Tulip botanical illustration

There’s nothing like a deadline to get you motivated, even if it’s just a self-imposed one.

I hadn’t drawn tulips before, and for a few weeks in the early months of the pandemic several local grocery stores were often filled with tulips of all colours. I bought one bunch, then another, and yet another, partly for the joy of flowers during a stressful period of time, but also as inspiration. As I finished drawing one tulip, I chose the next from the latest bunch I had bought (tulips don’t generally last that long I find, plus I draw quite slowly) and ended up with three different colours, which I was quite happy about.

At one point I posted what I thought was the finished creation on my instagram account. Well, I misspoke, I actually hadn’t ‘finally finished’ the three tulips. As pleased as I was with the tulip colours – the purple, pink and red petals were pretty much as I wanted – I knew the leaves weren’t quite right. I took on board some helpful suggestions from an online illustration group I had joined, Draw Botanical, and in fact darkened up the leaves substantially. Suddenly Faber Castell Polychromos Dark Indigo had become one of my favourite pencils, a beautifully rich shade that adds depth to the many greens that inevitably populate botanical art.

Tulip botanical drawing

By adding dark indigo, I darkened the leaves to the point where I was happier with the shading

As the world closed in, and my work temporarily halted (hopefully soon to resume), drawing has unexpectedly come to the fore. As has my voracious appetite for yet more pencils; who knew there was such a glorious variety of colours, brands and quality. Although it takes me a long time to quit distracting myself and settle down to the latest illustration, once I’m there it completely absorbs me. Anxiety and confusion about what’s happening dissipates and I can feel the stress unwind its tendrils from my nervous system.

It’s funny how things you don’t really register at the time as being that significant will come to play a bigger role at a later date. As a gift a couple of years ago Scott had bought me two books on botanical illustration, I can’t even really remember why. Both turned out to be by artists who I constantly refer back to, and who are experts in their field: Ann Swan and Wendy Hollender (who runs the aforementioned Draw Botanical). They also focus on coloured pencils, rather than watercolour techniques – unusual in the world of botanical art. Gradually I’ve added a few more books by other artists to my reference collection, and have something like a hundred or more coloured pencils: Faber Castell, Caran d’Ache, Prismacolor. It never seems like enough.

I’ve become a little more observant of nature, looking into the details more. How many petals a certain flower has for instance, or where exactly the leaves are placed, or what insects might be attracted to that particular plant. It’s been a bit of a revelation to consciously notice the mathematical, ordered nature of nature, so to speak. Although on an abstract level I was somewhat aware of the idea of patterns in nature, I really had no clue about, say, the patterns of spirals in pine cones, which follow the ‘Fibonacci Sequence’. Discovered by Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci during the thirteenth century, the sequence occurs often in nature and in the manmade world. A pine cone will start with one scale, then follow the sequence of 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc. I have yet to draw a pine cone, but I think now knowing there is such a pattern can only help. Nature truly is astonishing.

It’s been nurturing to draw, but it’s also slotted in well with the general downturn in busyness (although that seems to be shifting, already the traffic seems to be up to pre-Covid 19 levels in my area of British Columbia). It’s made me slow down, and has been a way to connect to nature when it hasn’t been quite so easy or advisable to go further afield to hike or bike. A sliver of a silver lining.