Media information for ‘Botaniphoria’ by Asuka Hishiki

Botaniphoria front cover imageBotaniphoria: A Cabinet of Botanical Curiosities (Botanical Art Portfolios series)

Asuka Hishiki

Asuka Hishiki is an award-winning botanical artist whose work is showcased here with the artist’s own commentary, and with spotlight sections giving insight into her techniques and materials. Her work encompasses subjects as diverse as rotting vegetables, endangered species, mundane weeds and backyard insects – all treasures to her and transformed into objects of intense and fragile beauty through her skill with watercolour.

Published by Two Rivers Press on 21st May 2023

Paperback    96pp    978-1-915048-10-3    200 x 200 cm    £17.99

Press release for Botaniphoria [pdf]

Contact Anne Nolan for more information, to request a review copy, or an interview with the author:

A pdf version of the book (with low resolution images) is available for download here:

  • An artfully arranged collection of Asuka’s ‘treasures’ which include malformed vegetables, scarred specimens, mundane weeds and backyard bugs as well as perfect flowers and luscious fruits – all painted in watercolour with exquisite intensity.
  • A quirky and very personal account of the artist’s obsession with the natural world in all its glory and messy reality – from rotting vegetables to fearsome insects, the smells, the textures and the sense of time passing…
  • A solo exhibition on your bookshelf; the show you can visit whenever you wish with carefully curated artworks you can ponder upon for as long as you like.
  • ‘From my tiny studio’ sections complement Asuka’s humorous accounts of working with live subjects, keeping track of tiny repeated details, her favourite equipment and how she gets the colour just right.
  • More than 100 full colour illustrations
  • A cabinet of curiosities in Maulbronn, May to July 2023 – Asuka will be artist in residence at the Ludwig Seeburger Foundation in Maulbronn, Germany, from May to July.

About the artist: After completing her Masters degree at Kyoto City University of Arts, Asuka Hishiki spent 10 years in New York City delving more into her artistic style. Her work spans drawings of rare, endangered species to more familiar vegetables found in the home, vividly painted in astonishing detail. For the past decade, it has addressed environmental issues and the survival of the natural world, including large-scale installations using recycled paper on the migratory patterns of monarch butterflies. She has also participated in residencies at renowned botanical gardens around the world as part of a decades-long initiative to produce vast visual records (florilegia) of contemporary botanical collections. Her work is held at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, CA, USA; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, UK; Hunt institute for Botanical Documentation, PA, USA; Shirley Sherwood Collection, London, UK; Denver Botanic Gardens, CO, USA; National Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii, USA; New York State Museum, NY, USA; The Horticultural Society of New York, NY, USA and Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore.

Asuka writes: Instead of telling you how beautiful the treasure I find is, I paint how beautiful it is. Painting is my language.

Sample page spreads:

Extracts from Botaniphoria – 3 sections: Botaniphoria, Asuka in Wonderland, and Afterthoughts


Instead of telling you how beautiful the treasure I find is, I paint how beautiful it is. Painting is my language.

Ever since I was a small child, I’ve liked two things: to paint and to flip through the pages of illustrated books of insects, plants and animals. Until I learnt that scholars took painters with them on their research trips around the world centuries ago, I never thought to connect the two. Then I immediately thought how wonderful it would be if I could spend my days travelling around the world drawing plants and insects. However, instead of going out on adventures and finding exciting new species, I found beauty in ordinary vegetables and weeds on the street. A common butterfly in my backyard became much more valuable than a rare, undiscovered species to me.

Nature pleases not only my eyes, it inspires me in various ways. I wonder, I get curious and I am amazed. If I see something interesting, my imagination flies like a butterfly. At the same time, it makes me worry, because we are facing many, many environmental problems. I have come to understand that I know very little about these issues, and it is sad to think that this beautiful day today doesn’t last any longer than it does. However, it is even sadder to imagine that a common butterfly may not be flying in our backyard for future generations to enjoy, perhaps becoming a rare endangered species. These thoughts and worries are woven into my artworks, but my main motivation in creating them is to share the beauty of nature and celebrate the simple joy of experiencing it.


How can I articulate my feelings when I find a treasure? It’s excitement and euphoria, which is like being hit by lightning or falling in love. The treasure itself is often overlooked as an insignificant piece of nature. For example, a half-rotten tomato, a mundane acorn, a broken or crumpled leaf and so on. However, it is a remarkable sensation that I can spot its beauty, while other people pay it no attention, as if I possess a special power. Inside me, it is shouting, ‘Can you see me? Look, look, look!’

