Seed Vault colouring book

In this post we present the Seed Vault colouring book. This book is one of the outcomes of the seed drawing exercises presented in this previous post (combined with our data-explorations). The book is available for purchase in the Seed Vault shop.

As a visualisation exercise we have been drawing seeds from selected species in the Seed Vault. This has been an interesting process of creating low-key botanical art by highlighting the diversity and beauty of the seeds through detailed close-up illustrations.

The Seed Vault colouring book available here!

In a way we have thought about this as re-imagining the Seed Vault database as an early 1900s illustrated seed catalog where priced species were presented with their own little illustrations. These forms of prosaic botanical and agricultural cultural expressions are interesting in how they describes crops through rich descriptions and simplified images. They are also interesting as catalogues of biodiversity in agricultural history.

A spread from ‘New crop Rice’s wholesale price list of northern grown seeds : spring 1906'.

While these seed catalogues describe the potential crops the seeds might give you, our illustrations show the actual seeds as part of the collection of the Seed Vault. The purpose for our output would then be about contextualising the seeds in the vault and giving then a visual, tangible presence. We have chosen to do this in a light-hearted manner through making a Seed Vault colouring-book. Conceptually, this lets anyone take part in the exercise of exploring the variations, sizes, textures and shapes of seeds with their own pens and pencils. Colouring books is a genre that can be both playful and contemplative, and that can reach many different audiences.

The front page of the Seed Vault colouring book
The process of designing and illustrating the Seed Vault colouring book involved researching seeds, iterations of drawing styles and user-testing.
The opening page of the Seed Vault colouring book.

Selection process

There are currently 5.499 species in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Drawing the seeds of all of them would have been wonderful, but would take about 900 hours. Using the databases and bits of database-searching software, we made a small, but significant selection of species. The book starts with the 15 species that have the most seed-samples in the Vault. Interestingly, these represent both a large portion of the staple crops from across the world, but also, in a way, illustrate global agricultural history with the genuses of oryza (rice), triticum (wheat), hordeum (barley), sorghum (broom-corn), phaseolus (beans), zea (corn), glycine (soybeans), cider (chickpeas), pennisetum (kikuyu grass) etc.

The book ends with a selection of species that are represented by the least samples and seeds in the Seed Vault, including eryngium giganteum (of which there are currently 2 seeds in the Vault). For a future, extended edition it would be interesting to filter the database with other parameters to find interesting seed-stories — like using newsfeeds to find currently relevant seeds (like those retrieved and re-deposited from Syria in 2015/2017) or crop statistics from the UN).

Drawing in 5:1 scale

All the seeds in the book are drawn to the scale of 5:1. This means that each species is comparable to the other in size. It also means that you can see details of shape and texture of every seed in the book, including small beardgrass seeds like those of bothriochloa pertusa. The largest seeds in the book, those of eryngium giganteum, take up a page each.

Texts written by software

Apart from the opening and closing pages, all text in the book is generated from the Seed Vault database. This means that the descriptions of species, how many seeds are currently in the Vault, where they came from etc are summarised from the data and our aggregation and filtering of this information.

All the texts describing the seeds are generated from the databases.

Printing and online distribution

This edition of our Seed Vault colouring book is designed to be printed and distributed online through (can be purchased here!). This allows us to quickly, and without any logistical efforts, get the book out into the world. As this is part of an online residency at DOX, it is also fitting that this outcome is also made to be bought online. (However, for a future edition extended it would be wonderful to have a traditional publisher and more elegant print).

The Seed Vault book is available for purchase through

Here are some previews of page spreads:


All information in the book is based on the databases of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault accessed through the SGSV Data Portal [] on June 28, 2017.

The illustrations in this book are based on botanical descriptions and scientific photographs from various open-access archives. All images and sources have been free from copyright. Credits as follows:

Oryza sativa, Triticum aestivum, Hordeum vulgare, Sorghum bicolor, Zea mays, Glycine max, Cajanus cajan, Avena ventricosa, Ipomoea carica & Bothriochloa pertusa — Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (, 28 June 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401–4901 USA.

Phaseolus vulgaris, Triticum turgidum, Arachis hypogaea, Triticum durum & Crotalaria longirostrata — Tracey Slotta, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (, 28 June 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401–4901 USA.

Pennisetum glaucum, Phalaris paradoxa, Cymbopogon citratus, Chloris cucullata & Bothriochloa alta — Jose Hernandez, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database (, 28 June 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401–4901 USA.

Cicer arietinum — Sanjay Acharya, accessed through, 28 June 2017.

Vigna unguiculata — Toby Hudson, accessed through, 28 June 2017.

Arachis hypogaea — Texnik, accessed through, 28 June 2017.

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