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Botany and botanical art enter the digital workspace

Botany and botanical art enter the digital workspace

Niki Simpson
is an award-winning artist who has earned medals in photography and watercolor from the Royal Horticultural Society. In 2003 she began developing a technique combining digital photography and traditional botanical art. She has spent the past 12 years perfecting the art of digital botanical illustration and the creation of information-rich botanical plates she calls composite botanical illustrations.

Since 2007, Niki’s digital botanical illustrations have appeared in four books. The most recent publication, Nuphar lutea: Botanical images for the digital documentation of a taxon was published this past May.

In her beautiful new book, Niki explores different ways of observing plants and demonstrates how composite botanical illustrations can be used to describe a specific plant species–in this case Nuphar lutea (Yellow Water Lily). Twelve botanical plates are featured in her new book, each highlighting some aspect of the morphology or life cycle of the yellow water lily. Botanists, gardeners, educators and artists will find Niki’s presentations exciting and informative. Because the illustrations were inspired by the engravings found in herbals, readers will find the format of these contemporary botanical illustrations very familiar, with the exception of two modern elements. In her signature style, Niki adds a 21st-century twist to her botanical plate by adding Nuphar lutea‘s DNA sequence and barcode to what would otherwise be a very traditional format.

While my images are inspired by, and draw heavily from, the accuracy and detail found in traditional botanical art, for me, the future of botanical illustration lies in exploring the potential of the dynamic digital workspace, so that botanical illustration can fully support botanists in the future.

— Niki Simpson

Keeping with her goal to blend botany, botanical art and digital technology, Niki also discusses design, smartphones, tablets, virtual books and other digital techniques. Here is look at the topics addressed in her new book:

  • Foreward
  • Artist’s statement
  • Introduction
  • Composite illustration or image voucher of Nuphar lutea
  • Nuphar–rearranging, resizing and recombining parts
  • Nuphar–from flower to seed
  • Nuphar–taking a closer look at the flower
  • Nuphar–evolution of my floral diagram
  • Nuphar–from fruit to seed dispersal
  • Nuphar–from seed to adult
  • Nuphar–foliage
  • Nuphar–for design
  • Nuphar–poster style
  • Nuphar–herbarium specimens
  • Composite illustration of Nuphar lutea including DNA sequence data
  • Composite illustration of Nuphar lutea including DNA barcode visualization
  • Nuphar–developing interactivity by starting with a virtual book
  • Nuphar–on smartphones and tablets
  • Nuphar–digital black and white line drawing
  • Nuphar–digital hybrid images
  • Nuphar–my virtual sketchpad
  • Final Thoughts
  • Acknowledgements
  • Bibliography

If you have an interest in botanical illustration or botany education, you will appreciate this book and the path Niki is forging in botany and botanical art education.

Learn more about Niki in this interview and learn how she is expanding the future of botanical illustration through her website Visual Botany.

Nuphar - from fruit to seed dispersal, ©2016 Niki Simpson, all rights reserved

Nuphar – from fruit to seed dispersal, ©2016 Niki Simpson, all rights reserved

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A fun gift for children of all ages.

If you’ve ever led a flower dissection in your classroom or program, you know that this simple show-n-tell exercise takes a fair amount of planning because you need to shop for flowers, fill a bucket with water, pack scissors, pack paper towels and ask for a broom and trashcan so you can sweep flower parts and plant parts off the floor.

What if it didn’t need to be this way?

What if you could introduce students to plant morphology without the mess?

This is now possible thanks to biologist and illustrator Emily Coren, author of
Hey, Look! a Dandelion!, an engaging interactive guide about a plant familiar to many of us — the dandelion.

In twenty-nine creative pages, Emily masterfully guides readers through the dissection of the common dandelion. In her interactive guide, Emily calls on readers to tilt their book in all directions and to pull at its pages. She also encourages readers to blow into their book, something they do willingly without any inhibition whatsoever. With her book Emily has turned a fond childhood pastime into a very clever teachable moment.

This guide is a fun addition to any library and would make a great gift for the teacher, nature guide or garden docent in your life.

More about “Hey, Look! a Dandelion!”

Follow Emily Coren online at

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ColorfulLeavesAt first glance Colorful Leaves looks like any other coloring book. But the moment you begin to read the introduction, you discover it is not your average coloring book. It is instead a coloring book and a how-to book rolled into one nice package.

