I was expecting Rosie Sanders's new book about Roses to be very good - but wasn't expecting to be quite so bowled over by her watercolour paintings of roses which fill the pages of this large book.
Her botanical paintings are as as large on the page as they are on the walls of the gallery in Chelsea where her latest solo exhibition will be opening on the day it is published.
Rosie has been drawing, sketching and painting roses for this book and her latest exhibition (see the end for details) for the last three years.
She grows all her own roses and knows them all by name - even if she sometimes forgets where she has put them - until they flower!
She's also been making notes about her roses on a regular basis, what they have been getting up to and what colours they are displaying. Many artists find writing about their subjects helps to fix their image in their brains - and Rosie seems to be no exception. The notes are divided between facsimiles of her handwritten notes and typed up versions of the same. I rather assume the latter are the ones which might just have rings from her coffee mug on them as she sits in her garden in the morning with her cup of coffee surveying what has been happening to her roses in the last day or so.
This approach to the text helps make this book feel a lot more personal to Rosie and I really like it. More of the individual seems to come to the fore. Rosie's writing is graphic and excellent and I personally found it very readable. I do wonder however whether reading handwriting might make this book a little bit more of a challenge for those who don't use English as their first language.
What I particularly like about this book is there as a much clearer sense of the process - which should particularly appeal to those botanical artists who like her paintings.
On some double page spreads we also have preliminary drawings and colour charts of the colours used in the painting - with colours randomly noted either next to the colour boxes or in the text. She also includes some fast watercolour sketches recording habit and colour notes.
This is a timelapse video of Rosie Sanders painting a rose in watercolour.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté's book of paintings about Les roses is the pre-eminent tour de force in the "books about roses by botanical artists" category of artists' botanical art books. His roses are perfection and I doubt anybody will ever better it in terms of portraying perfect specimens.
However in terms of painting roses in reality - I think Rosie's book will also be seen as a tour de force and a standard. She paints roses as we see them in the garden - some new and fresh with both buds and blooms - while others are fading and past their best, In effect she has created a florilegium of roses growing in her garden - and has painted some on more than one occasion - notably her one yellow rose 'Celebration'.
She seems to have a particular affinity with the back of a rose and what happens behind or underneath the petals of the rose in question. It suggests an artist in love with all stages of the life cycle and the multiplicity of colours and shades they can go through from first bud to last breath.
The Introduction to the book provides a history of the rose in in the history of ancient times, middle ages and more recent time - as a symbol, in art, in war, in religion, as an emblem of love. It also comments on the different types of rose and where they hail from. I found it one of those introductions which is so packed full of information that it's probably best read in small chunks.
However there is no obvious connection between the Introduction and the paintings. It's almost as if we have two books in one cover.
What's missing from the book - and I do think this is worth noting - is any sort of introduction to Rosie and why she likes painting roses and what her project comprises. Instead we find bits out as we read her notes - and I do very much recommend you read all the notes!
The book has an interesting and unique index in which every rose in the book is presented by a thumbnail. Below you can see two of the tree pages which form the index.
This is a woman who likes BIG projects and has a track record of pulling them off in spectacular fashion!
Notwithstanding the bits which don't quite work for me, I think this is an excellent book which will be much appreciated by all rose lovers - who will doubtless appreciate that many of the roses were sourced from David Austin.
I also expect that very many botanical artists will be buying this book in order to study Rosie's approach - which - in short - is grounded in much time spent in intense observation and an awful lot of effort in creating hundreds of studies, sketches and paintings - of which these are the ones which deserve a public stage.
The production qualities of this large book are also excellent. The photography of both drawings and paintings is top notch and the printing is superb with a very robust cover and binding. (For those interested in such things the reproduction was done by Rival Colour Ltd. - who are based in Greenwich - and the printing was done in China (as happens to most books these days) by 1010 Printing International Ltd and is a company associated with books which have won British Book Design & Production Awards.
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