Archive for category Subject: Fruit & Vegetables

Botanical Illustration – the first ten lessons || Valerie C Price

Opening this book at random, I was rather surprised to discover that Lesson 7 is “A Flower”! However, it turns out that the approach really is as basic as that and the previous lessons have included a mushroom, an apple and a leaf.

This is by no means a bad thing, although if you were expecting a guide to the rather technical style of botanical illustration, you’d be disappointed. It’s a quibble, but I can’t help feeling that Botanical Painting would have been a better title. Anyway, having got that out of the way and established what the book is about, is it any good? Well, if you want to start painting botanical subjects (and not just flowers, either), Valerie really will start you from the beginning. I don’t think I’ve seen such a basic primer as this and certainly not one that works in so much detail. If you’re struggling with the subject and need your hand held, it’ll be held firmly here and you won’t feel that you’re being pushed along faster than you can or want to go.

Each lesson is basically a demonstration, but there are slightly more words here than is sometimes the case and Valerie explains everything very carefully. Each lesson ends with a Critical Assessment which analyses what might have gone wrong along the way. A teacher who was there in person would be able to look at your work and this is a creditable attempt to do the same thing off the printed page.

The final lesson, A Botanical Plate, is longer and more detailed and brings together everything you’ve learnt so far. I think the plate referred to is the illustrative style I referred to at the beginning, though I have to confess I’m not sure. The subject is a plant, with flowers, leaves and stem, in a pot and, again, I rather think something like “the whole thing” might have been a better heading.

Quibbles aside, this is an excellent attempt at a guide to paint plants for the complete beginner that achieves most of what it sets out to do and which, if that’s what you’re looking for, should fit the bill admirably.


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Exotic Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project || Rosie Martin & Meriel Thurstan

You could be forgiven for thinking that this franchise might be nearing the end of its shelf life and that the authors must be struggling for something new to say. However, this latest volume (the fourth, if you include Natural History Painting as part of the canon) is as fresh as ever and, in many ways, could be regarded as the best yet.

The first thing you’re likely to think is, “Hmm, exotic plants, how likely am I to come across those?” and the answer is: not much. However, open the book almost anywhere and the surprise is just how familiar the subjects are. It’s probably all down to television, the armchair explorer. Orchids, check. Carnivorous plants, check. Pak Choi and Globe Artichokes, check. Pumpkins and maize – hang on, how exotic are they? But that’s the point, you don’t have to be a Joseph Banks to be at least aware of practically everything here. And then, when you delve deeper, the book turns out not to be half so much how to paint all the things that didn’t appear in the earlier books as how to paint plants full stop.

There’s a huge amount here about how to draw (pencils and coloured pencils come into it quite a lot) and paint plants, from the use of colour (including “difficult colours”) to capturing textures and sheens. The subjects may not be completely common or garden, but this is one of the best technical manuals I’ve seen, simply because it’s not actually aiming to be one. What Rosie and Meriel are trying to do is show you, in as practical a way as possible, how to capture your subjects. I think they’ve actually sublimated the technical stuff and, as a result, explained it extraordinarily well just because they’re not trying to.

Oh, and the book is just a joy to look at as well.

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Flowers, Fruit & Vegetables || Giovanni Civardi

Subtitled “Simple approaches to drawing natural forms”, this is an excellent primer in capturing the subtleties and characteristics of botanical subjects.

Giovanni Civardi uses very few words after the initial introduction and some notes of perspective, composition and botanical anatomy. He teaches by example rather than instruction, which makes the book very easy to follow as long as you have a reasonable grasp of the basics.

The beautiful and delicate pencil drawings that make up the body of the book demonstrate how to use line, shading and hatching to record form and shape, and the book is a total delight from start to finish.

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Radiant Oils || Arleta Peach

The bulk of this book is devoted to that peculiarly American phenomenon, the floral. This is a formalised still life of flowers, almost always with a cut-glass vase and often also a lace table cloth. It’s a style of painting I suspect you either love or loathe, although I also suspect that, in the right market, they’d be highly saleable. As a bit of variety, this also includes some fruit, which does tend to push it into the category of still life, rather than the purely floral.

It’s not really possible to recommend this as a flower painting book because it’s so specialised, but the demonstrations are well done and contain much useful and practical advice, particularly on glazing. If this is a style you think you might like to explore, then it’s a must. Otherwise, there is useful information to be gleaned, but you might find the pickings rather lean for the price.

North Light

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Watercolour Fruit & Vegetable Portraits || Billy Showell

On the face of it, this seems a pretty unlikely idea for a book. I mean, I can see the attraction of flower portraits, obviously, but the ingredients for soup? On the other hand, when you see the really rather beautiful results that Billy gets, it’s ten to one you’re going to want to have a go yourself. However, if it wasn’t done as well as it is here, I still contend that you’d lower your gaze and hurry on by.

But no matter. The greengrocer’s stock in trade provides a wealth of colour and texture and something you, as an artist, can really get your teeth into (yes, yes, I know, but you should see the ones that got edited out!) and there are some really serious exercises in watercolour virtuosity here. Clearly, this is not a book aimed at the beginner and all of the introductory material is written for the experienced artist who just needs a little guidance in what’s required for this specific subject matter – there’s none of the elementary how-to-paint stuff that plagues so many books. It’s nice to be treated as a grown-up for once and this is undoubtedly going to make you well-disposed towards the author before you even get started and that can’t be a bad thing. After that, it’s straight into the subject matter with a nicely varied chapter on drawing a wide range of different shaped vegetables and fruit. From here, it’s on to composition though, as this is a book of portraits (that is to say, the bare subject without any real context) this tends toward some sometimes slightly bizarre arrangements, the value of which I’m not totally sure of. However, this is a bit of a quibble, because the next chapter is about colour and this is really valuable as it deals with shades you may well not have encountered before and Billy offers some excellently clear advice that’s likely to be useful in all your work, not just this specialised area. There’s a lot more on light and shade, dealing with white vegetables, flowers and details before a set of projects where Billy demonstrates four subjects in some detail.

If you’re tired of the same old subjects and you fancy something that’s really going to challenge your abilities as a painter, then this is undoubtedly the book for you. I don’t think it’s going to turn you into a fruit and veg specialist and you may well feel that, when you’ve tried it, that’s quite enough, thank you, but I don’t think you’ll feel it was an exercise that wasn’t worthwhile.

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