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The Joy of Botanical Drawing

Wendy Hollender's Latest Book Teaches Bite-Sized Lessons in Botanical Illustration

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Last Updated: 06/01/2020 11:48 am
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Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.
  • Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.

Accord-based illustrator Wendy Hollender got her start with botanical drawing 22 years ago, when she was working as a home furnishing textile designer, creating patterns for everything from wallpaper to dinnerware. "I used to look at old botanical illustrations as reference—everybody does—and I was envious," she says. "I was very creative and good with color but not good with realism back then." 

So Hollender hunted around and found a course at the New York Botanical Garden, and within several months of classes, they hired her on as an instructor. In the two decades since, she has traveled the world giving classes in her colored pencil and watercolor method, while working as a freelance botanical illustrator for projects and publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the New York Times. "Botanical illustration is just like nature: The whole idea is to be seductive," Hollender says. "In nature, that is to attract a pollinator. In illustration, it is to get someone to check out what you spent a long time creating. People naturally gravitate towards it. It has a quality."

Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.
  • Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.

Hollender, who already has several books under her belt, just released her latest instructional guide in April. The Joy of Botanical Drawing takes the amateur artist on a journey from assembling the basic materials through methods for drawing scientifically accurate fruit, flowers, and leaves. "This book has bite-sized botanical lessons," she explains. "You focus on one small technique at a time and build skills slowly. If you're busy, you can devote 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours, but you don't feel like you have to be at it all day." 

The book's name recalls Irma Rombauer's famed culinary tome and, indeed, it is organized somewhat like a cookbook. "You want to do a leaf, you can go to that chapter. You want to do a flower, jump to that chapter," Hollender says. With the book, she also attempted to address the challenges that she has seen in students over the years like fear of failure, self-criticism, and mustering motivation solo. 

Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.
  • Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.

"I set it up to focus on process, not results," Hollender says. "Allow yourself the luxury of not being so good at something at first and enjoying it—like a hobby, which I don't think we're allowed to have anymore. We have to be so good at everything right away. You can't learn anything new if you go in with those expectations."

And whether you're "good" or not, Hollender believes the practice of botanical drawing is beneficial for the soul. "The book is about the power of slowing down and being with nature, which can be a meditation and a nurturing process," she says. "You get to look at, touch, smell, taste—involve all your senses. I am never not amazed when I look at a plant up close."

Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.
  • Illustration from Wendy Hollender's The Joy of Botanical Drawing.

And with people stuck in their homes, groping for something to fill the time—and the void—the timing of the release could not have been better. Sales of art supplies and books, and online course registrations are all up in Hollender's online store. "My live Zoom classes get sold out the minute I announce them. I can't hold enough," she says, bewildered. "I've never seen the shop busier than it is now."

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