The original Handbook of Plant Form by Ernest Clark was published in 1909 and its content has stood the test of time well. The obvious change, which this updating brings, is the addition of colour, the original illustrations all being line drawings. If what you want is the basic outlines, these are hard to beat, being simple and accurate. The same can also be said of Clark’s text which is simple and concise, describing the plants both physically and aesthetically but also economically. Guidebooks such as this, from the age before good and relatively cheap colour printing, are often invaluable as they tend to be generic rather than specific. They also avoid the trap of illustrating one specimen so accurately that they can end up excluding all others – indeed, it is for this reason that paintings rather than photographs are usually used in definitive guides to natural subjects.
Margaret Stevens avoids many of the pitfalls that can come from introducing colour by featuring the work of a variety of artists who are either SBA tutors or have completed the Distance Learning Course. The resulting variety of style not only adds to the charm of the book, but also avoids that issue of being too definitive. She also wisely leaves Ernest Clark’s text alone, instead adding a commentary of her own to the new material, which not only describes the plants illustrated, but also discusses the work of the artist in question and their style of interpretation.
The result is a pleasant combination of the old and the new, the joins being almost completely seamless. Although it is not a step by step manual, an aspiring botanical illustrator can learn much from both aspects of the book and it should also please any plant lover.
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