Star magnolia, Magnolia stellata
If you really want to remember a plant, draw it!
I always say that if you really want to remember a plant, draw it. There’s nothing more effective to really make you look deeply at a plant than spending hours drawing it. I don’t know of anything better to imprint it on your brain.
Drawing makes you take your time to look.
When Georgia O’Keeffe was asked why she painted flowers she replied, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” I don’t know how much time people spend looking at flowers these days but I do know that if you draw a flower you really have to take your time to look at it.
Drawing has improved my memory.
I spent 10 years drawing botanical illustrations for the weekly “Digging In” gardening column of the Washington Post. As a result of that work I now have a collection of 500+ botanical illustrations. When someone asks me if I have illustrated some plant, like the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) above for example, I can always remember if I have or not. I may not remember in which month or year I did it, though I usually have a fairly good idea, but I can definitely remember. This is due to the hours and hours I spend looking at a plant while illustrating it. Each pen and ink drawing I produced for the “Digging In” gardening column took anywhere from 10 to 20 hours to create, depending on its complexity. That is a long time to spend looking at a plant.
You don’t have to be an artist to draw.
I don’t believe that you have to be a great artist or illustrator to enjoy drawing plants or to benefit from the hours you spend with them in this way. If you are a plant enthusiast who loves to garden or an amateur botanist who loves to study native plants and you want to remember what you see here’s my advice; the next time you are out in your yard or walking in the woods, bring along a sketchpad and pencil, find a plant that interests you, and start drawing. Don’t judge your results harshly but rather check later how well you can remember the plant you drew.