Botanical Illustration

RGV BioU Mark

Instructor: Susan Sawyer
(Three days) June 16 - 18, 2023 | $385
Course size: 12 students
Financial support available (contact us)


hether you draw for identification, documentation, appreciation, expression, or a combination of all these, the practice of nature illustration gives us so many interesting gifts. The careful investigation required while drawing gives us knowledge of plants that is hard to get elsewhere. Repeated close observations of our subjects reveal shapes, patterns, and structures that may be otherwise overlooked. And our focused attention helps us slow down and occupy a more relaxed and meditative state of mind. 

This class will focus on botanical illustrations at all scales, from the whole plant down to its smallest parts. At times we’ll practice with magnification, measurements, maps, and diagrams to expand our techniques. We’ll work primarily with graphite pencils and technical pens, and move into watercolor and colored pencils on our final day together. 

Botanical illustration is a skill learned mostly by practice, but helped along by examples, demonstrations, guidance, and good company. Over this three-day course, we’ll spend about half our time in the field, keeping a plant sketchbook, and working together as a community of learners to share and discover with one another. We’ll also make use of the indoor classroom at times to practice and present. Some drawing experience is helpful but not required.

Course Goals & Objectives

  • Practice drawing skills including gesture, line, value, and composition.
  • Observe and learn about patterns, form and function in nature.
  • Practice adding color to graphite and pen drawings using watercolor or colored pencils.
  • Spend time creating art outdoors in a beautiful setting.

About the Instructor

Susan Sawyer is an artist-naturalist from South Woodbury. She recently retired as an educator, naturalist, and illustrator for the Four Winds Nature Institute, and has been an educator in non-formal settings for decades. Susan worked for 9 years at North Branch Nature Center, and for 15 years was on the faculty of the Union Institute & University Adult Degree Program, advising studies in science, art, or both – it’s the intersection of these two fields that she finds the most fertile and creative. She thinks observation and imagination are the beginnings of both science and art, and believes in having serious fun while learning. Susan holds a BA in graphics and natural history from New College, Sarasota, Florida, a MFA in visual art from Vermont College, and a Diploma in Botanical Art from the Society of Botanical Artists, London.

Physical Requirements

Participants must be able to travel up to one mile each day on flat, grassy paths at the nature center. Please reach out to us if you have any questions about mobility and/or other accessibility needs.

Recommended Materials

All materials except your sketchbook will be provided. Recommended sketchbook: Canson Mixed Media XL either 7×10 or 9×12. Available at The Drawing Board in Montpelier (mention you’re taking a class to receive a 10% discount) Please Contact Susan if you are signed up and would like to use a different sketchbook.


We will provide coffee, tea, and light breakfast fare (pastries, etc.) each morning. Participants should bring their own lunches and snacks.


Course begins 9 AM on Friday at North Branch Nature Center. Course begins on Sunday and Sunday at a time of the instructors' choosing. Course concludes by 5 PM on Sunday.

Academic Credit / Professional Development

This course may qualify for 1 graduate-level credit for an additional $200 course fee. All BioU courses are accredited by Castleton University. Participants interested in receiving credit must contact us at least 2 months in advance so we have time to arrange course accreditation.

It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that home institutions will accept the credit. Participants pursuing academic credit will be required to complete an additional assignment above and beyond the course hours, including literature review, reflective writing, or a field-based project.

This course qualifies for 25 hours of professional development hours and continuing education units. Certificates of completion are provided at the conclusion of the course.

Cancellation Policy

While we realize that unexpected circumstances arise that are out of our control, North Branch Nature Center cannot guarantee refunds for registrations cancelled within 30 days of the course.  If a cancellation occurs within this window, NBNC will attempt to fill the space from our wait list and provide a full refund. If the course needs to be cancelled by NBNC, we will provide a full refund.

White pine -- squirrel trash
North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206

Hours: Center Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Trails Open 24/7