Art & Literature


When you hear 'botanical art', you might envision a stiff painting of a plant floating in midair with some text around it, probably framed in gold, and hung in a grid in your grandmother's dining room.

Well, we're not talking about your granny's botanicals!

Not that they aren't lovely, but let's take botanicals into the 21st century.

The scientific illustrations of the past were rendered carefully with paint on paper, but today’s contemporary botanical art is entirely different and full of masterful creativity. Now that we've catalogued most of the world's flora and fauna, we have moved on to creating beautiful floral art, just for the sake of beauty itself.

And not just paint on paper...

Riotous celebrations of botanical beauty such as Isabelle Menin’s ethereal flowerscapes pull you into another world… Her densely layered digital imagery is both intriguing and peaceful.

Another hypnotic world is created by Rogan Brown. His incredibly intricate sculptures, representative of the flora around us, are crafted patiently from paper. He admits, “I am inspired in part by the tradition of scientific drawing [but] these are always superseded by the work of the imagination”.

Traditional botanical illustration captures the beauty of the natural world in intricate detail - but it's not just a pretty was created as a scientific tool for botanists. Moreover, it is a crucial tool in the conservation of species.

Botanical illustrators are artists second —they are explorers, discoverers, educators - first.

Documenting flowers may not seem so thrilling now, but take yourself back in time, when the only flowers you’d ever seen were the ones growing in your own yard. Artists traveled with explorers and scientists to new lands during the Age of Discovery (15th-18th centuries) to document exotic ‘new’ plants and flowers. In the 18th century, “so many new plants were being discovered, there was a desperation to bring order to this chaos”! Check out this quick video by the Natural History Museum.

And, as is maddeningly typical when looking back on history, there’s a chance to champion women here: “Women have played a significant role in the development of plant science through botanical art, yet many have not received due recognition for their work as compared to their male counterparts.” Explore the work of women botanical artists in this Google Arts and Culture article.

Now back to some more contemporary botanical art!

Why can’t flowers be a tad badass? Thrush Holmes paints large, raw, irreverent works using oil, enamel and spray paint on canvas, and adds actual neon for punch.

‘Landart’ refers to ephemeral art made from foraged natural materials. Hannah Bullen-Ryner creates fleeting ground sculptures using botanicals as her brushstrokes!

If a flower could take a selfie….. These are true ‘plant portraits’ by James Lahey.

And actual photography – why not? Using the latest in high speed photography tech, Martin Klimas captures a split-second of transformation. His intent is to capture not the destruction, but the precise moment of change.

If you love botanicals, but don’t particularly want them on your wall, this stunningly gorgeous Phaidon book is a visual celebration of botanical art throughout history. Watch this intriguing video preview

Various flowering plants_ 1792

For everything you ever wanted to know about botanical art and illustration, you can visit the self-proclaimed ‘top compendium’ of botanical art past and present by Katherine Tyrrell. She also has a list of her Top Picks for currently working botanical artists in North America.

And if you just can’t get enough of botanicals, millions of vintage botanical illustrations from around the world are available to download for free from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

You'll never look at a flower the same way again, right?

As an Art Consultant, Rachel Doner-Turrin plays the roles of matchmaker between ... artist and art lover.