Perennial Plants · Plant Choices

The Nettle – Lizzie Harper

“As a practising botanical illustrator (See my work on I get asked to paint a wide variety of plants, and frequently those considered as “weeds”, including the common stinging nettle.  I love the stinging nettle Urtica dioica, it’s frequently overlooked as a weed and blends into the background, unobserved.  Yes, it gives a nasty sting, but this in no way diminishes its appeal to me.  Something about the pendulous pale clusters of tiny flowers that contrast so well with the dusty green leaves make it a very beautiful plant.

lizIt’s also important, both as an edible “weed” (delicious in soup) and for wildlife – spend 20 minutes in a nettle patch and you’ll see caterpillars of beauties such as the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterfly, shield bugs, aphids, Assassin bugs, slugs amongst the roots, flies and hoverflies in profusion….  A nettle patch is a haven for wildlife.

I drew up my pencil sketch on Fabriano Artistico hot press watercolour paper with a mechanical Pentel P205 pencil.  I refer to living plants when I draw and the fact that the nettle is so common makes it a wonderful easy species to work with.  I also refer  to my own sketchbook studies
(I often make these studies of wild plants so that if I have a commission to illustrate something in the depths of winter I can still create a botanically accurate illustration from my written and visual notes).  Back-up reference comes from the beautiful line drawings of Stella Ross-Craig (for visual information), and  Clapham Tutin & Moore for botanical accuracy.
Sketchbook Nettle

This botanical illustration was commissioned by The Field Studies Council, for a fold out chart on edible plants.  Once completed, I emailed the pencil drawing to their team of botanists who check the accuracy of it, and in this case returned it without alteration.


Then it’s a matter of using watercolour paint, mixing the right greens, and concentrating on the “colouring in”.  Getting the pale of the flowers is a challenge, as is conveying the hairy nature of the leaves.  The position and stiffness of the hairs on the stem also give an essence of the plant, and that’s another detail I was keen to capture.  I use Winsor and Newton watercolours, pans (often topped up with paint from tubes).  For the hairs I use white gouache.  I invariably use Winsor and Newton Series 7 sable brushes, in this case a number 1 for the leaves and a 00 for the minutae and hairs.
Common Nettle FINAL Urtica dioica




“In this botanical illustration I hoped not only to incorporate the details of the plant in a correct botanical manner, but also to give a “feel” of the plant so it’s instantly recognisable.  Because I feel that I’ve managed to achieve this to some extent, this is a painting that I am very fond of. “



2 thoughts on “The Nettle – Lizzie Harper

  1. Hi Chris, that’s such a great thing to hear; it’s always a bit tricky to talk about painting using words rather than just showing people the actual activity of doing a botanical illustration; I’m delighted you found my blog useful, thanks so much for the comment!


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