A-Z of Flower Portraits || Billy Showell

The flower portrait lies somewhere between the loose watercolour study and the more formal and detailed world of botanical illustration. As such, it’s ideal for the artist who wants to paint flowers that look realistic, but without getting bogged down in a lot of technical detail.

This is Billy Showell’s third book and the burning question has to be: has she got anything new to say? Actually, it’s an unfair question because a lot of artists have been writing about a lot of flowers for a lot of years, and a lot of people have been buying the books. More pertinent, perhaps is: has she found a new approach that justifies your parting with eighteen of your hard earned pounds?

On balance, I’d say that she has. It’s a difficult question because, for the most part, artists don’t significantly change their style and it’s familiarity, as much as anything else, that attracts us to them. You pick your favourites and stick with them. Whereas Billy’s first book provided a lot of information on general flower painting techniques (and I’d recommend it as an introduction to this style of painting), this one confines all that to the short but well thought-out introductory section.

The rest of the book is devoted to 40 fairly concise demonstrations of flower types from the Anemone to the Zantedeschia, or Wild Arum Lily (but Wild Arum Lily doesn’t begin with a Z. Zinnia does, though). Each of these is presented on a double page spread, so you can see the whole thing at a glance. There are no real step-by-step demonstrations, the illustrations being confined to the finished painting and a few detail paintings and the basic drawing. The stages required to complete each picture come in some 20 quite short paragraphs. There’s also a colour chart for each painting and this is something of a triumph, because Billy shows you not just basic colours but mixes and tints. More artists should do this because it’s quite possibly the book’s most useful feature (and I really don’t mean to damn it with faint praise – it’s the first time I’ve seen this done).

The first impression of this approach is quite likely to be, “Is that it?” because we’ve got used to sometimes laborious plod-by-plod photographic strips that all too easily leave you devoid of the will to live. You should see the stuff I used to review in the 1970’s. One dodgy black and white photo – and that’s if you were good and ate up all your greens (not the heavy-metal based ones, obviously).

Anyway, I’ve taken my medication, so back to the matter in hand. Once you’ve got over the rather spare appearance of the instructions, you realise that it’s all there and, as long as you’re a reasonably competent painter, you’ll be able to achieve results like Billy’s quite easily. And, if you’re mainly using this as a guide to specific flower types, you’ll be thankful for the total lack of waffle. This isn’t a book for the beginner, by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, I’ve already hinted that Watercolour Flower Portraits, Billy’s first book, is probably the better buy if you’re new to flower painting. But, when you’ve mastered that, it’s practically guaranteed you’ll come back to snap this one up.

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