You could be forgiven for thinking that this franchise might be nearing the end of its shelf life and that the authors must be struggling for something new to say. However, this latest volume (the fourth, if you include Natural History Painting as part of the canon) is as fresh as ever and, in many ways, could be regarded as the best yet.
The first thing you’re likely to think is, “Hmm, exotic plants, how likely am I to come across those?” and the answer is: not much. However, open the book almost anywhere and the surprise is just how familiar the subjects are. It’s probably all down to television, the armchair explorer. Orchids, check. Carnivorous plants, check. Pak Choi and Globe Artichokes, check. Pumpkins and maize – hang on, how exotic are they? But that’s the point, you don’t have to be a Joseph Banks to be at least aware of practically everything here. And then, when you delve deeper, the book turns out not to be half so much how to paint all the things that didn’t appear in the earlier books as how to paint plants full stop.
There’s a huge amount here about how to draw (pencils and coloured pencils come into it quite a lot) and paint plants, from the use of colour (including “difficult colours”) to capturing textures and sheens. The subjects may not be completely common or garden, but this is one of the best technical manuals I’ve seen, simply because it’s not actually aiming to be one. What Rosie and Meriel are trying to do is show you, in as practical a way as possible, how to capture your subjects. I think they’ve actually sublimated the technical stuff and, as a result, explained it extraordinarily well just because they’re not trying to.
Oh, and the book is just a joy to look at as well.