27 tips for drawing flowers, plants & nature

Illustrators including Johanna Basford and Kristjana S Williams reveal techniques and approaches for producing beautiful, powerful drawings of the natural world.


I think the best way to capture organic shapes and forms is to draw by hand, then digitalise in the final stages for delivery to the client (as art directors prefer TIFFs to inky envelopes).

I start off by sketching the flower with my Staedtler Rotary [Mechanical] pencil. I use a 0.5 lead and draw on Daler-Rowney layout paper. The smooth, white surface is a little transparent, which is important for the next stages but also texture free – so the ink doesn't feather or bleed like with cartridge papers.

Once I'm happy with the sketch, I lay a new sheet of paper over the top and redraw using Staedtler pigment liners, usually a 0.2, 0.1 and 0.05 for the really intricate bits.

I used to ink directly over the top of the pencil sketch, then attempt to erase the graphite, but this new method leaves you with a super crisp black and white drawing - all the better for scanning.

Johanna Basford (UK)

Finally, I scan the drawing to Photoshop at between 300dpi to 1,200dpi, depending on the scale of the final application. I scan in colour, then Desaturate and tweak the Brightness and Contrast until it's crisp, then make any last tweaks digitally – erasing smudges and tidying up lines.

Johanna Basford (UK)


I start with a very quick sketch, scan it and open it in Photoshop. I then add colours to see what colour palette works for the image that I'm going to make. Based on that, I start to cut out paper to develop a collage.

I often add textures so that the outcome looks more painterly and handmade and try to stick to simple shapes. I usually follow my intuition, so often the outcome is little bit different from the sketch.

Right: A work in progress shot of Hye Jin Chung’s piece Collectors.

Hye Jin Chung (NYC)

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The idea for this illustration was a woman collecting plants. I did a real quick thumbnail just to figure out the composition of the whole image. I decided to use a minimal colour palette and chose to use mainly green and yellow. (I feel somehow distracted if I use too many colours for paper-cut collage work.

This image is happening in a fantasy landscape, so I used bold shapes and didn't worry about accurate perspective. However, [to give a sense of foreground and background], I used darker colours for the back and brighter colours for the front. Once I decided what images to include, I cut them piece by piece and arranged them on the paper and started to glue one by one from the bottom layer to top layer.

I took a picture so that I knew where to glue. Once I’d glued everything, I scanned it and it was done.

Right: The final piece, Collectors.

Hye Jin Chung (NYC)


I use Cretacolor watercolour pencils and Faber-Castell colour pencils, Dr. Ph. Martin's watercolour inks and Stonehenge sketch pads.

I take some pictures of plants if they have unusual shapes or colors but mostly I just Google for online reference materials.

Hye Jin Chung (NYC)


Refreshing and changing your resources every now and again can freshen up your illustrations, and introduce you to new styles. Collect a variety of books to use as reference material, and try introducing contemporary colours to give your botanical drawings a modern edge.

Dawn Cooper (UK)

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I produce my illustrations by drawing pencil outlines in a sketchbook, which I render into detailed black ink drawings, before transferring them into Photoshop and adding colour. 

Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens are far and beyond my favourite pens to draw with. I find using a range of different nib shapes and widths helpful when doing botanical drawings, but in particular a fairly fine pen for adding detail.

Dawn Cooper (UK)


Always draw from life. Hold the specimen in your hand so you may turn it around to study all the angles and better understand its structure.

Noel Pugh (UK)


Capture larger forms first, details second. But hurry up and draw before the plant wilts!

Noel Pugh (UK)

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Sakura Pigma Micron pens and Winsor & Newton watercolours are very compatible.

Noel Pugh (UK)


I draw with Pilot G-Tec pens. I love them. And I use Daler-Rowney heavyweight drawing paper. Since I draw by hand I tend to draw most objects separately (so that there is room for changes) and then I cut all the objects out and put everything together in Photoshop.

Malin Rosenqvist (Stockholm)


It’s a luxury to be able to have the physical plant or flower to draw from, however when that’s not possible I use the internet and I have a collection of plant books that I look at. I sketch in pencil first, simplifying shapes but keeping things recognisable.

Malin Rosenqvist (Stockholm)

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If I am working on a job for a client I’ll sketch first but if it’s a personal project I’ll usually just start drawing with an idea of what I want to do and then experiment much more with the composition in photoshop, go back and draw more stuff if necessary and then complete it. Sort of like making a collage with my own drawings.

