It’s good to see this authoritative and well-produced book being reissued in paperback. Winner of the Artists’ Choice Award for 2005 (Siriol’s previous book, Exploring Flowers in Watercolour had also won in 1999), it’s an excellent primer in the art of botanical illustration that doesn’t become too bogged down in detail and put off the general painter.
In its finest form, botanical illustration is about creating a painting that illustrates the ideal specimen of a plant that will be used worldwide for identification purposes and, at this level, it’s a skill that takes years to learn and endless patience to practice. It goes beyond photography because it isn’t a portrait of a specific example, but rather a synthesis of typical characteristics that will enable botanists to say with confidence what it is they have in their hand.
However, it can also be practised at a less exalted and exacting level by the general flower painter whose main interest is in producing a very good likeness of a particular flower or plant, most usually in a single portrait, but sometimes also as part of a larger group.
Herself the winner of no fewer than four gold medals from the Royal Horticultural Society, Siriol structures the book by approaching flowers, foliage and fruit from the point of view of both colour and form: that is to say, she works from both the structure and the colour types of her subjects. In such a varied subject, this gives her three overall groupings and a couple of sub-groups within each and allows her to give some sort of shape to the way in which she pitches her instruction. Inevitably, someone’s going to find that something isn’t where they might expect it but, since the alternative is pretty much botanical anarchy, the equivalent of an unweeded border, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.
Around this are chapters in which Siriol talks about the difference between a botanical illustrator and a botanical artist (what I was banging on about above), the general approach to painting flowers and also some handy techniques for capturing some of the smaller, but no less essential, details. Add to that a closing section on the trials and tribulations of a botanical artist (what it’s really like out there at the flower-face) and you have one of the most complete guides to painting flowers that you could wish for.
This isn’t a book for the beginner but, if you are reasonably confident with your brush and you want to take flower painting a little bit further, a little bit more seriously, you won’t be disappointed by this book at all.
First published 2004
Paperback reissue 2007