Archive for category Subject: Botanical Illustration

New Ideas in Botanical Painting || Carolyn Jenkins & Helen Birch

If you were to approach this expecting some revolutionary ideas, you would be either disappointed or relieved. To be honest, flower painting probably doesn’t really lend itself to a great deal of innovation, but there is nevertheless a freshness to the approach here that might well appeal.

Carolyn is a gardener as well as an artist, so there’s quite a lot about cultivation and working with plants in order to understand them as a prelude to painting them. She also talks a lot about structure, but from the artistic rather than scientific point of view and this is certainly useful.

The style of the work veers strongly towards botanical illustration, being detailed and precise but, again, tends more towards the artistic than the scientific. The overall impression is colourful and inviting – this is a book that’s heavier on interpretation than it is on representation. It should also be noted that there are no lessons or demonstrations as such, the book being more a discussion of approaches and working methods. That said, the chapter on photography and the use of Photoshop to create the “perfect” specimen is something new and certainly useful.

This is an inviting book that you can’t help delving into.

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Colour for Botanical Artists and Illustrators || Leigh Ann Gale

This really rather excellent guide to botanical painting comes at its subject from the angle of colour. That much you could glean from the title, but the approach is interesting because Leigh Ann breaks a complex topic down into not just manageable, but also fundamental, parts that allow discussion to broaden into real-life observation and the use of colour theory.

That latter is always a difficult subject to address because it seems so esoteric, yet is also absolutely central to all artistic endeavours. The irony is that its foundations are relatively simple – colours are filters for white light and reduce the amount that is reflected. More is always less. By tackling the matter head on, Leigh Ann simply shows you how correctly-observed colour choices will produce vibrant and, above all, botanically accurate results.

All aspects of colour are covered, including flowers, fruit and foliage, with examples and demonstrations provided for each of the main colour groups. Instructions and analyses are thorough throughout and this is a worthwhile as well as original addition to the canon of botanical literature.

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Colours of Nature || Sandrine Maugy

This is not a new book, having first appeared in 2013, but its reissue is timely and it’s something that really shouldn’t be out of print.

There are all kinds of guides to colour, from the mixing swatch-books to highly technical volumes that are really of more interest to the scientist than the artist. This one is firmly practical and written for those working with pigment to create end results, which are the main, indeed only, focus.

What colours do, especially in relation to each other, is of prime importance and a basic understanding of their properties is essential if predictable and reliable results are to be achieved. This doesn’t necessarily mean a crash course in chemistry, although that’s behind a lot of what happens on the palette and the paper. An author who can understand that and translate it into the language and requirements of the artist is someone to be treasured.

Sandrine works through each of a wide range of colours individually as well as explaining some basic techniques for botanical painting. She also names specific brands, but recommends alternatives as well. You don’t have to throw away the contents of your paintbox in order to work with her prescribed choices, which is very welcome – this is about you, not her.

Each colour choice is accompanied by a detailed floral demonstration that pays particular attention to the colours used – how and why – for each part of the subject. It’s particularly useful to be able to see and understand why a particular mix is appropriate at any particular stage and where they all fit into the overall result.

This is a very thorough guide to a complex subject, but one which is told clearly and concisely and, above all, in language the artist will readily understand.

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A Florilegium – Sheffield’s Hidden Garden

This rather beautiful book is an excellent example of what can be produced by the best botanical artists. The Florilegium Society at Sheffield Botanical Gardens is non-selective, which means that it effectively acts as an atelier – members can learn about both plants and how to paint them from their more experienced colleagues, although the archive they create is scrutinised by a selection panel.

This is not an instructional book, but does contain a wealth of top quality illustrations and a great deal of information about the plants included. It should delight any lover of plants or botanical illustration.

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Watercolour Mixing Techniques For Botanical Artists || Jackie Isard

Books on flower painting abound, as do colour mixing guides, but this is the first time I have seen something as specific as this. It is, it should be said, very thorough, but without being exhausting and the detail (which is considerable) is entirely practical. Jackie is clearly fully on top of her subject.

A lot of mixing guides consist of little more than colour swatches and these, while useful, can leave you gasping for air. Here, there are remarkably few and they’re surprisingly small. You can, though, see what you need to and the whole point is that they do not dominate. The purpose of the book isn’t to present you with an exhaustive – or exhausting – list of what you can produce, but rather a selected set of examples of what you will need. What you will see are images of flowers, leaves, stems and berries, each clearly annotated with information about the colours used. Enlarged details are included where they are needed.

