This is the first comprehensive guide to using coloured pencils for botanical painting.
Ann Swan, an RHS Gold medal winner and one of the top UK coloured pencil artists in this genre, provides a guide to how and why coloured pencils are especially suitable for the accuracy required for botanical illustration.
Topics covered include:
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - This is an invaluable guide to those wanting to develop their skills in using coloured pencils for botanical art.
This is the first ever book written by an RHS gold medal winning artist to deal in depth with the execution of botanical art in coloured pencils to exhibition standard.
It's also an extremely useful resource for all coloured pencil artists wanting to achieve the very high standards of execution achieved by both Ann Swan and her students.
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Note: This book was sent to me to review by the author / publisher.
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Hardcover: 128 pages
UK Publisher: Collins (1 April 2009)
USA Publisher: Barron's Educational Series; 1 edition (April 1, 2010) - (cover and title are slightly different)
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Botanical Painting with Coloured Pencils from Amazon.co.uk
Botanical Portraits with Colored Pencils from Amazon.com
This book was long awaited and it doesn't disappoint - although the content is as one would expect very much influenced by Ann's own personal preferences as a practising artist.
Overall one needs to remember this book combines two subjects:
This means its covers authoritative information about
Throughout the book there are demonstrations identifying precisely which art materials were used and in what order - plus the details of any other technique used to achieve the overall effect.
This book has different titles for the UK and USA markets and I'm not quite sure why they've done that but I guess there must have been a good reason! So
Coloured pencils is a medium which now accounts for something like 10% of all the artwork in the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists in the UK. (see The biggest exhibition of coloured pencil artwork in the UK and Botanical art in coloured pencils)
The recent big increase in such artwork is due to a few artists - like Ann - who have pioneered the use of coloured pencils for artwork which meets the gold medal standard of the Royal Horticultural Society.
"...the major strengths of this book are Swan's own detail eye, her ability to render dark values and create a dynamic value range across her images, and her eye for interesting composition."
The first thing you need to know is that Ann favours Faber Castell Polychromos pencils. She highlights how they have a good range of the colours frequently used by botanical artists. However her review of art materials at the beginning of the book includes reference to Sanford Prismacolor and also provides a short overview of other artist brands she is familiar with and provides a brief comment on useful colours.
As an artist who is teaching her own personal techniques, Ann needs to be able to use those brands which she prefers to use. This book in no way sets out to be a review of different brands and consequently for me this is a 'need to know' aspect - and I suspect it may well prompt some purchases of Polychromos pencils by those who have not tried them before! The book details a good basic range of Polychromos Pencils.
I like the way Ann's coverage of basics in relation to art materials, equipment and studio leans towards text rather than images because it provides more relevant information!
Recording plant information
Ann starts with a chapter about getting to know your subject. This is an overview of all matters relating to working from life with botanical material - including how to examine the plan structure, record information about the plant and preserve plant material. It's packed full of practical information and tips for working with plant material.
For those artists used to working from photos this chapter will be absolutely invaluable.
I like the way the emphasis is placed on all the preparation work involved in producing good quality drawings for example - creating tonal studies, colour swatches and colour matching. These are the habits of the experienced and practiced botanical artist the world over and are ones that need to be learned by all artists aspiring to producing prize-winning botanical artwork.
Many works are competent plant portraits, but when we visit an exhibition of botanical art and look around it is usually the interesting, striking or unusual compositions which catch our eye
Ann Swan - in the introduction to Composition and Style chapter
Composition and style
This chapter is designed to take people who are competent at producing plant portraits to another level.
She's very familiar with all the mistakes people commonly make when creating artwork. This is one of the few coloured pencil art instruction books that I've come across which gives over space to the design of the picture space and pictorial structure and matching both the the characteristics of your subject matter (in this case the plant material). I'm always amazed at how botanical artists manage to combine botanical accuracy with pleasing design and this chapter goes a very long way to explaining how. It's good to see Ann tackling the principles and elements of good composition in turn - while providing advice about how relevant and important each aspect is for the botanical artist. I liked the way she emphasised the psycholigical and mood aspects of design and composition - an aspect which I guess would not occur to most of us as being relevant to botanical art.
The commentary on how design and composition has changed over time is also very useful.
Basic Pencil Techniques
Covers line drawing and the achievement of tonal contrast using monochrome media.
She starts with monochrome work in pencil - and you very quickly begin to get a sense of the quality of work which can be achieved. Ann provides tips on how to work on pieces which may take a long time and techniques involving erasers, incising and underpainting graphite
Coloured Pencil Techniques
This relates to layering, burnishing and underpainting and she provides clear explanations and images detailing how these work. (Speaking personally I was very grateful to learn that she considers Lascaux to be workable Fixative as I've never been sure!)
I was fascinated to learn that one can underpaint with Faber Castell brush pens or Prismacolor felt tips to achieve much more saturated colour as I'd never considered doing this. (However using media such as this would render a work inadmissable to the Annual exhibitions of UKCPS or CPSA).
This chapter very much focuses on the colours which are much used by botanical artists - particularly the greens!
I'd have liked to see more focus on which greens were best in lightfastness terms as greens can be a bit of a problem due to some of the yellow and blue pigments used in the mix.
I finally found an explanation for why layering dark colours over light colours can be more problematic than the other way round - and you'll need to buy her book to find out why!
She provides very clear advice about what order to layer colours. She's also very good on how to tackle flowers which are light colours or white and prevent them from looking grey.
The Chapter on Small Details is to my mind one of the most valuable in the book for beginners and improvers.
One of the things I found very useful was the detailed instructions for how exactly Ann gets the degree of finish in relation to specific aspects. One of the parts of the book which I read first was the one on how to achieve hairs on a sunflower bud! Ann is very obviously an expert at incising!
The best chapter in the whole book for me was the one on Finishing Touches - what you need to do to make your artwork look special in an exhibition. Particularly useful is the explanation of the different methods for sharpening up edges and removing unwanted marks.
She then goes on to explain about signatures, storage, mounting and framing and presentation. I have to tell you Ann's own artwork always looks top notch and this chapter demonstrates why.
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