Starting with botanical drawing and painting

Posted on February 11, 2015 by Niki under Uncategorized


 Sketch pads with Chimonanthus at front tiny for web
Sketch pads:
pencil and watercolour study of Chimonanthus  praecox
© Niki Simpson

I came to these digital botanical illustrations through painting and drawing plants. For as long as I can remember I have drawn, painted and loved plants, and I can even remember dissecting my first flower at a very young age – a cowslip, which I pressed and glued in to my school exercise book next to my painting and drawings. This interest grew, and in my teens I was given six, now treasured, parts of Stella Ross Craig’s Drawing of British Plants. I have enjoyed plants and drawing them ever since.

But it was many years later, at one of Anne-Marie Evans’ weekend botanical watercolour courses at West Dean College, near Chichester, that I painted a flowering branch of Magnolia grandiflora (which I still have framed on the wall) and my interest in botanical watercolour painting was re-awoken. I painted for many years, exhibiting in the RHS London Botanical Art Shows a number of times, and in 1998 was awarded the RHS Gold Medal for my exhibit of watercolour paintings. I was a botanical art tutor giving short courses at RHS Rosemoor for many years.

Liriodendron framed watercolour tiny for web

Botanical watercolour painting of Liriodendron tulipifera, the tulip-tree             © Niki Simpson

This botanical plate was published in The New Plantsman (1996) 3 (4): 209 in the article “Liriodendron tulipifera: the tulip-tree” by S.A. Sponberg & A.C. Bell 

I had joined the RHS at Wisley first in the Plant Records office in 1993, later becoming their Horticultural Database Administrator, and so by this time, was working in the Botany Department at Wisley, which increased my interest in ‘investigative’ botanical illustration, especially in microscope work producing dissection illustrations to scale. I was privileged to have access to both the staff and the public sections of the RHS Lindley Library, Wisley and so spent hours and hours looking at an amazing array of botanical books – wonderfully illustrated in a variety of media, from woodcuts and engravings to lithographs, nature prints and photographs. The RHS Lindley Library specialises in botanical art and garden history and was given Designated status by the Museums and Libraries Association in 2011 as a collection of international importance.

By studying the content of such illustrations, both colour and black and white, I gradually developed my own botanical pencil and watercolour studies of plants. And it was as I was working in the RHS Botany Department using computers for spreadsheets and word processing, that picking up a paintbrush to paint in watercolour began to seem incongruous. I felt that the possibilities of digital plant illustration for scientific work needed to be explored if botanical illustration was going to support botanical science in the future. And so, my digitally created composite botanical images are very much based on my watercolour paintings and my botanical pencil and watercolour studies.

RHS Gold Medal certificate painting 1998 tiny for web
RHS Gold Medal for botanical watercolour paintings, London 1998
© Niki Simpson




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