Painting Watercolour Flowers from Photographs || Robin Berry

My first reaction to this is that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. After all, there are books on painting flowers in just about every way you can think of and nearly as many on painting from photographs. But, no, I can’t think of anything that combines the two, in spite of it being one of those, “well, of course . . .” moments.

Flowers are an understandably popular subject, offering challenges of colour and interpretation that go far beyond just recording what’s in front of you. And this is all very well if you’re confident and can work quickly, not to mention having ready access to examples. But what happens if your green fingers have deserted you, if your garden is more like Hamlet’s Denmark (“rank, unweeded”) than a magazine cover? Or if that perfect bloom you bought yesterday is beginning to look a bit limp when you come back to it?

The answer, of course, is a photograph. Photographs don’t fade (well, they do, but you know what I mean) and they don’t go limp unless you’re very clumsy, so you can take as long as you want over painting; you can come back to the same thing over and over again and you can pick the perfect example, well, without picking it. People do, after all, tend to object if you walk off with their prize blooms.

So, are there any particular techniques you need in order to work from a record rather than life? Not really, is the simple answer. You can’t look at the original from every angle, of course, but you do get the advantage that it’s already reduced to two dimensions, which will help with your perspective and composition, getting two problems that face the beginner out of the way at once.

A lot of thought has gone into this book, which is the product of the editorial team at the packager Quarto, whose products I’ve praised before. The photographs have been carefully selected and they feature both individual blooms, groups of the same one and larger compositions. The book is also divided into upright and landscape layouts, giving you the widest possible choice of how you paint. The technique sections are all at the beginning and the individual demonstrations refer back to them. This means more jumping about than usual, but you quickly get the hang of it and it means that each section can be covered in a single spread, which makes reference once you start work much easier.

As an introduction to flower painting, this book has much to recommend it. Covering most of the flower types you’d want to paint, it doesn’t feel restricted and the overall approach is kept as simple as possible, something you want in what can be a complex subject. Providing all the photographs for you means that you can get down to work whenever you want and then progress at your own pace. At some point, you’re going to need to move on to working from life, but that can come later when your skills have developed and you’re feeling altogether more confident.

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