Despite its relatively limited extent, this is a comprehensive guide that includes not just mixing information, but the use of colour for tone, shading and to highlight detail. Everything is in just the right place and the book wears its considerable level of technical information very lightly indeed.

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The Whole Story || Christina Hart-Davies

Books from Two Rivers Press arrive with very little flourish and, it should be said, no loud thump onto the mat. Moderate in format and extent, they pack a lot more punch than you would expect and this is one of the most eloquent works on botanical illustration I’ve seen.

To be clear, this is not an instructional book as such, although “the inside story” sections do include concise step-by-step exercises. The bulk of the book is devoted to examples and explanations of the subjects illustrated. And what a range of subjects it is. The book is subtitled “Painting more than just the flowers” and Christina includes leaves, ferns, lichens, bark and fungi as well as the creatures that inhabit the natural world: butterflies, bees, birds (represented by a feather), even a cat.

Much of the charm of the book stems from the fact that the paintings are not just dry specimens for the botanical specialist but living tableaux that appear to have been plucked – or rather borrowed – from their natural habitat. There’s an immediacy that stems from some very careful brushwork and use of colour.

If you’re looking for a book that will teach you, this is probably not it. If you want one you can learn much from, though, it absolutely is.

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Botanical Art Techniques || The American Society of Botanical Artists

This is a hefty tome that also carries with it a considerable weight of authority. At £30, it’s priced above most books in this field, but the quality of instruction and reproduction and the sheer breadth of coverage actually make it look a bit of a steal. Shout-out to the UK distributor for converting that from $40 as well (most would just have converted the currency symbol).

So, what do you get for your weighted-down walk home? For a start, as the cover proclaims, most of the painting and drawing mediums and surfaces “and more”. Subjects include flowers, leaves and fruit as well as one of the most thorough groundings in techniques I’ve seen. As the authorship implies, each lesson is tutored by a different artist. No, you won’t have heard of most of them, but there’s a remarkable consistency to the style and the editors have been careful to make the book a homogenous whole rather than, as it could easily be, a collection of only vaguely related articles.

Although there are plenty of step-by-step guides, this is probably best approached if you’re serious about botanical work and already have a reasonable set of skills. I’m hesitant about calling it a masterclass, because it’s more than that, but I do think it’ll leave you feeling well-provided however advanced you were to start with.

Can I say it’s the only book you might need? Not exactly. This is a field that’s widely served and there are plenty of introductory guides and subject-specific offerings. Despite that, and however many other books you have, I think it’s fair to say you need this one.

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Botanical Illustration From Life || Işik Güner

Isn’t all proper botanical illustration done from life?, asks a pedant. It’s a valid question, though, but one which is also unfair given the wide range of books available on the subject and relative shortage of titles.

The first thing that should be said is that this is not a manual for the budding botanical illustrator. The style of work that appears here is not the sort that would grace a species identification guide. The manner, however, is much more than the more relaxed plant portrait and includes sufficient detail for even the most demanding general painter of natural subjects.

What it does offer is probably the most thorough guide to top-end botanical painting you could wish for. At 208 pages, it’s a substantial tome and the space is not wasted. There are no establishing shots and few intrusive hands or photos of the artist at work. Rather, there are the exercises and demonstrations you’d expect, but also extensive analyses of flower, leaf and stem structure, all illustrated with some really rather exquisite paintings that make this more scientific aspect not merely interesting but a joy to work with. It’s about art and so it should be artistic.

Just about every aspect of botanical subjects is covered – I mentioned flowers, leaves and stems, but roots, fruit and seeds are here too. These, though, are only the subject matter and the technical aspects of portraying them are dealt with extensively as well. Once again, the extent is put to good use and, despite the comprehensive nature of the coverage, there’s never any sense of rush, or of things being crammed in. The pages are relaxed and very user-friendly

I quibbled over the title. If I was going to choose, I might call it The Complete Guide to Botanical Painting, but that’s probably been bagged already.

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Botanical Artistry || Julia Trickey

This really rather beautiful collection of images from an award-winning botanical artist isn’t just about flowers, but looks at dying and damaged leaves as well as fruit and fading blooms. All these are an important part of botanical illustration as few specimens are perfect in real life. In the right hands, they can, as we see here, be things of considerable beauty.

This isn’t an instructional book, but Julia includes handy observations on what she was looking for and why many of the particular subjects were chosen. If you’re a student of botanical art, these insights will be both fascinating and a valuable way of learning how to develop you own skills in the company of an accomplished professional.

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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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