But then another realisation hits me. Other people may spot something that I don’t. That unseen treasure is shouting, ‘Look, look, look at me!’ Suddenly, the shouting match of hidden treasure pops and cries out to my mind’s ear – from my fridge, my backyard, the vacant land filled with weed next to me, anywhere and everywhere. It is a euphoric echo of a silent roar.

Instead of telling you how beautiful the treasure I find is, I paint how beautiful it is. Painting is my language.

Asuka in Wonderland

Your work is not for hanging on the wall in a bright living room; instead it is for putting in a drawer in the study

When I first landed in New York City, I knew no one and I didn’t speak English. It was like falling into a rabbit hole. The city was a fascinating but bizarre place, where my common sense didn’t feel normal. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, immersed in an eccentric life. We will skip the details of my adventures since, looking back now, these were not so extraordinary – probably because I got used to the ‘eccentricities’ or because the world had changed. Everything moves so fast these days.

My life in New York City affected my art strongly. Just walking through the city, public art was everywhere, and concerts and performances were happening at subway stations. I shouldn’t forget to mention the many, many museums, galleries, events, parks, farmers’ markets and, of course, meeting interesting people. Inspiration came from everywhere, but it almost became too much at one point, so I tried staying home to work on my own. Yet my life wasn’t an easy one. Like Alice’s story, the mean Queen of Hearts was yelling and screaming orders that I felt forced to follow. And just like the Mad Hatter’s tea party, I didn’t have any idea what they were talking about.

But I met a blue caterpillar on a mushroom, who talked to me. He was one of the very first clients who bought my artwork. He said: ‘Your work is not for hanging on the wall in a bright living room; instead it is for putting in a drawer in the study. Then, in the middle of the night, one can come down to the study alone, take out your artwork and ponder over it. That kind of artwork.’

I am not sure how much I understood the wisdom of the wonderland, but this was the best compliment I was given.

Now, I have moved back to Japan. Our place is not located in a busy city, nor nature-rich countryside, but in between. I spend surprisingly calm days there compared to my life in New York City, just painting all day, cooking meals and talking to myself, my partner and his cats. But still, my interest in nature hasn’t changed. Throughout my adventures, including my youth, my fascination is always about it. And in this fast, rapidly moving world, some things stay unchanged – everything I use is borrowed from history. I still use watercolour on paper. I still use a live subject and my theme is ‘good old nature’.

When I was invited to produce this book, I started selecting my works and seeking fragments of my thoughts and memories to connect them all together. I was excited because it is like having a solo exhibition on your bookshelf, the show you can visit whenever you wish. Then the wisdom of the blue caterpillar came back to me. So I sincerely hope, in the middle of a sleepless night, instead of switching on your phone, you will open this book and ponder over it.



Until the day comes when I can show you my actual works and hand you an actual magnifying glass, I hope this book can be your cabinet of curiosities

When producing this book, I wasn’t sure how to present my artwork. I do care about the composition of the work very much, but the details are the compelling essential piece of what I do. If a whole artwork is printed at book size, all the details cannot be shown. If the image is blown up, the composition of the whole is lost and some parts will be cut out. What should I do?

If I invited you to an exhibition of my work, you could choose to get up-close to see the details or keep your distance to look at the whole composition. How could I make this book as close to that experience as possible? I was going back and forth, wondering how to present the artwork in these limited pages, and decided to focus on the details in the main body of the book but include a list of works as thumbnails of the whole artwork at the back. I hope that this is like handing you a magnifying glass to look at close-ups of the artworks and share the awe I felt when I first saw the details.

Until the day comes when I can show you my actual works and hand you an actual magnifying glass, I hope this book can be your cabinet of curiosities, keeping you amused. My actual artworks will meet you someday, somewhere… until then, a big smile to you.



Botaniphoria: Table of Contents:

Botaniphoria | 1

Asuka in Wonderland | 3

Subject matters: Working with live subjects | 6

  1. Botanical alchemy:

Jewels and treasures in your kitchen and backyard | 9

  1. Messy business:

Badly scarred, desperately tangled, and horribly bushy | 27

III. Bugs and me:

A love-hate relationship | 39

Secret weapons: What’s on my desk | 49

  1. Painting the unpaintable:

Depicting my response to my subjects | 51

  1. A cabinet of curosities:

My collections | 67

FAQ: Brushes, paper, colour mixing | 78

Afterthoughts | 82