How Steve Asbell Created The Illustration for Gardening Gone Wild’s Redesign – And A BIG Giveaway

– Posted in: Contests and Giveaways

As soon as I knew that an illustration would be the centerpiece of the header for the redesigned Gardening Gone Wild, the first person that came to mind was Steve Asbell. I had become a big fan of both his illustrations and writing. Working with Steve was a pleasure. He was responsive to my suggestions and persisted until he got it right. The passiflora he created is magnificent – and it has a feeling of magic to it. —ย Fran Sorin

Steve says: What plant do you think best sums up the name ‘Gardening Gone Wild’? My own answer hit me square in the nose one day when Fran informed me that I couldn’t draw a Gloriosa lily for the header because it was too exotic. Brainstorming for a native and temperate alternative, I came up with what I believe is one of America’s most beautiful natives: Passiflora incarnata, AKA the Maypop vine.

Those of you who have ever grown a Maypop vine will nod knowingly when I say that you don’t own a passionflower so much as it owns you. The Passiflora incarnata vine starts off as an innocuous potted plant or self sown seedling, but by the end of summer its tendrils and runners run rampant over nearby shrubs and flowerbeds with the kind of fervor that only hedge clippers and a horde of caterpillars can contain. You’ll rue the day you planted that passionflower vine.


Passion fruit drawing


That is, until it blooms; lighting up with a string of elegant lavender lights like intricate lacy snowflakes, and those ravenous caterpillars suddenly become gorgeous butterflies with an appetite for nectar that sends them fluttering all over the garden in a dazzling flurry. Then the blooms drop and give way to May pops; pendant globes that can either turn out to be hollow and ‘may pop’, or could be filled with a sweetly tangy and goopy nectar reminiscent of the more tropical passion fruits. You could call the passionflower a weedy and aggressive vine – or you could call it the icing on the cake.


Nancy Asbell


P. x belotti


While Passiflora incarnata was a natural choice for the header and the plant meant a great deal to me personally, personal reservations also left me with cold feet. My last guest post here at GGW was an ode to my mother, who passed away just this spring as I feverishly tried to complete my first passionflower drawing so that she could see her favorite flower from the hospital bed. When I had reached the halfway point and eagerly held it out to her the day before she died, she was in too much pain to focus on anything else but our faces. While finishing that first illustration brought me welcome memories of drawing by my mother’s bedside, it also turned out to be an emotionally exhausting ordeal. My other less dramatic reservation was that drawing passionflowers is hard.

Drawing passionflowers is even harder when you have to use several photo references. In a perfect world, I would happen to have one in bloom that I could spirit away to my studio for a still life and a photo shoot. Since there was no such luck, I had to work form the internet, books and my own photos to arrive at the right composition. However, once I got started the cold feet thawed out and I became addicted in the same way that you might get hooked on a good book.

Drawing the Passionflower
The best way to approach a difficult subject is to look at it as a big jigsaw puzzle. You might not know where to start at first, but then once you’ve pieced together the corners and edges, everything starts coming together.

Having the right materials helps too. I always use smooth bristol board for my colored pencil drawings because it takes a beating and allows for a lot of detail. I use Prismacolor Verithin pencils for washes and details, and Prismacolor Premier pencils for laying down rich and buttery color. To blend and occasionally erase, I use white plastic erasers. All of these materials can be found at a craft store.

I start each drawing by lightly blocking in the shape of the plant in pencil. My first marks are merely straight lines that I draw to represent the edges and important corners and guide me through drawing the outline. It’s a bit like holding your arms out while you try to navigate to the bathroom in the dark. Then I start carving away at the blocky shape with more detail to form petals, sepals and the rough outline of the corolla.

Progress illustration #1

Progress illustration #2

Progress illustration #3

Here’s a little secret: Once you’ve drawn an accurate outline, there are no rules. Just take your time and enjoy the ride, keeping in mind that the only way you can screw up a colored pencil drawing is by putting dark marks where they don’t belong. A good white plastic eraser will lift unwanted marks, but not heavy dark ones. As much as I’m ideologically opposed to the concept of coloring inside the lines, when you’re drawing with colored pencil it’s a must.

Once I’ve gotten all of the outlines and proportions right (or impatience gets the better of me) I start laying down color. When it comes time to add color, here are a few rules of thumb. First of all, keep that pencil sharp. Avoid the color black as if it were the black plague, and use complementary (opposite) colors instead. Then add darker shades of the desired color to blend in those shadows. In the case of this passionflower, I used deep green for the very darkest shadows and dark purple and blue for the rest. To add warmth, add a warmer color to your lighter tones. For example, add pink to purple or yellow to green.

To draw attention to the details, I lightly added outlines with dark Verithin pencils. The books may tell you to do everything in a specific order, but I approach drawing as if I’m going on a leisurely stroll, drawing the parts that look most interesting at the time. To further illustrate my lack of discipline, I also watch TV when i draw.

