Sarah Illenberger’s Wonder Plants

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

Dracaena surculosa

Plants are pretty perfect things. I’ve never looked at a leaf and thought, “You know, that really needs a little something.” But then illustrator Sarah Illenberger comes along and shows me joy I never thought to look for. 

And what is that joy? It’s hard to describe the appeal of a decorated plant, though I suppose it’s not an entirely foreign concept. (What is a Christmas tree, after all?) Perhaps it’s in the collision of two pleasures. First the leaves, with their glossy green surfaces and organic edges, and layered on top the patterns, with their neon colors and structured repetition. The compositions bridge worlds: ordered vs. organic, natural vs. artificial, grown vs. designed. It’s often at the junctures between opposites that joy arises, not unlike what happens when strangers with very different personalities are confined together for a period of time and emerge bonded. (The Breakfast Club effect, you might call it, where the class oddball and the jock end up an item.) Peculiar combos can sing, if each element is joyful in its own right, and respects the others.

Illenberger created the series during a six-week vacation in Portugal, using leaves from local plants and tape and stickers from the stationery shops she found there. While most of us are just happy for time to unwind on vacation, there’s nice inspiration here for using travel as an excuse for a little side project that uses the local materials, taking you deeper into the place. It could be cooking a meal with novel ingredients, writing letters on local stationery, or even just scouting markets (or beaches) for items to add to a collection. It doesn’t have to be too strenuous. But for me it’s a nice reminder that vacations are not just for vegging out, but for finding (and making) joy as well.

Monsterstera deliciosa


Galax ureolata




Anthurium andurium

Images: Sarah Illenberger; prints available in her shop
Via: The Jealous Curator

February 10th, 2016


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    Discussion (1 Comment)

  1. Sherry on February 12, 2016

    Oh! Now there is something I never would have thought of! how very . . . stunning! how would you think of doing something like that! I’m always in awe of plants as they don’t seem to thrive well when I tend them. I never would have thought of . . . making them into art. Some of the designs just amazing: the black and yellow half circles of the last one and the pink and orange lines on the frondy kind of plant! They are amazing! thanks for sharing as I certainly never would have found that on my own! You certainly bring a wide variety of things that make me smile right to my desk and light up my morning!


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