Greener Spaces Better Places blog

Drawing botanicals with Edith Rewa

Greener Spaces Better Places friend and incredibly talented artist, Edith Rewa Barrett, gives us her three top tips for drawing plants like a pro.

Header image credit: Edith Rewa Barrett, @edithrewa

It’s safe to say that we’ve been fans of Edith’s work for a while now! A talented artist, textile designer and fellow plant-lover, Edith specialises in capturing the beauty of botanicals – everything from detailed foliage and flowers, to entire plants – onto paper and fabric.

We came across her incredible work most recently in Leaf Supply’s brand-new plant bible, Plantopedia (check out interview about the book with the Leaf Supply ladies, Sophia and Lauren, here). The partnership goes to show – when creative plant-lovers come together to share their love of green, the most beautiful things emerge!

Feeling inspired to pick up both a pencil and a plant, we sat down with Edith to find out how she approaches the art of botanical illustration, how her plant collection keeps her calm and focused, and her top tips and hints for those needing a helping hand to get started on a illustrative project of their own.

Image credit: Natalie McComas

Edith, where do you find motivation or a starting point when you’re kicking off a new project? 

Most of my work stems from the natural world, and that is where I feel most alive and excited – so being with the plant, or in a landscape is always the best motivation for me. The best work I do comes from when I can immerse myself in the real thing!

I also love doing research by hand – collating a little board of clippings, postcards, pages from books. It’s a great way to be really tactile with your art.

How do plants inspire you creatively in ways other subjects don’t? What’s so special about plants and flowers?

Sometimes it feels like I am following an invisible trail of moments and experiences that make me feel alive, and give me that spark and oomph to want to translate to paper and textiles. Over time, this trail has always led me back to plants and the landscapes they exist in.

In particular, I feel a real pull to share, celebrate and protect the diversity and wonderful peculiarities of our Australian native plantscapes in my work.

Image credit: Edith Rewa Barrett

Tell us a bit more about your craft – do you have favourite mediums or tools? 

A technical pencil and a thin black pen are my go-to favourite tools – I like how accessible they are, and that I can just carry them around with me easily. I love brush and Indian ink for looser work, too, and have been dabbling in digital illustration via Procreate and an iPad this year as well.

It’s nice to have different tools for different applications, and I’m always keen to try new tools… it encourages a good sense of play!

So we know that one of the mental health benefits of plants is boosted creativity, productivity, attention span and improved mood. Do you see these findings reflected in your experience? 

Absolutely! For me – especially after a week of work – being creative with my plant collection at home is so meditative. I love how practical and satisfying it is, and at the core of it is a sense of nurturing and entwining plants to grow into my everyday spaces.

I have a home studio, so it is really important to me that my home space has the right ‘feeling’ before I start work.

I find that a perfect ten minute drawing break during the day might be shifting some plants around and tending to their needs. A satisfying and productive moment, that is just the right amount of a refresh to sit me back down at my desk and get back to work.

I also love those small moments of noticing – for example, when I might brush past a delicate maidenhair fern or see the shadow of a monstera dancing on the roof in a new way. They’re like precious seconds of wonder peppered through the day.

Image credit: Edith Rewa Barrett

We know you’re always on the lookout for unknown, or lesser known landscapes to capture in your art – have you come across any interesting plants lately that have surprised you?

Absolutely! Being in south-east Queensland for the last couple of years has really surprised me. I think it is easy to just think of Queensland as being tropical, but I have been so delighted by the diversity of landscapes here from tropical to coastal heathland, swamps, arid areas and the granite belt, forests and woodlands – just to name a few.

Some favourite plants that I have had the pleasure of sitting with have been mostly located in the Coastal Wallum Heathlands (this ecosystem is so incredible and occurs nowhere else in the world!!) – Baloskion tetraphyllum is great swamp grass, Acacia hubbardiana is a stand-out extravagant wattle, and the Mirbelia rubiifolia would win the prize for tiniest, most exquisite bush surprise!

Alright – we want to get down to the nitty-gritty! Botanical illustration can be daunting for someone who’s never tried it. What are your top three practical tips, tricks or hacks for approaching it?

  1. Observing and being with the specimen you are wanting to illustrate, and thinking about what it is you want to communicate is such a nice way to start. Is it the texture of the underside of a leaf? Is it the margin of a leaf or just the bloom perhaps? Is it the feeling you have when you look at it? Or maybe you love it when the light hits it in a certain way. What part of this plant do you want to feature on your page?
  2. If you are feeling daunted it can be helpful to break it down into smaller, more achievable parts. Before I start illustrating a plant I don’t know so well, I like to do mini-sketches of parts of the plants separately. I might look at how the leaf attaches to the stem, I might draw just the one flower head but from a few different perspectives or trial some different texture techniques. From this I create a sort of palette on the page, so I can then almost draw the plant without referring to it. This can be great for sketching in the field and then taking your ‘notes’ back to your studio to finish off the drawing.
  3. Lastly, keep in mind that botanical illustration can look however you want it to – and that it’s different for everyone. You don’t need to follow a certain style or aesthetic. For me, it’s really about communicating why you’re drawn to that plant in a way that feels true to you!

So there you have it – no matter what your level of experience, anyone can have a go and get creative and artistic with your plant collection at home! 

Looking for more artistic inspiration to get your started on your next illustration project? Go for a wander in your local nursery or garden centre to find your next subject; check out these 11 Aussie botanical artists that we love; or these six Aussie fashion designers whose work is inspired by the green life. Happy creating!