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A botanical illustrator is a person who paints, sketches or otherwise illustrates botanical subjects. Typical illustrations are in watercolour, but may also be in oils, ink or pencil, or a combination of these. The image may be life size or not, the scale is often shown, and may show the habit and habitat of the plant, the upper and reverse sides of leaves, and details of flowers, bud, seed and root system.
Botanical illustration is sometimes used as a type for attribution of a botanical name to a taxon. The inability of botanists to conserve certain dried specimens, or restrictions on safe transport, have meant illustrations have been nominated as the type for some names. Many minute plants, which may only be viewed under a microscope, are often identified by an illustration to overcome the difficulties in using slide mounted specimens. The standards for this are by international agreement (Art 37.5 of the Vienna Code, 2006)...
The use of illustrations was frequently seen in the herbals, seed catalogues and popular works of natural history. The illustrations produced during the eighteenth and nineteenth century are regarded as both appealing and scientifically valid. The finer detail of the printing processes, greatly improving at this time, allowed artists such as Franz and Ferdinand Bauer to depict the minute aspects of the subject. The use of exploded details would further illustrate the description given in the accompanying text. These details allowed a non scientific audience to go some way in identifying the species, the widening interest in natural history and horticulture was an inducement to the production of many Floras and regular publications.
Many books and publication continued to use the illustrators, even after printed matter began to incorporate photography. It would be many years before the colour printing would equal the illustrators plates. The accuracy and craft of the illustrators had developed in tandem with the botanists concerned, the work came to be accepted as important to the botanists and their institutions. The illustrated publication, Curtis's Botanical Magazine (1787), was to eventually appoint an official artist. The 230-year-old magazine, long associated with the Linnaean Society and Kew Gardens, is now primarily one of finer botanical illustration. A stream of the finest illustrators to appear in print have been featured in the magazine.
The contribution of botanical illustrators continues to be praised and sought, very fine examples continue to be produced. In the 1980s, Celia Rosser undertook to illustrate every Banksia species for the masterwork, The Banksias. When another species was described after its publication, Banksia rosserae, it was named to honour her mammoth accomplishment. Other illustrators, such as the profuse illustrator Matilda Smith, have been specifically honoured for this work. In 1972 the Smithsonian Institution hired its first botanical illustrator, Alice Tangerini.
Notable botanical illustrators include: