Illustration for Rain Garden Interpretive Sign

illustration of rain garden

Artist’s rendering of mature rain garden.

This illustration is 20″H x 30″W and is done in a combination of watercolor pencil and traditional watercolor on cold-press illustration board. I am familiar with most of the plants included in the garden, and after researching the plant list provided I sat down with the landscaper’s diagram and a photo of the site from the angle I wanted and sketched it out on the board, then drew in the details. I have just begun to use watercolor pencil and knew I’d want to use it for this specifically for that ability to sketch it out first in the colors I intended.

Next I used a variety of brushes to work water into my sketch, leaving some of the sketchy lines and dissolving others completely into washes of color. I made several passes with the pencils and water and ended with a few final enhancements with just regular colored pencil. The background is done in traditional watercolor washes.

detail of illustration

Detail of birch, ferns, hollies, sedges and bee balm.

All the plants will never bloom at once as it shows here. The plants included are native and hardy, but in time some may not survive while others will flourish and the idea is to show the viewer the intended mix of plants as an indication of what each would look like in bloom, but not to a fully realistic level.

Below I have a photo of the site from approximately with placement of the sign so that viewers can see the plants at the same angle in the illustration and the actual garden; I modified the angle just a little to be able to show the plants that would be growing inside the “bowl” of the garden.

detail of illustration

Detail of blazing star, milkweed, wild hydrangea, switch grass, ferns, bee balm, columbines, sedge, rudbeckia and phlox.

The actual sign is 24″ x 28″ so the green background extends beyond the illustration to cover the entire sign and this garden sits on the green as it does in life (full sign and photo of site are below). I had the chance to use a number of photos of plants from my own wildflower garden in designing the sign.

When I read the copy, which stressed the usefulness and attractiveness of rain gardens, and then saw the site, I visualized the sign blending in with its background, with enough bold color and highlighting elements to be seen from the road and easily read. Sometimes a sign needs to announce itself or it would never be found, especially those in vast natural sites like those at Wingfield Pines, but this is at the entrance to the municipal building and right across from the school. I’ll discuss more about the design after the sign has been installed; sometimes elements need to change during production, and I like to have a site photo with the final design.

design of interpretive sign for rain garden

The Shaler Rain Garden Sign approved design.

This illustration is the main portion of an interpretive sign for a rain garden at the Shaler Township Municipal Building near Pittsburgh, PA. The rain garden was planned and designed to manage water running off the roof of the municipal building, which will help to eliminate erosion on the site and long the roadways as well as alleviate flooding downstream from the site. It’s part of the municipality’s stormwater management plan, which is an effort put forth all over the region by individuals, businesses and governments alike.

Below is the newly-installed garden in November 2011 from approximately the spot the sign will be installed so that viewers can see the plants at the same angle in the illustration and the actual garden; I modified the angle just a little to be able to show the plants that would be growing inside the “bowl” of the garden.

photo of sign site

The newly-installed rain garden in November 2011

The sign is a collaboration between the municipality and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, for which I’d designed a stormwater management brochure last year. The main body of the text was composed by the organization and I was supplied with the text plus diagrams and plant species lists from the landscaping company which designed the rain garden.

At a site visit we discussed the size and placement of the sign and the style and composition of the physical sign itself. Interpretive signs are meant to last for at least a decade, possibly longer, so a durable and fade-resistant material is important as is the type of installation. I’ve designed interpretive signs which were produced in various materials, some best for line art, others for full color, all with different requirements and prices, so we discussed these variables. Later we visited the Liberty Grove sign and decided on that production method.

Below is the finished, installed sign. Though we’d intended to install the sign so that people could look at the garden by looking over the sign, it was installed so that viewers would stand with their backs the garden and would read the sign then turn to look at the garden, but at least it’s well lit.

rain garden sign

The actual sign installed.

And here is a closeup of the lower left corner to show the bevel on the edge and the quality of the printing.

rain garden sign

Detail of sign

You can see more of the signs I’ve designed here on What’s New? on my website under Posters, Signs and Displays.


  1. This is absolutely lovely Bernadette! The garden illustration is exquisite and I enjoyed reading about the process of how and why you went about designing it! Can’t wait to see the finished product!

    • Deb, thanks for reading about it! I can assure you it was well walked-on by cats and has plenty of cat hair stuck to the dried watercolors. This was very fun, testing my knowledge of wildflowers and presenting this sort of information to the general public. I had a pile of work come in all at once recently and I’m glad to finish it well and present it to my friends.

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