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Natural History Illustration - in Pen and Ink by Sarah Morrish

Reviewed by Mary Crabtree

Sarah Morrish was one of the founder members of ABBA and worked on the team that organised the successful British entry into the World Wide Day of Botanical Art in May 2018. Since then she has focused on producing a book that covers the techniques behind her beautiful work in pen and ink.

Botanical artist and ABBA member Mary Crabtree is part of our newly established Education Team that are reviewing books, art courses and materials for our members. In their reviews your members give their personal perspective on the quality and potential advantages of the subject matter. We hope you find these reviews helpful.



It was with eager anticipation that I awaited the recent publication of Sarah Morrish’s new book, Natural History Illustration in Pen and Ink (Crowood Press, 2021). Sarah’s work is renown in both the Botanical and Natural History art communities and getting a look at how she creates her illustrations is a treat. This new book is written with the same attention to detail she gives to her art.

Examples of building form using different marks. © Sarah Morrish.

Following a short introduction, the book includes 13 chapters devoted to everything from preparatory work (finding and studying subjects, materials and equipment, and composition) to specific techniques (basics of making marks and creating form with ink, case studies of certain of her illustration projects, and step-by-step exercises ranked by skill level). There is even a section on troubleshooting those sometimes-problematic ink pens/nibs. The final chapters discuss combining other media with pen and ink and protecting and presenting your work, something often missing from such books.

The numerous inspiring photographs of subjects, techniques, and finished artworks in the book combine well with the text that details the how and why of Sarah’s illustration methods. The writing is clear and concise, and step-by-step instructions include details such as specific pens and ink, paper, and marks used in creating each example. Also included are photographs of illustrations by 16 other natural history artists, demonstrating their varied use of technique and style in depicting the natural world.

Although only one chapter is specifically focused on botanical subjects, all the images, demonstrations, and exercises can be useful for any type of natural history illustration.

Overcoming challenges of illustrating milkweed pod and seeds. © Sarah Morrish.

Some specific favourites of mine are the series on illustrating a milkweed seed pod/seeds and twigs from different tree species. The methods Sarah uses to depict these often-difficult subjects can be applied to many others in botanical art. Additionally, the book includes a chapter on insects and other invertebrates for botanical artists looking to learn techniques for including pollinators and other inhabitants of their subject plant’s ecosystem in their paintings.

Overcoming challenges of illustrating milkweed pod and seeds. © Sarah Morrish.

As Sarah says in the book: “With time and practice in drawing a variety of subjects, the artist will become more aware of what marks are needed.”

In studying this book I have already learned much from Sarah’s narratives on depicting natural subjects in ink and am motivated to use ink in my own artwork more often.

Illustrating a Privet Hawkmoth, © Sarah Morrish.

'I very much appreciate the positive reviews that I have received for the book. I hope that it continues to be an essential and long-term learning resource, for those interested in working with pen and ink.’

Sarah Morrish

Natural History Illustration in Pen and Ink

Sarah Morrish


The Crowood Press

ISBN: 978-1-78500-922-8

Personally, I highly recommended this book, whether you use it for the inspiration of viewing Sarah’s stunning illustrations, or as a study guide to beginning or improving your skills at working with ink, this book should definitely be on your shelf.

Mary Crabtree - March 2022


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