Books on flower painting fall into roughly three categories: flowers as part of a larger painting, flower and plant portraits and botanical illustration. Each one gets progressively more detailed and more obsessed with absolute botanical accuracy. At its very highest level, a single painting of a flower will be used to stand for a whole species and will define it for identification purposes in a way that a photograph (which will always be specific to an individual specimen) cannot.
For the general painter, this level of detail is unnecessary. The main thing is that a flower should look like a flower. If someone comes in and sees you painting, what you’d like them to say is “that’s a nice daffodil” not, “that’s nice, what is it?”. So, when you’re looking for a book on flower painting, for the most part, the flower portrait level is what you need. If you want a botanically purist approach, then Coral Guest’s Painting Flowers in Watercolour, published by A & C Black, has Kew’s imprimatur.
However, if you want a little less than obsessive detail, then this book will fit the bill very nicely. Coming with the authority of the world-famous Eden Project, it’s a bit more than just flower portraits, but does allow the possibility of slightly softer paintings which, by that means, tend to look more like living plants than museum specimens. Of its type, it’s probably the best of the current crop of flower painting books.
The word “course” can conjure up the image of something very dry that makes you work through endless exercises before you’re actually allowed to do anything pictorial. While there is a lot of information on drawing, mark-making, shapes, colours, tones and shadows, the authors actually do a lot of the work for you. That doesn’t mean to say that you can just flick through the book and be a flower painter (of course), but it does make for a colourful production and one which leads by example. All those little sketches, colour grids and practice images are going to get you wanting to try it for yourself; you’re going to be thinking “can you really make it do that?”.
Just looking through the book, the sense is of a wealth of information that can’t be taken in at one sitting and this is borne out in practice. Although this is a book you can open almost at random and pick up ideas from, it’s also very carefully and rather cleverly structured. Although every chapter results in and illustrates finished work, it’s actually progressive and you’ll find that you can build up skills by also working through it from beginning to end.
Year published: 2006
List price: £18.99