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What Does a Botanical Illustrator Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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A botanical illustrator creates drawings of botanical subjects like flowering plants and trees. Some may draw by hand, while others use computer drawing programs and other tools in the course of their work. Botanical illustration is a very ancient field that blends elements of art and science. Examples can be seen everywhere from seed catalogs to patent applications.

The botanical illustrator needs a firm knowledge of botany to render botanicals accurately and in the appropriate level of detail. Scientific illustrators do not just draw things, they also convey information through their artwork. Illustrators must produce appropriately-scaled work that provides important information, like the precise coloration and shading of flowers, natural variations within the same species, and the life stages of a plant.

These illustrators produce color work as well as black and white projects that convey information to help people identify and understand plants. Some label their drawings with various components of the plant, and may show plants at different stages of life with additional captions detailing various phases. A botanical illustrator can trace the development of fruits and seedpods, for example, from budding flowers to the finished product.

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Many botanical illustrators work on generic stock illustrations as well as custom projects for clients. Botanical illustrations are often used in advertising to sell specific plants, like in seed catalogs, and they are also used in marketing campaigns for products with a botanical element. A company making soap, for example, might want botanical illustrations to provide information about which flowering plants it uses in various blends.

Such illustrations also appear in guidebooks, scientific papers, and patent applications. These illustrations need to provide precise, scientific detail to help viewers distinguish key characteristics and understand the difference between various species. A botanical illustrator works with specimens provided by the client, often using microscopy and other tools to collect information, before roughing out drawings. The client approves the roughs, which the botanical illustrator can finalize with more detail, firmer lines, and so forth.

Some botanical illustrators go to art school as well as pursuing training in biology. Colleges, universities, and botanic gardens sometimes offer botanical illustration programs for people who want certificates in this field. It is also possible to join professional organizations to use for learning and networking opportunities. Most illustrators maintain a portfolio of sample work to show to interested clients who want to see if they will be a good fit for a given job.

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