Archive for category Subject: Flowers

The Kew Book of Painting Orchids in Watercolour || Vivienne Cawson

This book signals the beginning of a relationship between Kew Gardens and Search Press that can surely only lead to some pretty wonderful productions. Previous attempts with other publishers have tended to concentrate on botanical accuracy and an insistence on getting every detail absolutely right. For botanical illustration manuals, this is perfectly fine – essential even – but the new regime seems to come with a lighter touch, allowing a degree of interpretation more appropriate to the general art market. Put simply, this is a book for people who want to paint orchids, not study them, and that’s a good thing.

So, why orchids, which seems like a rather specialised subject for a first foray? Well, they’re one of the most varied species, offering a wide variety of different shapes and colours and not all of them are the exotic specimens of Victorian plant-collecting adventure stories (yes, I do remember one called The Boy Orchid Hunters by J G Rowe).

In simple terms, if you want to start flower painting, orchids are an excellent place to begin because of the opportunities they offer. Rather than being tied to a limited range of shapes and colours, you’ll be confronted by variety from the outset, developing ways of looking and working that’ll stand you in good stead later.

So, think of this as a flower painting primer. While it is not, perhaps a book for the complete beginner, as long as you have the basic watercolour skills, you should find it relatively easy to follow. The basic technical sections at the beginning are all flower-related, but still cover shapes, colours and mark-making. This means you’ll be working with petal and leaf shapes from the start, rather than abstract shapes, so it feels real immediately. Most of the work is with single specimens and props are limited to pots and vases – this is a book about orchids, after all, not flower arrangements – and this keeps the approach both simple and on track. Examples and exercises lead up to three full projects that demonstrate the range of possibilities available.

Don’t think of this as a book about a single plant type that’s only for the specialist. Look at it as one of the best flower painting manuals around.

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Rosie Sanders’ Roses

Let’s be clear what this is not. It is not a book about painting roses. However, if you love flowers in general – and roses in particular – it’s likely to be high on your shopping list. If you’re here, it’s because you’re interested in art and it ticks those boxes too. These are stunning paintings and a joy to look at. The large format and excellent reproduction make this easily possible and, even though this is not instructional, it’s likely you could learn a lot simply from its example.

It’s a big book, but not an unmanageable one and the sheer scale of the illustrations hits you squarely in the eye. If you like images that dominate and leap out at you, this will be a delight. It’s a bit like the contrast between seeing a film at the cinema and on television – one is just there, the other has to be peered at.

As well as the images, there’s a nice introduction that looks at the rose in history, religion, medicine and myth. As much as the main matter of the book isn’t about how to paint, neither is this for the horticultural specialist – the whole thing is aimed squarely at the interested general reader. While I had this in the office awaiting review, I lent it to a friend who’s a keen gardener and she absolutely covets it. That’s the effect it has.

Where I do have an issue is with the handwritten captions. The writing hand isn’t the easiest thing to read and the fact that the publisher has chosen to reproduce it halftone (ie in the four process colours of printing, broken down into dots) rather than line (solid black) does nothing to improve this. Yes, it’s a small quibble, but there are quite a lot of these captions and it adds a degree of difficulty to what is otherwise an effortless book.

For all that, it’s a stunning piece of work and one well worth more than a passing glance.

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Paint Pad Poster Book – Flowers

Search Press have supersized their Paint Pad series. Not so much a triple-stack cheeseburger with a quart of fizzy sugar as the full 48 ounce free-if-you-can-finish-it T-bone. These are BIG.

Interestingly, there is no author credit and I think I recognise the images from other books. A lot of thought has clearly gone into the format, though. An A3 book is not easy to manage so, instead of the portfolio styling of the parent series, these are pads where you’re clearly intended to pull out not just the sheets of watercolour paper with their pre-printed outlines, but the instruction pages as well. Tape the paper down onto a drawing board, pin the instructions on the wall and it all starts to make sense. This isn’t mentioned in the How To Use This Book introduction, but it’s the obvious solution.

The content has also been pared down severely in the light of this not being something to sit down and read. There’s no list of materials or introduction to techniques, although there is a “what you’ll need” list for each section. The whole thing is about the image and completing it. Once you’ve painted the five exercises, the rest of the book is basically disposable. That sounds likes sacrilege for something costing a whisker under sixteen pounds, but your return is the five full-size paintings you can frame and hang on the wall.

The quality is stunning. Each painting is shown in its complete state and, at this size, any shortcomings in the reproduction are going to be immediately obvious and a massive frustration. Full use has been made of the large page size to lay the instructions out clearly and illustrate them in detail. Everything is really clear and, if you’re adopting my suggestion of pinning them on a wall, easy to see.

This is quite a departure and a lot more than just a vary-it-a-bit exercise to generate extra sales. There’s an elegant simplicity to it that’ll make serious art easily accessible to even the raw beginner.

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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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Learn Flower Painting Quickly || Trevor Waugh

This excellent series continues apace, bringing with it a welcome return by Trevor Waugh, whose loose, evocative style is admirably suited to a book where fine-detail work is not the main criterion.

Loose washes and broad brushwork create flowers that are about shape, colour and impression rather than botanical illustration. If this is what you want to do, you’ll feel right at home. Similarly, if for you flowers are more of an adjunct to a larger painting, you’ll be glad of the lack of intricate work with small brushes and of botanical information that’s irrelevant to you.

As is the series style, instruction is by example, with the text being mainly confined to guiding you through what you’re seeing. Exercises and demonstrations are short, but there’s plenty of information on shape, colour and composition, as well as foliage and backgrounds.

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Everyday Watercolor Flowers || Jenna Rainey

This very simple guide is an ideal introduction to flower painting. The format is a standard series of steps covering a wide variety of flower types and there are good instructions that go into plenty of detail about the processes involved.

Following the same working method means that, once you’ve got the hang of how the book works, you can concentrate on the results, rather than having to learn the ropes every time and this promotes both confidence and positive results.

The quality of the illustrations isn’t as good as it might be, though. Detail is often obscured and the colours seem rather washed out. Although this is a drawback, the approach throughout is sound and it’s still a very worthwhile book.

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The Watercolour Flower Painter’s A-Z || Adelene Fletcher

This was originally published sufficiently long ago that I haven’t reviewed it here before. It was always a good book and has stood the test of time well. The idea of a series of demonstrations, each occupying a single spread and running from Agapanthus to Zantedeschia, means that a wide variety of types, species, shapes and colours are included. Even though the demonstrations are necessarily concise, the instructions are thorough and will certainly be enough for anyone with a reasonable amount of experience (I’m leaving you to define “reasonable” for yourself as everyone wants something different).

Re-publication has brought this under the umbrella of Search Press’s relationship with Kew, and this is no bad thing. Kew are a world authority and don’t issue their imprimatur lightly, so there’s considerable added authority here. The crispness of the illustrations also suggests re-origination, so there’s really rather a lot to like here.

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