| | |

Drawing Botanicals like Linnaeus

Great artistCarl Linnaeus was a botanist before botany was a thing. He created the base of our modern classification system for living things. So, he is known as the “Father of Taxonomy.” As part of this naming endeavor, he would create scientifically accurate drawings of plants. The drawings would include all the plant parts: roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seed pods.  We call this type of drawing a “botanical illustration.”

Botanical Illustrations (or botanicals) are some of my very favorite kinds of art. They make up a large percentage of the things hanging on my walls. For me, there’s something calming and yet fascinating about the way science meets art in a botanical style drawing or painting.

The Original Project

In week 14 of Classical Conversation’s cycle 2 fine arts, we draw botanical illustrations in memory of this Father of Taxonomy. It’s sounds super exciting… until you try it. Trust me, I’ve tried it.. many times…. Sure, I’m not that great an artist, but I think the realism and detail in a botanical illustration makes it extremely difficult. Drawing plants from life (or drawing anything from life) is hard enough. However, it’s an especially daunting assignment for a new artist to complete in 20 to 25 minutes. So, I wanted to change the project up a bit and create a project that will encourage us all as artists.

Our Linnaeus Project

This week our Classical Conversation community will practice the art of mindful tracing. Mindful (as opposed to mindless) tracing is a great learning tool. It’s a bridge that helps those of us who are not natural artists translate what we see in three dimensions, into something two dimensional. Tracing also teaches us basic shapes and pencil control. It’s how we teach our children to draw their letters, so why not use it when we’re learning to draw? (I’m excited to write more about that some day soon!)

I’ve found some botanicals in the public domain and printed one off for the students to trace. However, I also want to practice the art of observation because someday we’d love for our students to be able to sketch a botanical illustrations of an actual plant. Since one of the botanicals is of a pine bough and cone, and pine is usually a pretty easy specimen to find, no matter the season, we’ll be drawing a pine illustration.

I’ll have some pine boughs (branch) and cones for the students to look at and then some pine botanicals for reference. We’ll spend a minute comparing and contrasting our pine to the botanical and then we’ll re-create the pine botanical (not our live specimen). The older kids will trace directly from the botanical illustration to help them get the feel for it. To make the project easier for the younger students, I traced the pine botanical myself to create a simpler line-drawing version of it. The younger kids will have a much easier time tracing the simpler version of the botanical. Then we’ll break out the colored pencils or crayons to give our illustrations some color!

Check out my six year old’s intensity as he traces the lines!! I heart him!!CC Week 13, cycle 2

Here’s the Full Lesson Plan

I wrote this whole lesson plan out for my tutors and for you! It includes everything you need. This 16 page lesson plan includes the following:

  • A condensed background on the artist,
  • 9 Printable pictures (including 2 of Linnaeus’ botanicals, 7 other botanicals, and a painting of Linnaeus),
  • A pair of carefully crafted sentences about Linnaeus (ideal for memorization),
  • Vocabulary words and definitions
  • Materials list
  • Simple instructions that any artistically challenged teacher can understand and use,
  • Suggestions for scaling the project to different ages,
  • Two simplified line drawings of a botanical (ideal for the younger students to trace),
  • References to the pertinent Classical Conversations Acts and Facts cards.


Purchase the full Linnaeus lesson plan here

Drawing Botanicals like Linnaeus

Want More?

This blog post is part of a seven part series about the amazing artists we study in cycle 2 of Classical Conversations. Here are links to the whole series:

  1. Saving Christmas with Amazing Artist Lesson Plans
  2. Drawing Facial Expressions Like Rembrandt
  3. Drawing Botanicals like Linnaeus
  4. Painting Landscapes Like Gainsborough
  5. Plein-Air Painting like Monet
  6. Capturing Action Like Degas
  7. Glob it on like Morisot


Leave a Reply