Scientific illustrations

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

Pencil drawing of a flowering plant some of the image is coloured with gouache

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 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.

  1. Look at some of the examples on this page by Sydney Parkinson, an illustrator on Cook’s voyage to Australia, and Margaret Flockton, whose illustrations are a very important part of the National Herbarium of New South Wales' plant specimen collection

  2. Watch a video about the work of a botanical illustrator at the Herbarium

  3. Then create your very own botanical illustrations! 

Watch our video to learn more about botanical illustration