Art + Botany: An Illustrator's Plant Alphabet

Art + Botany: An Illustrator's Plant Alphabet

February 10, 2011
Photo by: Sasha Prood

On the language of botany, I imagine many plants would gladly elaborate if they could.  Though they lack a traditional (or human) grammatical structure, plants do have a language. They exchange nouns and verbs for colors and shapes, a visual code by which they variously attract, repel, and generally speak to an audience that includes pollinators, each other, and us. 

Of course, it is not a universal language and much can be lost in translation—on both sides. How many times have I plead with my ailing, taciturn cilantro, saying, "Please just use your words! Tell me what's wrong!" I know I'm not alone. 

And, like many relationships with one-sided conversations, poor communication can mean certain death. But there is hope. No, it's not Miracle-Gro®—it's an alphabet! Designer and illustrator Sasha Prood has drawn a typographic translation of botanic characters: a suite of upper case letterforms, beautifully rendered from plant forms. By gently nudging the stems, leaves, and flowers to hold their assigned posture, the artist has created an alphabet in which plants are scripting the dialogue. While the transliteration might not be seamless, I still think it's a happy solution to the language barrier, and from the looks of the letterforms, the plants seem delighted at her efforts. 

I asked Sasha to tell us a bit about her process. 

Garden Design: Why have you chosen plant specimens as the medium for your typography?

Sasha Prood: I have always naturally leaned toward organic inspirations in my work, ranging from plants to animals to minerals. My interest tends to be with a scientific eye. This is at least partially because both of my parents are scientists. I'm highly inspired by vintage field study illustrations and they have been a strong influence in how I have approached much of my pencil work, including my plant alphabet poster. 

GD: Did you draw the specimens from life or elsewhere? Can you tell us some of the plants in the alphabet?  

SP: I drew the letters by referencing both photographs of plants and real plants from around my home. Some of the plants are aloe (D), cattail (H), air plant (O), spider plant (U), and roses (Z).

GD:  Impressively, each character is an accurate representation of both the letterform and the plant—did you have to make any compromises to achieve this dual fidelity of form? How did you decide which plant was best for its respective letter?

SP: I don't feel that I had to make any compromises. My decision making process, in picking  which plant went with which letter, was very organic. I started by looking for images of a range of plants that I liked. Once I felt that I had a nice selection, I looked at each letter and tried to imagine what type of plant would most naturally form it. My main goal was not to have to mold any plants to fit a certain letter—I wanted to pick plants that could almost have naturally fallen into the shape of a certain letterform.

Additional details from Sasha's plant alphabet poster are included in her portfolio, a landscape of organic letterforms and designs, lovingly drawn from her natural world. 





Photo by: Anna Laurent

As a personal note, I'll add that I was particularly thrilled at Sasha's work, having attempted a similar effort myself. On my thirtieth birthday several years ago, I enlisted the help of hibiscus flowers from my backyard to convey the sentiments of the day. I captioned the photograph "Thirty is pretty," to underscore the message, though certainly redundant, don't you think?

Anna Laurent is a writer and producer of educational botanical media. Photographs from her forthcoming field guide to Los Angeles are available for exhibition and purchase at the author's shop