Putting it all Together
Since the flower itself took up most of the page, I had to work a little magic to produce the vine that you see on the header. First, I sketched out the overall shape of the composition. Then I drew two leaves and a stem, following the same steps outlined above. Then I took the leaves and the flower into Photoshop, copied the leaves twice, flipped them around and arranged them to make the composition you see today.

Drawing is Only Hard at First
The education of an artist is 95% personal training and 5% taught. Following that logic, you’ll go through 19 bad drawings before you end up with a good one (did I do my math right?) and that’s okay. Every mistake is a lesson and a gift, every failed drawing is a trophy and if you’re doing it right, every good drawing somehow becomes inadequate after another year of learning. Seems a lot like the learning curve for gardening, doesn’t it?

To cinch it all together with a convenient and possibly cheesy metaphor, becoming an artist is a lot like planting a passionflower vine. Getting that vine established might take a bit of work, but before you know it passion takes over and runs rampant, taking you along in its tendrils until your untidy sketches come together, blossom and bear fruit.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Tell us what you think of Steve’s creative process. If you like this article, please share it on Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Asbell is an illustrator and writer from Jacksonville Florida who is passionate about using plants as a medium for art. His latest exciting project is a book featuring 50 artistic indoor container garden combinations using compatible houseplants. Check out more of his artwork and container garden stylings at The Rain Forest Garden.

To learn about Steve’s AWESOME GIVEAWAY (can you guess what it is?) go to The Rain Forest Garden.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book." ย 

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest ย 

Fran Sorin
40 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Donna October 2, 2012, 10:20 am

I love Steve’s drawing, it is beautiful. I very much love the story of its creation as well. It was a very sad yet heartwarming story. I think you picked a perfect illustration for your blog, Fran.

Steve Asbell October 2, 2012, 11:15 am

My post is up now, in case it didn’t work the first time! BTW, the blue passionflower labeled as Passiflora incarnata is actually P. x belotti, just in case Fran doesn’t get to fixing it first. Thanks for letting me share my art with you guys!

Susan October 2, 2012, 1:37 pm

Steve, I agree with yours and Fran’s choice of the passionflower for the header. I love the outcome of both your talent and your labor. I’m thinking your real gift may be in your ability to teach. You have a sharing soul. I hope you meet all the ‘firsts’ since your mother’s death with a smile of remembrance.

Melissa Gould October 2, 2012, 3:14 pm

Steve’s botanical drawings are amazing…he is such an incredibly gifted artist. What makes this illustration so special, is the emotion he poured into his work, in honor of his mom. I’m sure she is smiling.

Noel Kingsbury October 2, 2012, 3:24 pm

So enlightening to see how the illustration gets built up. Shame P. incarnata is so hard to get hold of here , it sounds a good wild garden plant.

Amy Jarratt October 2, 2012, 4:03 pm

Your illustrations are just beautiful !

Emily October 2, 2012, 4:46 pm

I love this post! It’s so fascinating to see all of the steps that go into creating one of your gorgeous drawings!

Patrick October 2, 2012, 6:19 pm

So enjoyed seeing the process and it allows you to appreciate the work on a deeper level.

michelle d. October 2, 2012, 6:37 pm

I really enjoyed reading about Steve’s drawing process. I just recently dusted off some old colored pencils and signed up for my first colored pencil drawing class upcoming in mid October 2012 after being inspired by both Steve’s work and a colored pencil botanical art show at the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
I hope to someday tackle a complicated botanical illustration like Steve’s beautiful Passiflora, but until then , I’ll admire from the comfort of my computer screen and be grateful for his articulate ‘process’ tutorial.

Africanaussie October 2, 2012, 7:15 pm

Steve is so talented, his Mom would be so proud to see his achievements. I think she looks down from heaven and smiles.

Carolyn from Cowlick Cottage Farm October 2, 2012, 7:54 pm

Steve is an incredibly talented artist and alround great person. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his artistic process, and the resulting artwork is amazing. Great job!

Nancy DeMay October 2, 2012, 8:24 pm

Ahh, the passionflower brings passion to all who encounters it, from growing, drawing, writing about it and giving it lovingly to their Mother.

Priscilla Hudson October 2, 2012, 8:44 pm

So beautiful, thank you for sharing.

April October 2, 2012, 9:06 pm

These are beautiful and such a great story! Thanks!

Fran Sorin October 3, 2012, 12:52 am

Thanks to all of you for your comments about Steve’s work – I agree with all of you….and more. In trying to interpret what I wanted, Steve was flexible, persistent, and possessed an attitude of playfulness and fun –

The results are self evident. Every time I click onto the new GGW site, I smile and sigh….a sigh of beauty and contentment.


Fran Sorin October 3, 2012, 12:56 am

Michelle- It’s great that you’ve signed up for a colored pencil drawing class. Can’t wait to see how you progress. ๐Ÿ™‚ Fran

Fran Sorin October 3, 2012, 12:57 am

Melissa- I feel Nancy smiling every time I click onto the site. ๐Ÿ™‚ Fran

Cindy October 3, 2012, 6:27 am

Wonderful article and illustration ! I am a life long friend of Steve and am happy to see how his artist talent has developed ! Illustrating and writing : )

Margaret (Peggy) Herrman October 3, 2012, 8:54 am

What a sweet, sweet post. I love Steve’s work and this blog. thanks for being who you are, and for the tips on drawing. I think I will head that way as I follow that lovely muse. You two are fabulous! Best, Peggy

Judy Tillson October 3, 2012, 9:26 am

A beautiful drawing, but more importantly, a beautiful tribute to your Mother. Thank you for sharing.

