Rory McEwen worked as a professional musician until, in the 1950s, he became a full-time artist. He exhibited his botanical drawings in several exhibitions at Durlacher Bros in New York in the 1960s. After this period his art changed direction, and he became an abstract artist and then a sculptor. A trip to India in 1971 revived his interest in botanical drawing and he went on to exhibit his works at Nihonbashi Gallery, Tokyo and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, in 1988.
Although McEwen's works bear similarity with botanical illustration, the differences are clear. Their clarity and attention to detail take them beyond the interests of the illustrator. As Fenella Crichton writes, 'It is certainly important to note that McEwen is an artist well versed in the ideology of contemporary art, who chooses to paint leaves because they provide a vehicle for the expression of his feelings about life and art' (exhibition catalogue, Rory McEwen, London, Taranman, 1980).