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Even the earliest humans had an interest in recording the natural world, as drawings of plants and animals can be found in early cave drawings around the world. Botanical illustration has a rich history, as scientists drew and compiled records of various species to further apothecary studies.
Printmaking techniques such as etching and engraving aided the documentation and distribution of these illustrations in encyclopedic books and textbooks for botanists to continue their studies. The role of printmaking in botanical studies is an important one, as the circulation of books educated the public about plants and mushrooms that cured or caused disease.
Botanical prints prior to the 19th century were often hand-colored, as a way to convey essential information about the plant. Hand coloring is pigment applied after the woodcut or engraved or etched print is created to capture detail and realistically represent the plants. Botanical subject matter remained linked to printmaking until photomechanical means of reproducing images became popular in the late 19th and 20th centuries. At this time, artists continued to create botanical prints, but purely for artistic purposes and enjoyment.
One of the finest examples of botanical illustrated books is the English Botanist John Parkinson’s 1640 "Theatrum Botanicum," which contains woodcut prints of over 3,000 species of plants
The invention of the microscope at the turn of the 17th century helped to promote botanical printmaking, as scientists relied upon botanical illustrators to capture and disseminate their discoveries
Founded in 1994, the American Society of Botanical Artists is a group of over 1300 members dedicated to promoting botanical prints, paintings, and drawings in the traditional style that marries art, horticulture, and science