Botanical and Scientific Illustrator

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Botanical and Scientific Illustrator

The botanical or scientific illustrator creates accurate artworks under the close supervision of the scientist or author. Most works are made for publication in books or journals, but some may be for transparencies, charts, maps, diagrams, models, or murals. Curiosity, patience, and precision are required, as well as artistic creativity. This career could be ideal for people who enjoy spending hours looking for minute details on pressed specimens in a museum, or relish the idea of sketching live ones in the wild. Much satisfaction can come from seeing publication of a drawing that is both beautiful and scientifically accurate.

The work of the botanical or scientific illustrator may be found in publications (particularly those dealing with plant taxonomy) and exhibitions of natural history museums, nature centers, and parks; and also in periodicals devoted to gardening, cooking, and health. Good artists accurately and artistically convey the author's ideas. Illustrators may have to decide how to show sections, magnifications, and various processes such as pollination or seed dispersal. A preliminary drawing could involve hours of comparing specimens and measurements under a microscope.

For persons interested in pursuing a career as a botanical or scientific illustrator, recommended courses at the high school level include basic design and drawing and science. Knowledge of Latin may be useful with scientific names; Spanish or Portuguese would be invaluable for work in the New World tropics. Computer graphics are opening additional career opportunities. The illustrator should also learn about printing techniques and will have to address issues of copyright and contracts.

Numerous universities and other institutions offer education in this field. Undergraduate degrees and master's degrees in botanical and scientific illustration are available. Various certificate programs, diplomas, courses, and internships are also offered at many institutions. The names of excellent private teachers, particularly in Great Britain, may be obtained from the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI), American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), and Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

A position might involve duties other than illustration, such as teaching, program and exhibition planning, collection curation, and writing. Many scientific illustrators work freelance, especially at first. The beginner may have to negotiate with a publisher before settling on a fee (a few hundred dollars in 1999) for a drawing.

see also Herbaria; Taxonomy.

James J. White


American Society of Botanical Artists. [Online] Available at

Blunt, Wilfrid, and William T. Stearn. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Antique Collectors' Club, 1994.

Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. [Online] Available at

Hodges, Elaine R. S., ed. The Guild Handbook of Scientific Illustration. New York: VanNostrand Reinhold, 1989.

Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation. [Online] Available at

West, Keith. How to Draw Plants: The Techniques of Botanical Illustration. London: Herbert Press in association with the British Museum (Natural History), 1983.