For my BFA thesis, I’ve been Illustrating and writing a guide to aquatic invasive plants. My process for each illustration usually starts with an herbarium specimen. I don’t have access to living plants right now, so herbarium specimens are the next best thing.
An herbarium specimen is a dried pressed plant used as a historical account of what plants were growing where at what time and what they looked like. For my purposes, I am most interested in what the plants look like. I need to get a close look at all of the identifying characteristics.
First, I will leaf through (pun intended) all of the available specimens of a particular species. Sometimes there are a hundred or more specimens. This plant, Egeria densa, actually only had one specimen available at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where I’ve been working on my thesis. After picking out specific specimens and deciding which pieces to draw from on each herbarium sheet, I sketch out the plant.
In this example, the herbarium specimen was covered in dirt and sand, which made it hard to see the details. While sketching, I mainly just wanted to figure out how many leafs were where and in what shape. I also may simplify the original plant specimen, cutting out extraneous details.
After the initial sketch to help me figure out what I’m looking at, I make a clean pencil line drawing. In this step, I reconstruct the plant, making it look more alive and fresh, instead of dead and dried up. I also add structural details, like a flower, that may have been missing in the specimen.
After I’m happy with the line drawing, I move to ink. I place the pencil line drawing under a sheet of vellum and ink the line work with a 005 micron. When the line work is done, I remove the pencil drawing from underneath the vellum and start stippling. The stipples build up value to show texture and light on form.
The ink drawing shown above is almost finished. I still have to add the flower! When it’s all done, I’ll scan it in, clean it up in photoshop and place it in the layout for the guide.
So that’s what I’ve been working on for the past few months! I have to draw 37 of these things all together. I have A LOT of work to do! Hopefully it all gets done by May 5!!