Preston Montague Teaches Botanical Art Illustration


Director, NC Cooperative Extension – New Hanover County Center and Arboretum

Preston Montague will be teaching botanical illustration at the Arboretum on April 16.

Preston Montague comes to town, offering a workshop at the New Hanover County Arboretum. The subject is botanical illustration and the teacher is a master in the art. This seems like a perfect opportunity to slow down and exercise some of those underused parts of the brain.

Correspondent with Montague, he shares some of his thoughts on the subject. “Botanical illustration gives us insight into the patterns and structures of nature. You start to see commonalities between plants, even on opposite sides of the world. He has a way of making the world seem small, but also incredibly complex. The first thing we do is practice moving from “looking” to “seeing”. Surprise! Not the same thing. Looking is passive. Seeing is active, and if you practice it enough, the world becomes technicolor and you won’t believe how little you have absorbed the world around you until you learn to see.

The native Venus flytrap is an excellent subject for illustration.

Montague continues, “The hardest part of learning to draw is moving past what we’ve learned to see as beautiful. It takes a long time and sometimes participants never allow themselves to see beauty beyond their narrow definition. It’s heartbreaking for me. But, once participants allow themselves to redefine what is beautiful, they not only see beauty in designs they previously thought were ugly, but (hopefully) see more beauty in themselves.

Botanical illustrations may also include insects.

Montague shares more wisdom. “Drawing is as simple as buttering toast. See… that’s the hardest part. I can teach you everything I know in a few hours. Creating a drawing that accurately communicates what you want about a subject, well, that often takes years to master. Drawing, like exercise, requires a warm-up. If you judge your drawings or drawing experience before you’ve done ten sketches, you’ve given up too soon. Plus, like working out, 45 minutes two to three times a week will transform you.

Fall colors are well captured in this botanical illustration.

His last comment intrigues me. “The drawing will show you how strong you are mentally.” Is it the discipline to stick with the practice, or to overcome the fear of seeing rather than just looking? Maybe the stress of having to redefine what you see as beautiful shows your tenacity in a tender way. I’ve been known to remind my horticulturist friends that “brown is a color too” because we consider dead leaves essential for overwintering pollinators, or the fall coloring of ornamental grasses that provide such amazing texture and sound during the months cold.

The workshop, sponsored by the Friends of the Arboretum, will take place at the Education Center (currently in the middle of spring. Lots of colors and textures and new life to see), April 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the cost is $75 for Friends members, $95 for non-members. Space is limited. Register at


Lloyd Singleton is the director, NC Cooperative Extension, New Hanover County Center and Arboretum. The Arboretum is free and open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. He can be reached at 910-798-7660 or [email protected]



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