Botanical Illustration

Author: Jessica Park

For many people, the image of a meditation practice involves one sitting perfectly still, eyes closed, concentrated on one’s breathing. That is well and good, but what if an individual has a hard time sitting still? Or feels uncomfortable closing their eyes? Or can only breathe into a posture for a minute without getting distracted? I’d like to reframe the traditional view of meditation as a stationary practice that only looks one way and introduce the concept of active meditation. Active meditation takes the same focus and grounding, but applies it to an activity that can keep the hands or body busy. Knitting and crocheting are excellent examples of active meditation where the craftsperson has a repetitive pattern and movement they concentrate on while creating their fiber art.

When one has lots of racing thoughts distracting them from meditation, having something that the hands can focus on can often free up the mind to enter a meditative state. My favorite way to enter this state is through botanical illustration. Botanical illustration is a drawing technique that focuses on accurately recording the botany of a plant for scientific study and distinction. It is important for identifying different species of plants and documenting their uses and growth patterns. Its focus on scientific accuracy distinguishes the artform from landscapes or still lifes of plants. I have two reasons I favor this form of meditation. The first is that being around plants and nature is calming for our nervous systems and has been proven to reduce stress. I love being around plant allies and looking to them for guidance on grounding, since they are quite literally planted in the earth. Second, when my mind is focused on accurately depicting the details of a flower, I am only seeing that flower in front of me–no other thoughts are there to distract me. Botanical illustration requires you to be present with the plant that is in front of you in order to capture the line, shape, textures, and form on your paper. You are forced to focus on the present moment and observe things as they are.

For those of us who are herbalists and plant lovers, botanical illustration is a fantastic way to form a deeper relationship with our plant allies through close observation. You are recording the leaf shape, venation, structure, how the flower connects to the stem, the number of petals, and the symmetry patterns. This requires you to pay close attention to the plant in front of you. Botanical illustration at its core is a plant sit. At the end, you get the bonus of a drawing to remember your experience! As you stare at a plant for an extended period, you begin to notice energy in the way it holds itself and how it presents itself for you to draw. I encourage all plant lovers to try botanical illustration to reconnect to creativity and boost mood. A meditative practice like botanical illustration helps to better connect with the beauty that surrounds us.

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