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Botanical illustration

Matt and I took half a days’ leave on Tuesday to visit London. The main reason for going was to see French musician and composer, Yann Tiersen, live at the Royal Festival Hall (thank you to my lovely boyfriend for the present <3). It was an absolutely beautiful, if not slightly quirky, performance based on the sounds of the island on which it was created.

Yann Tiersen on stage

Before the concert, we had some time to do some exploring and so decided to take a look around the Garden Museum in Lambeth. The museum was founded by Rosemary and John Nicholson in 1977 in order to rescue the abandoned church of St Mary’s at Lambeth, which was due for demolition (source:

Current exhibitions at the museum include Anna Skladmann: The Man with the Midas Touch, a selection of gorgeous images created using a unusual method that provides stunning results. She uses scans of each flower (narcissus), using a technique the artist has developed, where she uses multiple kinds of liquids such as milk and water when placing the flower on a digital scanner - photo below.

Also on show at the moment is Rachel Labovitch: Skyward who's work explores different ways of representing the view upwards through trees and branches, and raises questions about how we absorb those surroundings on the edge of our experience, just in our peripheral vision.

What is botanical illustration?

Botanical illustration captures the form, colour, and details of plant species and is scientifically accurate. The need for exactness differentiates botanical illustration from more general flower painting. I love both art forms. If it’s an artistic representation of a beautiful plant, then I’m happy.

Botanical illustration can be traced back to sometime between 50 and 70 CE. Prior to the invention of photography, it was the only way of visually recording the different species of plant life.

By Redouté (Les Liliacees, vol. 4: t. 181, as Crinum giganteum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Rosa centifolia foliacea,” 1824 by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

While botanical illustration is not as relevant to researchers today, it has become an inspiration for artists who are paying homage to plant life in contemporary ways.

My own work

I love flowers. They fill up many of my photo albums and I can't wait to fill my garden with them (when I have one!). I love all flowers, but if I had to choose I would pick roses, narcissus (especially the tiny teeny ones) and all white flowers. I've often played around with sketching flowers and plants but not as much as I would like to. Illustrations like the image below have really inspired me to give flowers a go again.

Here's some little sketches from my own sketchbook:

The Garden Museum was a fantastic find, inspirational and worth a visit. If not for the plants, then just to escape the busy London streets for a while.

Flowers aren’t just beautiful; they are incredibly sensory, evoking memories and emotions through colour, smell, texture and the various meanings associated with different species. I can’t wait to get drawing and painting and see what botanical work I can create!

Sarah x

"Botanical Art is about precision and clarity, but ultimately about life"

Corinne Lapin-Cohen

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