Botanical Illustration I: Basic Drawing Techniques

lily sketch

Have you ...

  • ... always wished that you could be more proficient at drawing?
  • ... been looking for an opportunity to unwind by finding a new avenue to express yourself creatively?
  • ... simply not enrolled in a drawing class because of a lack of opportunity or your busy schedule?

About the course

This six-week online course for beginners (eight including the introductory week and one-week break between lesson three and four) teaches you how to use plants as the subject of art with easy approaches and many visual examples. Because you take the course online, you can access it whenever you want and complete the lessons at your own pace.

A physical distance from other students allows you to express yourself creatively without comparing your work to those around you, fostering confidence and your own individual style, while still providing an opportunity to interact with others online through a discussion forum.

Botanical Illustration I: Basic Drawing Techniques is designed for beginning artists of all ages and from all walks of life — from current students, to those who haven't taken a class in a very long time.

Topics include:

  • How to observe and approach subjects for drawing.
  • How to creatively transfer what you see to paper.
  • How to use the elements of line, shape and space constructively to make a composition.

Participants will read very straightforward lessons on six different topics in botanical drawing and observing the natural world. You will advance your own skills through practice and assignments, and reflect critically on your experiences in journal entries shared with your instructor and with other students via an online forum. The deadline for submission of all assignments will be on the Friday of each week.

To get the most out of the experience, you should expect to spend 3 to 4 hours per week on the lessons and assignments. The course is offered through Moodle, an easy-to-use online interface that you'll view through your personal computer's web browser, or print out to use elsewhere. No additional software is required, but you will need a scanner to submit your assignments.

You do not receive Cornell University credit for taking the course. Rather, you will receive a certificate of participation from our Office of Continuing Education. If you are enrolled in a university undergraduate or graduate program and want to get credit for the course, please ask your faculty advisor to work with you to agree on a number of credits, and the certificate will be evidence of your completion. Typically, students interested in this approach consider it as individual study. Others take it for life enrichment.


  1. Observation of Art in Nature
  2. The Use of Line in Drawing
  3. The Use of Shape and Space in Drawing
  4. One week break
  5. Depicting Perspective and Foreshortening in Illustration
  6. Using Light to Add Dimension to Botanical Illustrations
  7. Composition and a Creative Approach to Drawing

View full syllabus [.pdf]

What students have said about the course:

I find this really rewarding - I feel I'm rediscovering an old long forgotten way to relax and lose myself in something that does not cause stress!

I am sad that this course is coming to an end. Reflecting on the highlights, I would have to say that I enjoyed the whole process of slowing down and actually looking and seeing a plant or flower or leaf at such minute detail. It was difficult to get started at first on many projects, but once I did, time just melted away, and I loved it. It has helped me to overcome any fears that may have kept me from drawing and art in the past. For me, it was monumental in giving me a good swift kick in the pants, and I will definitely continue this process…As far as any improvements in your curriculum, I cannot think of many, except that I would like to continue and paint with watercolor and colored pencils. Your exercises were all very insightful.

A leaf I was unable to draw a month ago is now depicted in a drawing I submitted with pride.  I hope you share my pride because it reflects your success as a teacher.  … Somehow you managed to connect with me (and my classmates) despite the distance and hardware.  You turned a computer experience into a classroom experience—as intimate and as personal as a classroom with walls.

Quieting our busy minds and just drawing is exactly what helps me accomplish what I want. I found myself getting so concerned about the outcome of the drawing that I never learned anything and I was making the same mistakes over. Now that I have been taking this class I have learned how important it is to just draw and pay attention to what we see, not what we are drawing.