Welcome to Book Monster’s stop on the Botanicum blog tour, and I’m incredibly excited to review this glorious book and welcome illustrator Katie Scott here for a Q&A, I know! How great is that? So climb aboard the blog train, it’s a happy day!!
Botanicum is curated by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis, published by Big Picture Press in association with Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.
I remember as a child, a few non-fiction books we had in our house which had a vintage feel to them. Thick, gorgeous books containing ultra detailed and accurate illustrations and tons of information about plants and animals etc. I was always quite fascinated by these, and Botanicum has a similar vintage, informative, yet ultimately beautiful feel which will fascinate anyone who gets their mitts on it.
I received Botanicum in the post a few months ago actually, and the first thing that struck me about this book was its size! It’s a whopper at 15 inches high! That’s part of what makes this book so special. It feels epic! Pulling open that great cover feels like opening a huge doorway leading into an unexplored and exciting world of plants and it really doesn’t let you down on that front! It’s Narnia in book form!
Botanicum is another one of those books that causes a stir on social media. My posts about this have created a frisson of excited responses and when you see this in person you understand why!
This is a rich celebration of flora and fauna from around the world. It’s a plant museum that you can visit in the comfort of your own home! Beautifully produced, it contains 100 full colour and thick paper pages crammed with information and luscious illustrations. Each page is carefully themed, and provides a fascinating overview of this. Then alongside are numerous illustrated examples of plant life or environments (like the rainforest below) related to the topic. Each illustration is numbered and relates to a key where you can find out more, including name, latin name and other little gems of detail!
This book is a beautiful work of art! I have to give a shout out to illustrator Katie Scott (more from her soon) for her work on this. Every single illustration is precise, detailed, and clearly incredibly well researched. They don’t just fulfill an educational and informative purpose brilliantly well, they are also a feast for they eyes, bursting with colour and beauty and everything we love about plant life.
So who might Botanicum be for? Well, from a children’s point of view, if your wanting homework support this will be useful and relevant right up to secondary school work, GCSE and beyond. The information and vocabulary is really very advanced and detailed! This is also why adults will gain a huge amount from the book too.
However, and this is where books like this are wonderful, you can span any age with this type of non-fiction, if you use it well. The illustrations are glorious and will certainly enchant children interested in plants! Parents, carers and teachers can read the information and tell children about the plants verbally. Children are bound to love, in particular, the fascinating carnivorous plants or maybe the cacti, with really interesting stories and facts behind them.
Children growing their own plants in their garden or in school gardens can look up and research the things they’re growing. It’s all about drawing on their interests, and this book will do that and excite them even more!
Botanicum is a book for keeps! A coffee table read you will pick up time and time again. A complete and stunningly beautiful examination of plant life in all its glory which families and classes can share and enjoy together.
Thank you for reading this far! Now for the best bit! It’s over to Katie Scott, who has been incredibly kind to find time to answer my numerous questions about her stunning illustration work.
Have you always wanted to be an artist / illustrator? And how did you go about getting into this field?
I guess so, or at least I haven’t tried to be any thing else. I studied illustration at the University of Brighton and graduated in 2011, since then I’ve been working freelance full time. I think illustration struck a chord with me when I was doing my A levels, being a subject that sat somewhere between art and design. Both subjects I enjoyed but neither felt quite right. When I found out what illustration was I became pretty set on that.
What advice would you give to your younger self at the beginning of your career?
ha I don’t really know. I think I was kind of ok during the beginning of my career, made good decisions etc. I guess it would be nice to know that in the future I would get to work with some clients I never dreamed off at the start. But that’s also kind of the fun of it all, the not knowing where things will go.
I am a huge fan of your very distinctive illustrative style. How much has it evolved over your career?
Quite a lot, I’ve certainly become more efficient, better at colouring and developed the style in terms of how I use the tools. I guess that’s natural when you do something every day for five years. Doing books like Animalium and Botanicum really polishes the workflow as well. It’s like being in illustration bootcamp! I remember with Animalium my animal illustrations got better and better as the months went by, to the point where I had to go back and redo some of the earlier drawings.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your illustration career? Is there any particular art or illustration that has inspired you?
I love the work of Ernst Haeckle and Albertus Seba. They both taught me a lot about composition and negative space.
Could you briefly explain your creative process? Mediums and your typical working day?
Depending on what I’m illustrating I will either start with a line drawing using pen and paper, or directly into photoshop with the wacom. But actually before that I will always do a rough sketch in photoshop, usually to get approved by the client or to give myself a guide. Then once the line work is done I layer on watercolour swatches in photoshop, masking out areas, layered and blending the colours until I’m happy with how it looks.
Sometimes this is very methodical, and I know exactly where each colour is going to go, or it’s a total improvisation and just feel it out as I go. I will do this separately for each element on a page, and them bring them all together at the end for the final composition. Sometime once I see everything together I will realise the colours need to be edited so they sit well next to each other. That’s the beauty of working digitally, there is always a chance to edit.
Could you describe or show us your working area or studio? How much of an impact does this have on your work?
I have a really nice studio near my house. Its full of plants and great reference books. It makes a huge difference having a studio you like. I worked from home the first year after leaving university, which I think was good because it made me really appreciate the difference of having a separate workspace. I also share the space with some great people and I think for any freelancer that’s very important, to be around other creative people.
What 5 things help to get you through a working day?
Walking to working through this amazing overgrown cemetery between my house and studio. Coffee. Checking up on and watering all the studio plants. Audiobooks. Another coffee.
Do you ever have suffer from creative slumps? If so what do you do to overcome this?
I’m pretty lucky and I don’t really get many slumps. I used to more when I worked a lot on editorials. Ithink it didn’t suit me, I didn’t like the fast pace, instantly coming up with some clever perfect idea that sums up everything from a piece of writing but without being cheesy. My ideas were always cheesy 🙂 Now that I mostly work on a few big projects each year I find it much easier. One thing I do get, is that feeling where you have been looking at one thing for far too long and can’t decide whether it’s good or not. But that’s fairly easy to overcome and just needs space and time away from it.
When, in your job, are you happiest? What kind of projects do you enjoy the most?
Without a doubt the beginning stage, ideas, research, planning. When I go home after a day of just looking through books and photos picking out all the most amazing plants and animals I can find and want to include in a project – that’s when I’m happiest. I’m at the stage at the moment with a new project. It’s like you’re fuelling up for the long job ahead – pumping in as much inspiration as possible, making sure you have enough to last the next few months!
What is the most challenging thing about being an illustrator?
Finding a good chair. Deciding how is best to back up your work. Staying on top of emails. Turning down work. Forgetting to invoice. Everything else is pretty good.
Newly released book, Botanicum, is a glorious celebration of flora and fauna. What was your very first step in creating the illustrations for this book?
The first step was that lovely stage of gathering and collecting inspiration. So choosing the plants themselves, making long list / short lists. But also looking through amazing old botanical illustrations. I spent a lot of time at Kew, in the gardens, herbarium and nurseries looking for plants to include.
How long did it take you in total to create the work for Botanicum?
I think about six months of drawing. It was quite intense, but whenever I got overwhelmed or stressed by deadlines I had to pinch myself a bit and remember this was probably one of the most exciting projects I would ever work on and i should be enjoying it! It wasn’t hard to get back on track and remember that.
Do you have a favourite spread and why?
I think I like the Cacti & Succulents spreads best. I knew that was going to be an important one for me, because it’s a group that i have always felt very inspired by. I spent a few more days on it than any other, knowing I wanted it to be, thought out, and drawn with care.
Of animals and plants, which did you enjoy illustrating the most?
Plants. It comes more naturally to me. I find animal faces tricky and sometimes agonise over it. What is the expression saying, is it too much, not enough. I get there in the end but it’s quite time consuming. With plants I think I still give them a slight character, but it’s less complicated. I also love understanding the structure and form of a plant. once you know how it is built you can manipulate it however you want.
We have been treated to the wonderful Animalium and Botanicum. Are there any other books or projects in the pipeline you are able to tell us about?
No book in the pipeline. I feel very happy to leave it with Botanicum for a while. I am now starting work on a collaboration with Japanese artist Azuma Makoto. So exiting new things to come from there 😉
Brilliant and fascinating answers, thank you SO much to Katie Scott for coming onto Book Monsters and taking the time to reply so thoroughly.
And that is all! Only thing left to say is that Botanicum is out now and available from all good bookshops and libraries, so please do go, grab a copy and marvell!
Katie Scott has a most beautiful bit of the internet right here:
You can find out all about Kew Gardens here:
Big Picture Press is a booky wonder on the web here:
Thank you for reading this rather floral Book Monster review.