Sometimes I Surprise Myself

If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know that I’m not a botanical artist. I love seeing those exquisite, precise, detailed drawings that other artists create, but I learned long ago that I have neither the skill nor the patience for botanical art.

Sunday in my studio, however, has become a time for expanding my artistic horizons a bit. During the week I’m focused primarily on landscapes in oil, practicing my graphite drawing skills, and playing around a bit with watercolor art and mixed media techniques. It’s enough to keep me busy and keep me learning and growing as an artist. Then, when the weekend comes, it’s time for me to step away from the usual art routine, and, when possible, to literally step away from the studio with a walk through the yard or a drive to a nearby park.

This morning — it’s Sunday as I write this — it was much too cold to venture out. So, I did the next best thing and brought a bit of theΒ outside indoors. I stepped out onto the porch, saw a lovely leaf at my feet, snatched it up, and hurried back to the warmth and comfort of my studio.

Recently I’d read an article about the importance of proper lighting — we all know how vital that is — with specific suggestions on how to create the right light. This article, I should point out, was written by botanical artist Wendy Hollender. She advises:

  • Have good light for your drawing surface, of course.
  • Position your drawing light behind you, not in front.
  • If you’re right-handed, have your light coming over your left shoulder; or if you’re left-handed, work with the light coming over your right shoulder. The point is to avoid shadows on your drawing surface.
  • To illuminate your subject properly, you’ll want to use a traditional scientific light source.

OK, let’s pause right here. Scientific light source? I was curious, so I went browsing, and I did find a few very expensive lights that went by the title of “scientific light” sources, but I could not find any specific recommendations on the type of light a true botanical artist should use. I did, however, learn far more about botanical art that I will ever need to know. If you are interested in pursuing botanical art in a meaningful way, you’ll find a wealth of information and advice here: Botanical Art and Artists – Tips and Techniques.

Needless to say, I’m not too serious about botanical art, but I was interested in looking at the leaf I’d brought in, seeing it in the light, studying the shadows — something I’ve been working on lately — and giving it a go at my drawing board.

Here’s a scan of my leaf:Scan_20201025 (3)

In scanning, the leaf flattened out considerably, and the edges look a bit different from the way they appeared during the drawing process.Β  Now, for comparison, here is my drawing of the leaf:

My Leaf (2)

No, it’s not a perfect likeness. I know that. But I was surprised when I compared my drawing to the leaf and realized that I had reproduced the size and shape of the leaf almost exactly. Again, because of the flattening that happened in the scan, you might not see it, but my drawing was surprisingly accurate as far as the size goes. Somehow I did get the stem curving in the wrong direction, but, oh, well! I liked the way the stem looked, so I didn’t correct it.

In some ways, I think I felt comfortable with this leaf as a drawing subject because I’d recently completed a similar project — the maple leaf drawn at a Gettin’ Sketchy session. That project was completed with pan pastels. Today’s drawing was done using my Prismacolor Premier colored pencils. During the Gettin’ Sketchy drawing time, I was able to follow along with an instructor; with this project I was totally on my own.

Because I don’t do much with colored pencils, my techniques for blending and shading aren’t too good, but I was very pleased with the fact that I was able to create a realistic-looking shadow. It looked really good before I tried burnishing and blending a bit, so maybe just use your imagination here. Yeah, really. It looked great. I was surprised, and I was pleased.

I could have spent a lot more time on this, picking and choosing my colors with care, and patiently adding in all the tiny specks and tears on my leaf. I chose not to do that. This was a fun project intended as an opportunity to play a bit with lighting, and overall I was immensely happy with what I had drawn.

Drawing is very much about hand-eye coordination, really. It’s the ability to see something and reproduce it with movements of the hand. The fact that I so closely got the size correct was nothing short of astounding to me.

I’ve learned now — from that botanical art website I visited — that recording precise measurements is one of the first steps a true botanical artist takes before drawing. So, sure, maybe the next time I decide to draw a leaf or a twig or another of nature’s little wonders, maybe I will get out a tape and take exact measurements. Or, maybe not. I’m more interested in “botanical art” as an opportunity to draw or paint something lovely without worrying about all those frills and “fussy bits” as Kate Berry calls them in her basic learn-to-draw book, Drawing Lessons for Beginner Artists. This was the first art book I bought in 2015 when I made the decision to learn to draw.

It’s been a good morning here in my studio. I’m very happy with my little venture into what I callΒ casual botanical drawing, and if you’re wanting perfect leaves with perfect details, you’ll want to look for another blog to follow. You won’t find any perfection here. But you will find lots of “let me try that!”, and a bit of “well, that might be interesting”, and definitely a whole lot of “oops, that didn’t work out quite the way I planned.” I love learning about art, and most of all I love those moments when I actually surprise myself with what I’ve done. Yeah, it happens. And it makes me very happy when it does.


  1. That leaf is very good, and your stem curving in the wrong direction is because you thought you were drawing what was in front of you when, in fact, you were drawing what you believed was in front of you. A very common circumstance, and it goes back to a child drawing a landscape where there is a blue band at the top (sky); a green band at the bottom (grass) … but nothing in between! They know the sky is “up there”, and the grass is “down here”. It does not cross their mind (there are exceptions of course) that the sky can actually meet the grass, and that there is no “nothingness” separating them!

    Whether that is important depends entirely on what you are trying to achieve. I have a friend who really loved sketching and she eventually sketched an animal. It was so good that I asked her if she would sketch our dog Ray (from a photograph). When sketching pets, or specific people, it becomes critical that you sketch exactly what you see, otherwise you will lose the nuances that make that person/animal an individual.

    If you ever see yourself doing portraits, then I would suggest you really focus on the subject to ensure that you only create what is there. It will be good practise for later! Keep going! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I was pleased with the shadow. That’s an area where I sometimes have problems. I don’t use colored pencils a lot, so my blending isn’t the best, and I think I “burnished” the colors a bit too soon. Still, it was fun to work in a medium I don’t normally use, and overall I was pleased with the result.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s good to try different things – keeps the brain busy! πŸ˜€
        You should be pleased with your result – if I’d tried it, you’d be hard pressed to know it was a leaf at all! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I was really surprised that (although it might not look like it between the drawing photo and the leaf scan) I had the size and proportions almost “spot on”. It makes me feel that my drawing practices are paying off. πŸ™‚ That’s a really good feeling!

      Liked by 1 person

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