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A botanical illustrator based in Bangalore, India, whose work is inspired by regular field visits into the wild, and informed by close collaboration with natural scientists to achieve accuracy. Her core interests lie in conservation, education and science communication. National Geographic Young Explorer, Nirupa received a grant to create her book Hidden Kingdom—Fantastical Plants of the Western Ghats (published in 2019). She has also published Pillars of Life—Magnificent Trees of the Western Ghats (2018), a project in collaboration with naturalists Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman of the Nature Conservation Foundation. She illustrated the cover of Amitav Ghosh's latest novel, Gun Island, and re-jacketed four of his older novels for Penguin-Random House. In 2019, she participated in a Plant Humanities program at Harvard University's Dumbarton Oaks Research Centre, and will be featured in a group exhibition at their museum in March 2020, along with artists such as Alice Tangerini (Botanical Illustrator at the Smithsonian). 


2015 Certificate course in Botanical Illustration under Elaine Searle

2012 BA Sociology, Warwick University, UK (Warwick International Undergraduate scholar)

2010-2012 Singapore Government Humanities Scholar 


2019 Plant Humanities fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, USA, a research institute of Harvard University 
2019 Visiting Fellow, Department of Heritage, Telangana
2018 INK Fellowship 
2017 National Geographic Young Explorer
2020 Dumbarton Oaks Research Center and Museum, Washington DC
2019 Bangalore International Centre



Magnificent  Trees of the Western Ghats 2018

Written by Divya Mudappa & TR Shankar Raman, Botanical Illustrations by Nirupa Rao, Additional sketches by Sartaj Ghuman, published by the Nature Conservation Foundation

A watercolour illustrated book documenting 30 iconic trees native to the Western Ghats, through 80 illustrations of the tree form, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds

  • Proceeds go toward the Anamalai Rainforest Restoration Trust

  • As many of these trees grow in dense forests and are too tall to photograph, the book is landmark effort to portray them in their entirety. Sketches were made on site, in deep collaboration with naturalists Mudappa and Shankar Raman. 

  • In the words of noted environmentalist Pradip Krishen:  “I am particularly delighted to discover Nirupa Rao’s illustrations, which combine a beautiful lambent quality with what is obviously the result of careful study. Her rendering of light and texture and translucence is delicious! Botanic artists of this calibre are rare in this country, probably for the same sorts of reasons that we turn our backs on our indigenous plant wealth…”  [...] “It’s taken almost two centuries for a Nirupa Rao to arrive on the scene to pick up the threads of their [19th c artists’] work and I won’t be at all surprised if she sets off a whole new trend in botanical illustration in India. I’m going to look out for her!”


Fantastical Plants of the Western Ghats 2019

Illustrated by Nirupa Rao, Text by Suniti Rao, Research by Siddarth Machado and Prasenjeet Yadav, Supported by National Geographic Society

A watercolour illustrated book on 'fantastical' plants of the Western Ghats—from carnivores to parasites to flowers that stink of rotting flesh, 

aimed at changing peoples' perception of plants as passive and devoid of agency

  • National Geographic Young Explorers Grant awardee

  • India launch at the Bangalore Literature Festival, with a showcase of original paintings at the Bangalore International Centre (2019)

  • International launch at the National Geographic Storytellers Summit in Washington D.C. (2020)

Some excerpts, in no particular order:



An environmental and conservation education program for school children living in conflict-prone villages around wildlife reserves, aimed at nurturing tolerance and coexistence

  • Collaborators: Conservationist Dr Krithi Karanth and photographer/educator Gabby Salazar

  • Co-created a plant module to complement their existing animal module

  • My digital illustrations were turned into games that help children learn about their surroundings in a fun way

  • By 2020, the program will have reached 400 schools across Karnataka and Maharashtra, with plans to expand further



Cover artwork for author Amitav Ghosh's new novel Gun Island, as well as artwork for re-jacketing 4 of his previous novels, published by Penguin-Random House

               Received a Plant Humanities scholarship to study the intersections between botany and human culture, while receiving training in handling their historic rare books collection.                         Next year, my work will be exhibited as a contemporary parallel to legendary 19th-c botanical artist, Margaret Mee, at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum.


A Harvard University Research Center & Museum



Medicor (a publication of Karolinska Institutet) (2015)

Harper's Bazaar India (2018)

Chickpea vegan quarterly (2017)

THANK YOU! | Botanical Illustrator

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