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History of Art - MPhil/PhD/MSc by Research

Start date:


Mode of study:

Part time

Research title:

Company Drawings of Natural History: the evolution of techniques and materials


I have worked at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) as a botanical illustrator and artist since 2009.

A painting graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, I have kept a continual personal practice ongoing while a developing interest in plants and their medicinal properties led to a BSc in Herbal Medicine at Napier University Edinburgh. Gradually the connections between the two disciplines have developed into my current work as an Illustrator at RBGE.

The majority of work I make for RBGE accompanies scientific papers published in numerous international botanical journals such as the Edinburgh Journal of Botany, Taxon, Wildeknowia and the Thai Forest Bulletin, and also major publications such as the Flora of Nepal and The Flora of Thailand.

I also teach scientific illustration, both online and attendance modes for the Diploma in Botanical Illustration delivered by RBGE, and have also taught illustration workshops for taxonomy students in Kathmandu, Nepal.

In 2015, I was awarded the internationally-recognised Jill Smythies Medal by the Linnean Society of London for my scientific illustration work.


The achievements of the scientists who commissioned Company Drawings are well researched, but who were their artists? How did they make the natural history drawings? Generally understood as hybrid works, on Western paper with local materials, no study has been undertaken to explore interactions between all sides in the creative process, considering exchange of artistic ideas, the influence of scientific requirements and trade in materials.

One of the first Collaborative Doctoral Awards funded by the Scottish Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities, this highly innovative and original, interdisciplinary project will combine research in the Histories of Art (University of Edinburgh, Dr. Yuthika Sharma) and Science (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Dr. Mark Watson) with Technical Art History (University of Glasgow, Dr. Mark Richter), to understand comprehensively the way Indian artists worked in the colonies.

The dissertation will investigate South Asian drawings commissioned by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, a Scottish Surgeon/Naturalist employed by the British East India Company. Dating from 1790 to 1820, the drawings represent botanical and zoological subjects, produced in the field during extensive survey expeditions, or workshop environments in Kolkata. To disseminate information, some exist in triplicate, partially or fully coloured, all hand-made copies, ideal for discovering a variety of artistic practice.

Focusing on the Indian artists and their methods will contribute to research literature arguing against separating Company Painting from late Mughal painting. Building on recent developments in non-invasive scientific investigations of heritage art works on paper, the synergy between art and science contained within the making of the drawings will be explored, fully investigating the contribution made by Indian artists to scientific discovery, documentation and dissemination in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.