Annie Haven | Authentic Haven Brand October 3, 2012, 9:27 am

Wonderful to see how this all came together from start to finish and Steve’s lovely talent nourished by such a beautiful woman thank you for sharing Annie

Michael Nolan October 3, 2012, 9:36 am

Steve is by far one of the best illustrators I know. I can’t even imagine having the talent that he does, but having been lucky enough to have known his mom and her brilliant gift as well, it isn’t surprising.

Beautiful work.

Laura Mathews October 3, 2012, 10:23 am

Beautiful work, Steve. Thanks for sharing the process and story.

Sheila October 3, 2012, 10:56 am

Beautiful illustration, Steve, and fascinating to follow how you created it – gives encouragement to those of us who are less talented!

Chris McLaughlin October 3, 2012, 11:06 am

BEAUTIFUL! You should be so proud and Fran, I’m sure, is tickled pink to have your art work here!

Donna Minick October 3, 2012, 6:32 pm

The Passiflora incanata perfectly illustrates a WILD theme. I know because I once had one of these and everything you said about it is true, including its being a caterpillar magnet.

Christina Salwitz October 3, 2012, 6:36 pm

Steve Asbell is not only an amazing artist, he’s an amazingly compassionate and funny human too! Shared this link on my page! ๐Ÿ™‚

Steve Asbell October 3, 2012, 6:47 pm

Donna: To the contrary! I feel nothing but happiness even though she’s gone. Missing her is a bittersweet but always welcome feeling.

Susan: I don’t know if I’m any good at teaching, but I do love to share what I DO know! Thank you so much for the kind words.

Melissa: Thank you! The drawing means that much more to me because of her. Well, drawing anything is that much more special now.

Noel: It really is a nice plant, but P. ‘Incense’ is a fragrant cross between P. incarnata and P. cincinnati that might even have the maypop beat! Well, except that it doesn’t have fruit. I wonder if that one’s available there.

Amy: Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

Emily: Glad you enjoyed it! The beautiful thing about drawing is that you can do it however you like, as long as you’re satisfied in the end.

Patrick: I’m glad you liked the post. Thank you!

Michelle: I would be beyond thrilled to see you draw! Please, please, please keep me posted!

Africanaussie: My mom would be talking the whole time, but yes, she would also be smiling. ๐Ÿ™‚

Carolyn: I’m so relieved that you think I’m a great person. Whew!

Nancy: Everything about the plant and the drawing makes me smile!

Priscilla and April: Thank you so very much for sharing that! It made my day.

Tom Mann October 3, 2012, 7:04 pm

I’ve been fortunate to follow Steve (and his lovely mother Nancy before her passing) as they worked through their sketches. I’ve watched many of Steve’s sketches come to life via the internet, and I’m happy that this beautiful Passion Flower has found a lovely home. ~Tom

Fran Sorin October 4, 2012, 12:18 am

I couldn’t agree more Christina.
Thanks for the link on your page. It would be great if you could shade on FB and Twitter as well. Fran

Fran Sorin October 4, 2012, 12:19 am

Chris – You better believe it. I am already chomping at the bit to do another project with Steve. Fran

Fran Sorin October 4, 2012, 12:21 am

Donna- YEH! That’s exactly what we wanted to convey but not invasive (smiling to myself). ๐Ÿ™‚ Fran

Fran Sorin October 4, 2012, 12:23 am

So am I. I do feel that there’s a feeling of magic to having it on our header. Fran

Alia October 4, 2012, 2:58 am

This is SO beautiful!!!

Shirley October 4, 2012, 6:35 pm

Beautiful drawing and such a special story to go with it. I love this flower, p. incarnata is native and grows naturally in the wild here.

Lenore Mitchell October 4, 2012, 8:31 pm

What a gorgeous drawing! I grew a passion flower years ago, and it was the most unusual flower, with a beauty all its own. Excellent illustration for Gardening Gone Wild.
Steve is overflowing with talent.

Candy Suter October 5, 2012, 2:10 am

Great post on the new look and artwork of Steve! He is such a great guy and so talented. It was very interesting hearing how he does it. Wow amazing! I used to draw and wanted to major in art but when I was young I developed essential tremor which made me unable to continue. But I have found another outlet for my artistic side. Growing succulents!

Diane C October 6, 2012, 4:39 pm

What a great post by Steve telling about his method of drawing. He is truly gifted.

Green Thumb October 6, 2012, 8:53 pm

the illustration is beautiful, I love the colors

Kelly October 9, 2012, 9:50 pm

I’ve admired your art for a couple of years now. I adored your mom. You got even better while she was fighting her final battle, and even better since. She’s your angel, and you have the talent of two! Love your work!

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