Education Forum

Starting an Instructional Program in Botanical Art – Part II

By Margaret Saul 

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 13, Issue 1


Note from the author: This series only touches briefly on some of the primary components of successful instructional programming in a continuing education type program but it is written with the view that each of its three parts provides interesting ideas or useful information for any botanical art teacher involved in instructional design. However, if you are new to teaching and unsure of how to approach the task of designing classes that provide students with a satisfying introduction to botanical art then this should get you thinking. 


Part II – Designing a short introductory course 

Design a course that realizes a specific level of skill, achievable by the majority of students upon completion, such as working with watercolor. 

Beginner level – develop basic skills that enable students to create a small, simple botanical watercolor. 

Create awareness of the importance of honing observation skills in all areas, from drawing shapes, to basic botanical structures. Continue developing these skills through observation and application of light and shade (shapes and degree of darkness on surface shadows), then observation of color and color mixing. If you are not confident teaching color, invite a colleague who is keen to teach those classes. 

Schedule beginner classes over two 24-hour blocks, each containing eight 3-hour classes. Block I covers drawing & composition basics, and Block 2 covers color & painting basics. Keep it simple and enjoyable and just long enough to have students wanting to commit to more serious study! Offering two blocks of classes with a couple of weeks in between is more likely to attract students than a continuous sixteen-week course, as the latter requires a greater commitment for time-challenged students and attracts a much higher fee at the onset. 

Intermediate level - Design this to further develop botanical accuracy in drawing and painting. When students have successfully completed this instruction, their artwork should be suitable for a student exhibition at the venue where classes are conducted or at other local venues such as a community library. Follow a two-block schedule similar to the beginner classes. Here Block 1 focuses on botanical accuracy in drawing and more on composition, with Block 2 providing a focus on color theory and finer painting techniques. It’s better not to offer intermediate classes until you are confident a reasonably sized body of interested students is ready to take them. 

Other points 

The time allotted to each class is usually about 3 hours, or whatever is preferred by the institution. 

Decide the maximum class size you prefer, that allows individual attention within the alloted time. 

Consider class fee – based on hourly teaching rate, it should include class supplies and administrative costs. 

Class times - consider local traffic patterns that may influence when students prefer to commute; the potential demand for midweek classes - morning, afternoon or evening - or on weekends. 

Teaching tips 

Be mindful of the different learning modes. 

Some students prefer to absorb information by listening, others from reading prepared notes. Encourage students to take class notes to fully engage in the lesson. If you feel a point is not clearly understood or needs emphasis, then field a pertinent question around the class. Visual learning is especially appreciated by art students. Use visual aids such as an overhead projector or as a PowerPoint type presentation. Also, practical demonstrations given in class by the teacher work very well. And last but not least, students learn from and find great satisfaction working on a well-designed class exercise sheets, with clear instructions so they can be finished as homework. 

A successful method for practical demonstrations  

Show examples of your artwork where the demonstrated technique is applied, as well as sample pieces to pass around class. 

Explain the how and why of the technique, pointing out particular problems that may occur. 

Have students read through your handout about the technique, then answer any questions.

Split class into manageable groups, so they can watch the demonstration closely, or use a demonstration mirror or camera and monitor. 

Explain the technique again as you work. 

Ask for questions. Before students return to their desks, have a willing student take your place and try the technique while students watch and you provide guidance. 

Have students return to their desks and try the technique. Walk around the classroom, check all attempts. 

Check to see if students understand why a mistake occurred and provide possible corrections. 

Try to ensure everyone has a reasonable share of individualized instruction. 

Demonstrations make it look effortless – explain why and seize the opportunity to stress the importance of practice. 

Create lesson plans with established goals and specific objectives: 

It is essential that a teacher have a primary goal for each class, which maintains the focus for the lesson plan, as you decide how to cover the instruction within the time available. Create a class outline for students, based on your lesson plans. It’s an effective way to have students eager to come to the next class. This sheet should include homework tasks. Completed homework reviewed at the beginning of the next class provides a moment when each student’s effort can be sensitively but objectively critiqued in front of the class. 

Other specific classes to consider

Drawing classes: Drawing proficiency is the core of botanical art. Plan to make classes fun yet challenging. (Drawing curriculum guidelines should be available for interested members in the near future.) First, present approximately 12-15 hours of foundational course (in 3- hour classes) that include pencil skills, observation skills, approaches to drawing and drawing observa-tion aides, as well as good posture, equipment and materials. Progress to 12-15 hours of botanical drawing. Include interesting basic information on plant morphology relevant to subjects drawn in class and have microscopes on hand if available. Your initial goal during the first year may be to offer these drawing classes a couple of times before teaching color, although most students are usually chafing at the bit to work in color! 

Color theory and application: This teaching area is open to the use of either colored pencil or paint, depending on the approach preferred by the teacher, and the same methodical approach applied to your drawing course would also be applied to basic instruction in color. Start with basic information on materials, color theory and applications. Include the study of values by applying monochromatic schemes prior to working full color. In addition to practical applications and color theory you also aim to have students fascinated by color. Help students to really see color – with a walk in a park or garden and discussion about the numerous conditions that influence their color perception. 

The final installation of this discussion will appear in the next issue of The Botanical Artist