Botanical Illustration with the Preserve Ambassadors

Last Friday, five UNF students joined the ELP’s Preserve Ambassadors Team—partnered with Florida Master Naturalist and artist, Sarah Crooks—on UNF’s nature trails for a botanical illustration workshop. The free event started with a discussion of what botanical illustration is and why it’s used, followed by a guided hike on the trails. From the insight of Ms. Crooks, and project leaders Molly O’Brien and Kyle Kenney, we learned a lot about the flora and fauna of our preserve and how to identify our surroundings. After some inspiration, it was time to put our observation skills to the test with some leaf sketching.

Without warning, we were given 2 minutes to sketch our leaves from memory. When we don’t remember every detail of something, our brains will fill the gaps with made up details. One of my major improvised inaccuracies was vein placement; I made them all branching from the middle rather than from the stem base [pictured: First attempt]. We were made aware that we don’t pay too close attention to our surroundings if we don’t find it necessary, which is something I think most people should strive to work on.

Ms. Crooks attempted to bring us outside of our heads and our habits of control and had us draw the leaf solely based on what we saw. She had us imagine we were tiny ants exploring all the details and boundaries of the leaf. While our eyes moved around the leaf, our hands drew on paper – instructed not to look at the paper we were drawing on. I got a little lost and had trouble ending my leaf where we started, but it was a fun attempt [pictured: Second attempt]

She led us through some warm-up exercises and shared techniques, like continuous tone shading and the weighted line, that would bring our drawings to life and help capture the plant’s true essence (with some more practice of course).  For the final sketch attempt, we could look at both our paper and our leaves. These drawings were far different from the first, more detailed and realistic [pictured: Third attempt]. It was as if these leaves had a unique character to them that we had overlooked in our first attempt. I can only imagine how much more we could have developed our drawings with more time and practice, but the brief time drawing was enough to clear our minds and make us all feel recharged and relaxed. Do yourselves a favor and spend some time with nature; and when you do, open your eyes and really “see” all that’s around you.

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