Research 3 – Contemporary Botanical Illustration

Research Point 3 – page 60 – traditional versus new technology for illustrating biomedical/botanical illustration.

Visit the Wellcome Trust charity website and find examples of illustrators who have adapted their image-making approach to accommodate advances in imaging technologies. 

Perhaps look at when new technology was brought into illustrating work at a point in time or find contemporary examples of illustrators working with new technologies.

Compare it to more traditional image-making approaches.

Botanical Illustration Methods  Contemporary Methods  
Hand coloured copper engraving Coloured engraving Black chalk and watercolour on vellum Plates Pencils Oils Paper Lithographs/chromolithographs etching inks charcoalprinting Digital art brushes Linocutting Watercolour Photography collage Oils Acrylics Markers Pencils Charcoals/chalks Gouache Inks    

Most of the artists searched for in relation to Botanical illustration, seemed to focus on using a variety of techniques that were used in the past.  The use of watercolour, pencils, gouache and inks are particularly common, and although not something very new they are the most popular form of presenting botanical illustrations.

For new technology, digital tools have become more sophisticated in the last couple of decades.  Photoshop was introduced to the world in February 1990, and since then has been a dominant tool in the creative industry for manipulating images, creating digital art and adjusting photos.

For contemporary artists, watercolour is still a popular choice but there are a much wider range of botanical illustrations made using linocut.  This is interesting, as it is a lengthy process and there isn’t much room for exceptional detail that is often featured in botanical illustrations.  It appears that the linocut printing format offers a twist on the illustration and often is expressed in black and white form, even though the plant is clearly not black.

However, digital formats have paved the way for more detail and so botanical illustrations created using photography and digital formats, offer much more colour and detail that is important for recording information.

Using new technology means that we record the plant as it is and get a truer expression of it’s colour and details.  When we use watercolour, we get a softer colour as it is hard to get the pigment to match and then there is the consideration of how watercolour fades in light. 

Using oils means there is a stronger pigment and room for manipulation, but it is harder to get finer details and the medium takes a while to dry.

Using pencils can give a stronger pigment if the quality is good and it can be built up in layers but it is pencil so smudging can occur if not stored correctly.

Using inks runs the risk of fading or blurring if water comes into contact with the paper.  Most pens are waterproof these days, so it is much easier to do a detailed drawing and then use a wash of colour over it without destroying the linework.  The ink can fade over time.

Plates, etchings, and engravings take time and there is very little room for error. They produce beautiful results but again this is costly in both time and money.

Overall, photography and digital formats for drawing offer up a wide range of benefits.  It is clear that the biggest one is the level of detail that can be obtained from photography.  Using Photoshop, the image can be manipulated and a similar format to botanical illustration layouts achieved.  This ensures the best form of recording the plant and not missing any details. 

For drawing it digitally, a portable tool that doesn’t require any set up or water or additional hassle, is a positive situation.  The drawback of course is in charging the equipment and making sure that you save your work regularly.

Overall, the way forward is a mix of everything.  For contemporary artists in the Botanical Illustration field, they record their plants and can then proceed to return to more traditional forms of the image creation process while ensuring they have the highest quality for reference.

Drawing in the field and as you go is a wonderful experience though, and that might be something that can’t be substituted for new technology.  A simple pencil and paper format fits in your pocket and is lighter than any tablet, and there is a sense of satisfaction from connecting to these tools that the digital format will never replace.