find. The odds were in my favour and I did manage to find a few varieties. Not only had I foraged, but I spent a few hours finding photo reference of different mushrooms. I built quite the library of images and also collected images of illustrations in a number of different styles that had included mushrooms in their work. The reason was for The Sketchbook Club that I host locally, but it had added to my inspiration for this exercise. During this research I came across a number of botanical drawings of mushrooms. To my surprise, and perhaps one I should maybe know of, I discovered Beatrix Potter's love for mushrooms, to which I thought would suit this exercise very nicely.

Her works are beautiful detailed painting of mushrooms.


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