Botanical Illustration for Beginners || Meriel Thurstan & Rosie Martin

If your first reaction to seeing the title of this is “no it isn’t”, please bear with me, because I want to convince you it’s something that you can approach with a reasonable amount of skill, experience and determination.

No, you’re right, it’s not something you should attempt as your first foray into flower painting. Yes, no less an institution than Kew runs a prestigious course for something that many exponents will tell you is a lifetime’s study. A few years back, you could also have headed off to Cornwall’s Eden Project and enrol in its diploma course, where you’d have met the authors of this innovative and intriguing book.

Meriel and Rosie have an impeccable track record of explaining what can at first seem (and can easily be) tricky subjects. They also have the teaching experience to know where students’ blocks are and how to get over that initial hurdle of simply getting started.

Botanical Illustration in its purest form is a complex and highly technical subject. It’s used in preference to photography for producing example images that aid identification, picturing a typical plant or flower rather than a specific example and sometimes emphasising particular characteristics in a way that may not been seen in nature, but which guide the viewer towards what to look for. It requires a detailed knowledge both of the subject and of painting in general and the medium (usually watercolour) in particular. As I implied, at this level, it’s not something you can learn just from a book.

And yet. Here we have a beginner’s step-by-step guide. And it works. The trick is that this isn’t a book for the aspiring professional, but for the amateur who wants something a bit more specific than the slightly less formal flower portrait. What it has up its sleeve is to keep you working all the time on demonstrations and projects, rather than technical exercises. This is important because, in something as painstaking as this, it’s important to keep the reader’s interest engaged and there’s nothing like a steady stream of results to do that. Each stage builds on what has gone before and you’re learning and building skills as you go, almost without noticing it. No, it’s neither easy nor completely painless and you will have to put a lot of work in, but you didn’t expect anything less (did you?).

Every time Meriel and Rosie produce another book, I say it’s their best. I’m running out of superlatives. This one is maybe slightly niche but, my goodness, they’ve nailed a tricky subject.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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