Archive for category Subject: Flowers

Botanicals – secrets of observational drawing || Valerie Baines

This is not so much a how-to-do-it book as a how-it-was-done.

Valerie begins by describing the atelier method, where students learn by watching a master at work, gradually progressing towards their own origination and, perhaps, repeating the process. The illustrations here are classic pieces – the recurrent signature of P J Redouté gives you the idea – which Valerie breaks down into its components.

Each subject begins with an example painting, which gets a whole page to itself, and is followed by a breakdown of the outline and the colours and a description of the palette. The text is short and you’ll have to do most of the analysis yourself, which may be your preferred method of working. Such an approach is not for the beginner, but should appeal to the more experience artist who wants to do their own thinking without being led by the hand at every stage.

It’s an interesting approach that Valerie has handled with some aplomb, although it would not be unfair to say that it won’t suit everyone.

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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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DVD Vibrant Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

Some painting films are a polished performance, both in the presentation and on the paper or canvas. Others are more of an engaging couple of hours spent in the company of an artist as they explore their surroundings. Haidee-Jo falls into the latter camp and my notes add that some of her most eloquent passages are when she’s completely silent, allowing the brushes to speak for themselves.

The title “Vibrant Oils” tells you little and it’s possible to see how difficult it is to characterise the work of an artist who is constantly fascinated by shapes and colours, and also by working out of doors – “the nice thing is that you get to choose the best bits … there’s a little bit of sparkle in the sea over there; I’ll try to remember”. There’s also a dichotomy of subject matter. The first three demonstrations – the DVD is filmed on the Roseland peninsula in Cornwall – are of harbour scenes, so boats play a large part. The second slightly-less-than-half, when the sun is bright, involves flowers and buildings. In the last of those, Haidee-Jo only half-jokingly laments having to put in the flowers in front of a nondescript tin barn she’s fallen in love with. The thing is, though, that so have we. The film shows something about as unpromising as it can get, yet Haidee-Jo finds beauty, colours and shapes that have been keeping themselves well-hidden and, more importantly, communicates them to the viewer.

All-in-all, I’d class this as a film about observation as much as anything else. If you want to paint plein air it is, to a large extent, something you simply have to do. There are certain practicalities, mainly involving equipment, sun hats and protective clothing, but in the matter of painting, looking, seeing and selecting subjects are the most important thing. “It’s amazing how little information the viewer needs … what simple marks I can make”, perhaps summing that particular message up most succinctly. There’s also sound advice about planning your painting, working from dark to light and defining the image: “Details are a treat to do at the end”.

Some films are relatively easy to pin down. The artist has a message they want to get across and the demonstrations are a neatly-structured way of doing it. Here, much happens (almost) by accident and because something caught the eye, the first flower demonstration being one such. The whole is much more of a slippery customer when it comes to attempting a definition. Haidee-Jo works as she goes along and has what we might call an “Oooh, look” personality. If you want an enjoyable couple of hours where you can learn far more than you’ll perhaps ever realise, this is it.

It’s also worth adding that the wildtrack perfectly captures the atmosphere of the scenes, from the proliferation of birdsong to tiny details such as the snick of a tripod being closed. It’s attention to detail like this that make APV films such complete works.

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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 Magic of Watercolour Flowers || Paul Riley

There is a wonderfully fluid quality to Paul Riley’s work. His use of line and colour is deft, subtle and instinctive. It also looks simple but, like so many things that do, it’s the result of a great deal of background work. When a brushstroke goes down, it’s because it’s meant to be there. You get few happy accidents.

The result of thoughtful painting is usually excellent teaching and it’s the case here, because Paul knows the exact reason for every mark he makes. In the DVD which accompanies this book, and which you really should try to see, his commentary is much more “what I’m going to do” than “what I’ve done”. In print, this leads to a discussion of flower painting rather than a series of extended captions, although he can do those too, when required in the demonstration paintings.

I think it’s fair to say that you wouldn’t come to Paul for a guide to painting flowers per se. Although they are one of his main subjects, they’re almost always part, albeit the centrepiece, of a larger arrangement. Botanical illustration, or even the less formal flower portrait, this is not. For the most part, too, the details of individual blooms and flower types don’t bother him. It’s more about colour, shape and perspective and, as I’ve hinted above, he explains this really rather well.

I honestly think you should regard this book and its accompanying DVD as a combined purchase. I’ll also stick my head above the parapet and suggest that they’re both not so much about flower painting at all, but about colour, line and form. And, as that, the result is a masterpiece.

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