The Art and Science of Botanical Illustration: A Conversation with Marta Chirino


In the world of botanical illustration, the act of drawing is akin to a dance, albeit without music. With the tip of a pencil, the paper is gently caressed, varying pressure and rhythm to convey a feeling. While some may argue that botanical drawings should remain devoid of emotion to capture reality as it is, Marta Chirino’s exquisite and delicate work beautifully marries science with emotion.


Marta Chirino, a biologist born in Madrid in 1963, found a path where she could harmonize her perspective on life with her career as a scientific illustrator. Her journey has been richly rewarded with various accolades, including the Gold Medal from The Royal Horticultural Society of the United Kingdom. Her vibrant and powerful drawings grace the pages of books, she teaches courses for botanical enthusiasts, curates exhibitions, and participates in art shows. Currently, until May 19th, some of her works can be admired in the “Ellas ilustran botánica” exhibition at the Real Jardín Botánico in Madrid.

Marta Chirino’s Journey

Q: What led you to become a botanical illustrator?

A: Growing up in the countryside deeply influenced me, fostering a profound connection with nature. I decided to study biology, but my view was always more poetic. Coming from a family of artists, I was drawn to the study of nature, but my gaze was sensitive and artistic. Towards the end of my degree, I started drawing, and I presented my first two illustrations for a course, depicting an oak and an olive tree. From that moment, I knew that drawing was my calling.

Q: What aspects do you focus on to capture every detail of a plant?

A: I always tell my students to think of a plant as a puzzle: you have to anchor each part, paying close attention to the structure. Whether it’s the sexual parts of the flowers or their fruits, everything must be perfectly balanced and harmoniously united. Those points of connection are crucial.

Technique and Perception

Q: What methods do you use to portray a plant accurately?

A: Nowadays, I take photos with my phone, but for scientific drawings, I rely on theoretical information provided by botanists, often accompanied by illustrations. I also draw from pressed plants, using herbarium specimens. Many herbaria are now digitized, providing a wealth of information at our fingertips. Of course, a binocular loupe is indispensable.

Q: What materials do you use to create your botanical portraits?

A: For scientific drawings, ink is my go-to medium, as the point and line are our language. For artistic drawings, I use graphite, colored pencils, and sometimes add pastel or watercolor.

Emotional Connection

Q: Does your perception of a plant change after you have drawn it?

A: Yes, because they become characters. When I create a portrait, I’m not just illustrating a plant scientifically; I’m drawing from an emotional standpoint. My creative capacity and sensitivity come into play, as I convey personal reflections, impressions, and emotions tied to my memories. In fact, I often revisit the same plants, such as lilies, orchids, and roses, using them as vehicles for self-expression and artistic growth.

Q: What other illustrators resonate with your botanical sensibilities?

A: There are many. As a member of the Society of Botanical Artists, I am continually inspired by my colleagues’ work. Throughout history, artists like Mutis and Cavanilles have served as our teachers, not only for their techniques but also as custodians of our artistic heritage.


Marta Chirino’s journey as a botanical illustrator exemplifies the fusion of art and science. Through her meticulous observations and sensitive renderings, she captures the essence of plants, transcending mere representation to evoke emotion and beauty. In exhibitions like “Ellas ilustran botánica,” her work stands as a testament to the enduring love for botanical art shared by artists around the world.