What is Botanical Art?

Published on July 29th, 2019 by Judy Thomas

A blog series by Plants of the James River Project

Blog 7: What is Botanical Art?

I have been writing about Newton Ancarrow and our project in this blog series. But I’ve never specifically discussed botanical art. There are many misunderstandings about botanical art. In order to understand what it is, I must make a distinction between three things: botanical illustration, botanical art, and floral painting. All three are beautiful ways to depict plants. Botanical illustration is a scientific discipline in which all parts of the plant in all stages of its life cycle must be shown. It is typically used in scientific publications to inform the world of scientists about the plant. Botanical illustration relies on precision and accuracy, including measurement, botanically correct depiction of plant parts, veins, petals, and leaves. Buds, flowers, roots, and seeds are often shown, often enlarged and labeled. It is typically done in black and white, that is, pen and ink.

Botanical art also has the same requirements as to accuracy, but does not need to depict all parts of the plant in all stages of its development. There is a much wider choice of media in botanical art, from watercolor to colored pencil, metalpoint, acrylic and oil paints, and even mixed media.  

Floral painting, while beautiful, does not have the same requirements regarding accuracy. Floral painters can use any media.

Our exhibits and our work are considered botanical art, though many of us also do some botanical illustration. So, now you know! When you come to see our exhibits you’ll have a better appreciation of botanical art.

Judy Thomas

Read more in this series:
Blog 1: What in the World is the PJRP?
Blog 2: Who is Newton Ancarrow?
Blog 3: Newton and the Wildflowers
Blog 4: Were these just pretty pictures?
Blog 5: What effect did Newton Ancarrow have?
Blog 6: How is the Plants of the James River Project Honoring the Legacy of Newton Ancarrow?