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Scientific Illustration

It is not always easy to tell apart artistic and scientific illustration, but the difference is mainly their goal.  

Drawing is primarily for enjoyment and artistic expression. It can have many different styles, and can be anything you want it to be! In contrast, the aim of scientific illustration is to give an accurate picture of a subject for study or reference. Scientific illustrations must look realistic, be very detailed, have simple and clear lines and shading, and they are often labelled. 

One of the ways scientific illustration is used is in drawing plants, known as botanical illustration. Plants all have unique features such as leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. Botanical illustrations show these features clearly, which makes that plant easier to identify. So, illustration can play an important part in science!  

Although scientific illustrations are for a specific purpose, they are often very beautiful and can be considered works of art too. Look at some of the examples on this page by Sydney Parkinson, an illustrator on Cook’s voyage to Australia, Margaret Flockton, whose illustrations are a very important part of the National Herbarium of New South Wales plant specimen collection, and watch a video about the work of a botanical illustrator at the Herbarium. Then create your very own botanical illustrations!  

See a Botanical Illustrator at work. 

Activities - Scientific Illustration

1. Do a quiz

Test your knowledge about scientific and artistic illustrations.

2. Be a Botanical Illustrator

Watch the video of a Botanical Illustrator and learn some of the techniques that are used in her work. Write down three new things that you have learnt from the video.  


3. Draw a plant

Choose a plant in your area to draw. It must be able to be accurately measured. 
Try tracing over the plant with tracing paper. Add the 1:1 scale and a title. Make sure to accurately show the plant’s unique features. Label the plant according to its different features, parts etc.  

Artistic and Scientific Illustration Game
The scientific illustrations for this game were sourced from the 2020 Margaret Flockton Award entrants:
Gastrodia sp. nov., (ink) by Deborah Lambkin, United Kingdom
Pinus sylvestris (pencil) by Susanee Deekrajang, Thailand
Luffa aegyptiaca (pencil) by Claudia Carceles Roman, Spain
Begonia langenbergiana (ink) by Joelcio Freitas, Brazil
Zea mays var. indentata (digital) by Lucia Garces, Grenada

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