Written by writer and illustrator Gail Selfridge, Colorful Leaves is a 45-page lesson in observing leaves, transferring images and capturing Nature’s colors. Selfridge, a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), was awarded the ASBA’s Anne Ophelia Dowden education grant in 2015. The award enabled her to write Colorful Leaves so she could introduce new audiences to the world of plants through the peaceful and revealing process of leaf rubbing.

The line illustrations in Selfridge’s new book should not be viewed simply as shapes to be colored. They should be viewed as the author intended, as templates to use while exploring color media and botanical art techniques. Selfridge helps new and experienced artists with their experimentation by offering recommendations for pencils, colored pencils, markers, paint and paper. Selfridge explains:

Botanical art is an art form that can be learned and enjoyed by both children and adults, and it is a pleasurable activity that can be pursued for a lifetime. Establishing a preliminary image is often the most challenging and difficult step in this learning process. By starting with these line images, fussing over measurements and details is avoided thus allowing one to get on with learning, not only about the specimen, but also about using various art materials and techniques. These preliminary images can be repeatedly transferred and used to explore many different techniques, both traditional and digital.

Colorful Leaves can be used for personal enjoyment or it can be used by community arts programs, botanical gardens, arboretums, public schools, 4H groups, garden clubs, etc. as an educational outreach activity that provides an enjoyable experience, encourages observation of plants, and provides tools for the accurate portrayal of plants.

Included in Colorful Leaves are line illustrations for 23 trees and four shrubs. Tree genera represented are: Quercus, Platanus, Acer, Cercis, Ulmus, Populus, Fraxinus, Gingko, Aesculus, Liquidambar, Prunus, Diospyros, Morus, Carya, Pyrus, and Malus. Shrub genera represented are Euonymus, Rhus and Rubus.

This week we have the opportunity to learn from Gail Selfridge. You are invited to join the conversation. Post your questions or comments below.

Special Opportunity for Educators from Gail Selfridge

Populus deltoides © 2016 Gail Selfridge. All rights reserved

Populus deltoides © Gail Selfridge

The American Society of Botanical Artists funded Colorful Leaves, and my objective never was to make money selling it. I want to put the publication in the hands of persons who would make use of it. To that end I will send six complimentary copies (including shipping) to anyone who agrees to use them as part of an educational program in exchange for photos of the event and a short (no longer than one page) description of what they did, and the results/success of the program.

Request your complimentary copies of Colorful Leaves.
[Note: Offer no longer available]

Update February 2017

Colorful Leaves is now available for free on the ASBA website. Visit the page about Gail’s project to download a copy of the book and to read how teachers have used Colorful Leaves in their classrooms.

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Order online from local independent bookstores.

Order online from your local bookstore.

A Botanist’s Vocabulary is an illustrated guide to plants, a dictionary and an introduction to the plant sciences.

If you are familiar with Plant Identification Terminology by Harris & Harris (2001) and Hickey & King’s The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms (2001), you may be wondering how this new book compares to these two informative and indispensable standards. Allow me to come right out and say you can confidently add A Botanist’s Vocabulary as the third informative and indispensable standard to your botany-art library.

The key difference between this new title and the older titles is its focus. Co-authors Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell write for a general audience instead of an audience of mostly botanists. The authors have thoughtfully written A Botanist’s Vocabulary to to serve as a user-friendly reference for all plant enthusiasts. In the introduction, Pell and Angell explain:

We have attempted to define terms used by botanist’s, naturalists, and gardeners alike to describe plants. We have simplified and clarified as much as possible to encourage the use of a common language. The included terms mostly refer to plant structures and come from the horticultural and botanical literature and practice.

It is important to note the authors’ focus on practice. This new glossary features not only plant morphology terms, but terminology from many disciplines. In addition to words like scape, locule and whorl, are terms from at least 11 areas within the natural sciences. Here’s a short list as an example:

  • Soil science (e.g., calcareous)
  • Molecular biology (e.g., chimera)
  • Pollination biology (e.g., chiropterophily)
  • Plant ecology (e.g., clinal variation)
  • Plant taxonomy (e.g., conserved)
  • Horticulture (e.g., cultigen)
  • Genetics (e.g., hybrid swarm)
  • Tissue culture (e.g., explant)
  • Orchidology (e.g., keiki)
  • Ecology (e.g., myrmecophyte)
  • Biogeography (e.g., paleotropics)

You will not find terms like these in Harris & Harris (2001) or Hickey & King (2001). The inclusion of terms such as these helps readers see beyond the morphological features of plants and beyond botany.

Bobbi Angell’s illustrations teach as much as they explain

Copyright ©2016 by Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell. All illustrations are by Bobbi Angell. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2016 by Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell. All illustrations are by Bobbi Angell. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Journalers, botanical art enthusiasts and educators can learn a lot by studying the illustrations of scientific illustrator Bobby Angell. Lessons that can be learned include:

  • How changing the weight of a line portrays form (see all illustrations)
  • How massing leaves can relay form and density (e.g., see canopy)
  • How stippling can be used in line drawings (see all illustrations)
  • How plants can be drawn in a lively and organic way (e.g., see capitulum)
  • How depth and fullness are possible in line drawings (e.g., see mericarp)
  • How grounding a specimen and showing how it grows can be accomplished with a minimal amount of stippling (e.g., see caudiform)

I could go on and on because there is something to be learned from each illustration. However, I will not do this. I will instead encourage you to explore this new resource yourself.

A Botanist’s Vocabulary can be purchased online from your local bookstore.

Literature Cited

    Harris, James G., and Melinda Woolf Harris. 2001. Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary, 2nd ed. Spring Lake Publishing, Spring Lake, Utah.

    Hickey, Michael, and Clive Kind. 2001. The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.

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How do you even begin to describe the collection at the Glass Flower Gallery at Harvard University?

When a video leaves you without words, imagine what seeing this collection does to you when you see it in person. I’ll have to get myself to Harvard some day because beginning tomorrow, the collection reopens to the public after undergoing a major renovation.

According to Harvard Staff Writer, Alvin Powell, the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at the Harvard Museum of Natural History was created between 1886 and 1936. These delicate, extremely life-like glass models were created for teaching purposes and boy are they good teachers!

Learn more about this collection and watch a wonderful video in Putting the Glass Flowers in new light, an article written by Powell for the Harvard Gazette.

Many thanks to the kind reader who brought attention to the grand reopening of this historic collection.

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A full week of art and science at GNSI Santa Cruz.  This is only a hint. Click for more!

A full week of art and science at GNSI Santa Cruz. This is only a hint. Click for more!

The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators is coming to California!

The 38th Annual GNSI Conference will be at the University of California Santa Cruz July 3-9, 2016. If you like all things science and art, you don’t want to miss this conference.

The three-day core conference will be held July 3-6, 2016. Over the course of only a few days, there will be seven keynote addresses, 37 breakout sessions, an auction, a collaborative chalk mural party, the ever-popular and always inspiring portfolio sharing session and a techniques showcase where scientific illustrators generously share what they know with conference attendees.

Breakout sessions will address topics ranging from iPad use to science education outreach to 2D animation to nanoparticles to invasive plants to infographics to botanical illustration.

Several half-day and all-day workshops are scheduled for July 7-8. These focused workshops will address topics such as digital techniques, lab and field sketching, science comics, traditional media such as silverpoint, and the teaching of visual art in K-12 schools.

Optional field trips include whale watching, kayaking, hiking, wine tasting and visits to landmarks such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Henry Cowell State Park.

This brief mention does not do the conference schedule justice. Download the schedule to see it for yourself. There is so much to see, learn and do.

Go to GNSI Santa Cruz!

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The North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) is highlighting the artwork and educational contributions of scientific illustrator and educator Kathleen Garness. The conservation center is a collaborative effort by the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Botanic Garden. Its focus is to ensure the survival of orchids native to the United States and Canada.

Fifteen of Kathleen’s paintings and illustrations are now on view in the NAOCC Gallery. Visit the gallery online to enjoy an artist-led tour of this exhibition.

Kathleen is a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and the American Society of Botanical Artists. In 2012 she received an education grant to bring botanical art experiences and materials to underserved audiences. Kathleen writes about this project in Take Botanical Art into the Community.


Kathleen Garness illustrates guide to plants of the Chicago region

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