Archive for category Subject: Botanical Illustration

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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Botanical Drawing || Penny Brown

This is a comprehensive guide that will take you through all the stages of drawing flowers, fruit and vegetables. Penny’s medium is pencil and the concise technical notes she opens with are in context to the point. It’s always a good sign when an author excludes anything that isn’t relevant at this point as it invariably means you aren’t going to get bogged down in excessive detail later.

The book progresses by way of a series of demonstrations that are also studies of the subject in question, with field notes, detail sketches and lessons on what to look for and how to observe. As is common with natural subjects, similarities and a wealth of detail can be confusing and it’s as essential to know what to discard as what’s important. Alongside these exercises, you’ll find information about composition, perspective and the use of photographs.

This is a gentle and nicely progressive guide that, while it requires a reasonable level of skill in drawing, doesn’t assume too much previous knowledge of botany and will take you from first steps to competent work with more complex subjects by an entirely practical route.

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Beginner’s Guide to Botanical Painting || Michael Lakin

This is another of Search Press’s mashups, combining material from 2010’s Ready to Paint Botanical Flowers in Watercolour and 2012’s A-Z of Botanical Flowers in Watercolour, bringing together the best from both.

If it’s possible to teach beginners something that takes a lifetime to master, this comes at least somewhere near to achieving its aim. There are 13 pre-printed tracings (familiar from the Ready to Paint series) with their detailed demonstrations. Alongside and really rather well integrated with this elementary process is the more detailed information from the larger book. This includes an explanation of Michael’s six-stage process for flower painting that does a lot to remove the confusing mystique that surrounds the subject. There are also exercises for further development once you’ve mastered the basics.

As an introduction to realistic flower painting, this is really rather good.

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Rosie Sanders’ Flowers

Subtitled “a celebration of botanical art”, this beautifully produced and re-produced large-format book does its subject more than justice.

Something of a departure for Batsford, this contains no instructional material, but would sit well with any student or lover of botanical painting. The generous dimensions allow the work to be reproduced at more or less full size and the origination ensures that there are no failures of resolution, as can easily happen if the printing process is not closely monitored.

Rosie’s work has been exhibited at Kew and she has also received no fewer than five gold medals from the Royal Horticultural Society and won the RA miniature award. She has also been compared to Georgia O’Keefe. What this tells us, I think, is that this is work of the highest scientific as well as artistic quality. I said that there is no instructional content, and there is also no commentary other than the botanic information provided by Dr Andreas Honegger.

This is a sumptuous production that would grace any collection of art books.

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Botanical Drawing using Graphite and Coloured Pencils || Sue Vize

Along with watercolour, pencils are a favoured medium for the botanical artist because of their ability to capture fine detail as well as blend to provide subtle colour variation.

As you would expect from Crowood Press, this is a very thorough and comprehensive guide that goes into considerable depth. As well as detailed analyses of its subject matter, it also includes step-by-step exercises that allow you to get hands-on with plenty of supervision. Each of these lists all the materials used, which are for the most part Faber Castell and Derwent. Unlike watercolours, where a limited, or relatively limited, palette is commonplace, you may need over 20 different shades for one subject. It’s worth equipping yourself, though, as you do need to be sure that you’re replicating the example exactly. Botanical illustration is not an area where interpretation is desirable.

Subject include flowers, leaves, stems, seeds and fruit and even fungi. This is a book for the serious student, who it will occupy and enlighten for a considerable period.

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Botanical Painting With Gouache || Simon Williams

This is at once a paean to the merits of gouache as well as a well-structured guide to its use in botanical painting that manages not to get caught between the two prongs of its message.

Often dismissed as “body colour” or “poster paint”, gouache is the poor relation of the water-based media, yet there is no reason for it to be taken any less seriously than acrylic, which does much the same thing. Classroom associations don’t help, something which acrylic’s late arrival on the scene has largely saved it from.

The materials and techniques sections that open the book are commendably brief and mainly confine themselves to the specifics of the subject matter in hand. The main meat is in the step-by-step projects, which are pitched more towards the capable painter than the complete beginner. There are enough stages for you to see what’s going on, but without illustrating every brushstroke, and the captions are much more detailed than is often the case, explaining both the why as well of the what in the picture. A final section looks at in situ working, which is invaluable for serious botanical artists who may wish to avoid the use of photographs. The less-committed may enjoy this, but also not feel the need to memorise it!

There has been a huge number of books on painting flowers, and maybe more on botanical painting that you think is strictly necessary, but this fills a neat and identifiable niche, demonstrating a serious application for an often-overlooked medium.

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Billy Showell’s Botanical Painting in Watercolour

Exquisitely presented and beautifully painted, if you ever wanted something to encourage you to start botanical painting, this would be it.

For such a specialist, technical subject there’s a surprising number of books on botanical art. I’m not talking about flower painting in general – there are even more of those! – but ones that specifically identify themselves as belonging to the genus of scientific representation. We could quibble over how many are actually that deeply technical. In its pure form, botanical illustration is used to aid identification and has very specific requirements. For a start, you don’t paint a single example, but rather include specific characteristics that a worker in the field would look for. This may then be used to identify an existing species in an unknown location, or maybe a new one altogether.

I’ve always divided botanical art into three genres. We start with flower painting, where the purpose is to produce something that looks like what it’s meant to represent without necessarily getting every petal perfect, and where the flower itself may not be the main subject. Then there’s the flower portrait (Billy Showell’s previous speciality), where detail becomes more important and the subject may be a single stem. Finally, there’s botanical illustration, which we dealt with above.

This book adds, I think, a new dimension: botanical art that goes into considerable detail, but isn’t obsessed with total scientific accuracy and can be a record of the single example you have in front of you. As such, it’s ideally suited to the artist who isn’t a scientist but nevertheless enjoys at least some of the perfectionism that goes with full-on illustration.

The book is a joy to handle and very thoroughly illustrated, going into plenty of detail regarding the stages of completing a painting. This includes not only step-by-steps, but also examples and technical exercises that deal with things like water droplets – which are well outside scientific work. It’s inspiring, enjoyable and very thorough.

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The Kew Book of Botanical Illustration || Christabel King

This, as far as botanical illustration is concerned, is pretty much the tablets of stone, the Authorised Version. Kew do not hand out their imprimatur lightly and want to approve every stage of the production. If they sign off, it’s a guarantee that everything is absolutely right. Having a book like this, and having Kew in the title, is therefore quite a coup, especially for an independent publisher.

On top of that, Christabel King is one of a very select band of illustrators who works at Kew itself and can therefore be regarded as absolutely top flight. I really can’t emphasise too much how good this is getting. Botanical illustration at this level is respected and used by botanists around the world for identification purposes. The work produced is better than photography as, rather than show an individual example of a specimen, it can create a typical one, with all the likely characteristics included. As well as a section on using a microscope, there is also advice on preserving specimens and showing spots and markings. At this level, detail is everything and it gets very minute indeed.

For all this technicality, the book is surprisingly accessible. I don’t mean for a moment that the casual reader will become a fully-fledged professional as soon as they’ve read it but, if this kind of work interests you, you won’t feel swamped. There’s a nice sense of progression to the chapters and Christabel explains everything clearly and, above all, with worked examples. If you do get serious, the chapter on Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, with sample pages and a template for laying out a plate, will give you an idea of what to aim for.

Despite the weight of its authority, this is not a book solely for the expert, but is accessible to anyone who is reasonably serious about flower painting. You may never reach its dizzy heights, but you’ll enjoy the journey and the attempt.

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