In Clover

Thursday, 26th May 2005

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red cloverNature Cure, Richard MabeyI've enjoyed reading The Art of Botanical Painting by Margaret Stevens during this holiday but I'm not going to take on board its contents without working my own way through some of the step by step demonstrations. I'm not making much progress because I'm finding myself drawn into Richard Mabey's very personal exploration of Norfolk landscapes and our own inner landscapes, Nature Cure. Holidays tend to be the times when I catch up on my reading and it's so enjoyable to immerse myself in Mabey's journey and the insights it led to while I'm here, immersed in deepest Norfolk myself.

This red clover, from near Barton Broad (must go back some day and draw from the boardwalk) and the alkanet I drew the other day are about as far as I'm going to get with anything botanical this week.

I stocked up on pencil and paper in Holt for the first excercise (which I still haven't started) but I can't possibly buy all the art materials recommended throughout the book; the demonstrations are by different botanical artists and each seems to have a favourite range of violets, reds, yellows - one even keeps three olive greens by three different manufacturers in her watercolour box because each is different and each is useful for different reasons.

A Botanical Eye

Botanical PaintingI realise that temperamentally I'm not a botanical illustrator. When it comes to people I prefer drawing them in natural situations, about their everyday business, rather than sit them down in a studio and draw every hair on their head and I feel just the same about plants: I like to draw them in context; interacting with bees, butterflies, other plants, reacting to wind, sun and rain.

The chapter on composition brought this home to me: giving tips on how to create a harmonious, natural-looking composition by grouping flowers, buds or fruit in triangles, or in arcs across the page; adding an extra bud or berry to echo a colour that occupies the centre of the group, carefully observing colour transference, where flower colour tinges nearby stems and leaves while, equally, the colour of foliage can be reflected on the underside of a flower.

I hope being aware of these considerations will encourage me to look more closely when I'm drawing plants in the field but I don't think that I'll ever become a skilled flower arranger with the good taste to put impressive groups of plants together.stone drawn at a pub near Barton

I think that tackling some of the excercises might help to give me a better eye for a composition - a subtle effect of colour, a rhythmn in stems, leaves and flowers - but it should be something that comes to me naturally from the wildflowers themselves; I shouldn't try to force the great tradition of botanical illustration onto my informal drawing from nature. Next Page

Richard Bell,

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