Archive for category Author: Margaret Stevens

Botanical Painting || Margaret Stevens

Botanical painting in its pure form is about creating an image that aids identification for the naturalist in the field. It is preferred to photography as it can combine all the typical elements of a species into one image, rather than simply recording a single example that may present some features prominently while lacking others. In some ways, the ideal example is a fiction, but it is one that has a specific place in science.

To achieve this level of work requires considerable skill as well as study, an understanding of the subject being worked on and an ability to work with fine detail. Those who are pre-eminent in this are usually members of the Society of Botanical Artists and it is their work that provides many of the illustrations for this comprehensive book.

This is, however, a work aimed at the practising artist rather than the scientist or connoisseur. Margaret explains how botanical paintings are created and includes a number of step-by-step demonstrations that will aid those keen to develop their skills. This is by no means a book for the beginner, though, and experience in this kind of work would be desirable if you are going to attempt to follow it.

As well as the practical, there are also plenty of examples of work by others. Subjects include fruit, leaves, bark and seeds as well as the more obvious flowers. There are also works that could best be described as settings: gardens, landscapes and flower groups that show how the botanical style can break out of pure science.

This is one of the most serious studies I’ve seen of botanical art from the artist’s point of view, yet remains eminently accessible for anyone with an interest in the topic.

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Handbook of Plant Forms for Botanical Artists || Ernest E Clark & Margaret Stevens

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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Botanical Sketchbook || Mary Ann Scott with Margaret Stevens

This is an intriguing guide to painting flowers and plants from the perspective of someone who is following a defined course (the Society of Botanical Artists’ Distance Learning Course). On the face of it, you’d be inclined to be sceptical: can you really learn anything by watching someone else learn; isn’t that idea the very definition of an oxymoron?

Without the capable hands of Margaret Stevens and the SBA, I’d say it probably was. The other thing that has to be said is that Mary Ann Scott, the learner, is a capable artist who, at the beginning, is clearly not short of ability and so we’re not subjected to 80-odd pages of not-very-good exercises while she gets her hand in. It’s possible to see the progression, but every illustration is something you’d be pretty pleased to have done yourself and that’s the book’s secret, the reason why you learn along with Mary Ann. The sketchbook of the title is the record of her work towards the Society’s Diploma.

This is a well thought-out and well structured book that doesn’t just explain the process of botanical painting, but also the process of learning it.

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The Botanical Palette || Margaret Stevens

in association with the Society of Botanical Artists

The basis of this book is an idea so simple and original that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before. It’s flower painting arranged by colour. Of course, why didn’t I think of that? Horticultural books quite naturally arrange flowers by type because that’s how gardeners look at them, but we’re not gardeners; well, not in this context, at least. We’re painters and we approach things by colour and design and taxonomy is irrelevant.

The inspiration came from students of the SBA’s Distance Learning Diploma Course, who apparently confessed to having problems particularly with some of the strong colours that can appear in flower painting and all credit to Margaret Stevens who didn’t respond by replying, “well really, call yourself an artist?”, but set about an approach to solving the problem.

The Botanical Palette is the successor to the previous Stevens/SBA book, The Art of Botanical Painting, which was an thorough and in-depth look at serious flower painting that made few compromises to the flower portrait approach but came with a quiet authority that made it one of the most important guides to a popular and well-covered subject.

This new volume has a more relaxed feel about it and, while retaining the quality of painting and writing that characterised its predecessor, newcomers to the art of recording flowers and plants rather than just using them as another painting subject should feel welcome and unintimidated by the seniority (for want of a better word) of the instruction here. If you’re serious about flower painting, this is a very good place to start because you’ll be taught correctly right from the start. Not that this is a beginner’s book: you need to have a fair amount of experience in handling paint before you start and it is encouraging that publishers are beginning to discover that books that don’t start right from the basics have a strong market.

At £25, this isn’t cheap, but it’s substantial in every way. The backing of the SBA gives it authority and the illustrations, by a variety of the Society’s members, are all top-class. The reproduction is faultless and it’s printed on a decent, heavyweight paper that allows the printing ink to work to full depth and produce the strong, clear colours without which a book of this nature would, frankly, be worthless.

Collins 2007
£25

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