Malin Rosenqvist (Stockholm)


I like to add a slight sense of fantasy to my botanical illustrations. Sometimes it can be as subtle as a few exaggerated curls or twists to the stem. Other times i’ll re-imagine the plant entirely.

It’s enjoyable to pick out the elements, shapes and textures that you find inspiring in plant life and use those to create something new.

Katie Scott (UK)


I usually make various compositions of animal or plant shapes. After making several rough pencil drafts of the general layout of the illustration, I start by painting each element using watercolours, adding details and finishing touches with coloured pencils and markers.

Darker hues of blue and green help to differentiate lighter and darker areas. Photoshop then enhances the tone, colours and contrast with increased intensity.

Vladimir Stankovic (FI)

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I find watercolour pencils can take heavy pressure upon the paper surface, fine point tip markers, ink and small-tip-sized Rapidograph pens are great for finer lines.

I love to apply water before starting to draw with coloured pencils as that way you can draw freely and add dots, dashes and control the pencil tip, and take advantage of the unpredictable effect created by watercolour stains and splashes.

Vladimir Stankovic (FI)


Luckily I have been surrounded by nature all my life and started noticing its beauty a long time ago, so creating actual nature collections and taking photographs of the critters and plants I would find as been an ongoing process.

Much of the reference material I use are the things I have actually seen, and most of the time, preserved and collected.

Vladimir Stankovic (FI)


Through observation, you will discover that everything in nature has interesting features and characteristics which have their distinct purpose and reason: the shape, the colour or the pattern. These visual features are something that artists have frequently taking inspiration from and incorporated within their work.

If you focus on making an engaging shape and form before applying colour, texture and creating depth will come easier.

Vladimir Stankovic (FI)

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The piece included here was for the World Of Interiors, for their Journal Of A Collector section. The article looked at the golden years of Botanical Illustration in the 19th century, when explorers and Illustrators documented all manner of species upon their travels.

Nick White (UK)


Normally I would advise artists to turn off their computers, go out into nature and draw before you do anything else. In general, without proper drawings to work from, any other shortcuts / tips, whether in real life or on the computer, are useless.

But in contrast to that advice, this illustration has less to do with the accuracy of the drawings, instead I tried to imitate or reference Botanical Illustrations of yesteryear, by using similar techniques used by classic Botanical illustrators. Like varying the scale of the specimens and mixing pencil drawings and gouache on old paper.

Nick White (UK)


Often the drawings and real life specimens collected by 19th century explorers and botanical illustrators were factually inaccurate, whether in scale or biologically so. This aspect really appeals to me. So for the final images I’ve mixed real life species and made up ones, like the bird-fish and fish-birds.

Nick White (UK)

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My advice would be to start from a strong solid base to carry different elements together.  Harmony is created and all things will sit in balance, complementing one another while still creating a bold, graphic piece of work.

Kristjana S.Willams (UK)


Using my piece Hjartar Tre as an example (on the previous slide, with a detail right) I used a strong vectorised image as a base.  In doing so I was able to harmonise the collage of a vast amount of mediums included in this print: wood carvings, photographs, engravings, real life scans (twigs, leaves, flowers) and hand drawings.

Kristjana S.Willams (UK)


When creating a piece, first I choose the flowers or plants I need for the illustration. I mostly draw from pictures in books. After that I close the books and only use my sketches as reference material.

I make an outline drawing on one sheet of paper and then place another over it on a lightbox. On this new sheet I colour the drawing using Ecoline liquid watercolour inks.

Astrid Yskout (BE)

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I just use the ink colours that happens to be in front of me – black in this case (see the previous slide). The tint doesn’t matter very much because I scan both sheets into Photoshop and change the colours of the painted one [like I have here], using the Duotone image mode.

Astrid Yskout (BE)


Last off, I fit them together and make some final adjustments to contrast, colours and brightness.

Astrid Yskout (BE)


I like to cut off plants and flowers around the edges of an illustration, so you get the feeling you’re in the middle of the scene. This adds depth, and encourages the viewer to feel more connected to the drawing.

Astrid Yskout (BE)

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I use very simple materials for drawing. I love Caran d’Ache mechanical pencils, and use Ecoline liquid watercolour inks and small brushes for colouring.
I work in Photoshop CS5 and use my Wacom Intuos4 a lot.

Astrid Yskout (BE)


I usually have a specific tone in mind before I start colouring the illustration. For example, I could think the global tone of the illustration should be purple. Then I start searching different tints that go well together with this colour until I have a nice colour palette, eg purple, pink and orange.

Astrid Yskout (BE)