Flower Painting Through the Seasons
by Ann Blockley
pub. Harper Collins Publishers, 2001
Hardback, 128 pages, 15.99
ISBN 0 00 413391 9

When you read a book like Anne Blockley's one on flower painting you feel a sense of awe at those talented individuals who are able to capture the drama and beauty of plants with simple brushstrokes. Blockley shares her gift with readers in a range of projects which explore watercolour techniques.

The contents are not split into definitive chapters but broken into the four seasons, each of which is then subdivided into its respective months. My initial thought upon looking at the book's structure was to wonder how successful the author would be in layering technical, watercolouring know-how within the framework of seasonal flowers. The answer is 'successfully'.

It will probably help if the reader has already experimented a little with watercolours, and has a 'feel' for the medium, before setting out on the various projects Blockley suggests. However, the author's tutorial style isn't bossy or insistant, but more by way of explanation. For example, she suggests that 'pale flowers are best defined through the darker tone surrounding them rather than by using an outline'.

And for the hot summer period she suggests taking advantage of the good weather but: 'Wear a sunhat to shade your eyes from the glaring white paper. Sunglasses are not a good idea as they distort tones and colours.'

And then there are those reassuring words of wisdom which can only come from an artist who has first hand experience of their craft: 'As teenagers we experimented with various signatures until one day we discovered that our handwriting had naturally developed without our even realising it. That is what will happen as you become a more experienced painter and your pictures will reflect something of yourself.'

If the reader wishes to progress through the book season by season, then they can work through various watercolour techniques in a steady stream [everything from basic washes and application of masking fluid, to employing acrylic inks and using detergent to make the paint give a textured froth]. But the book is also designed to be dipped into at will - perhaps revisiting a technique and applying it in another season. You will discover how to deal with carpets of flowers, handle depth and distance, softening focus, master the illustration of thistledown, and discover that even the vegetable garden has subject matter.

Each of the months has its own practical 'demonstration' by the author; concentrating on a flower type and then showing a step-by-step practical watercolour treatment of the subject with the author's comments on what has been done at each stage.

The bottom line? My own feeling is that this book really needs its readers to have experienced watercolouring, and have a knowledge of the principles of form, perspective and what have you. Even though the introductory piece talks about a step-by-step approach my feeling is that someone starting out with watercolours may be overwhelmed. The fact that the book is full of the most wonderful illustrations of flowers and plants may add to a sense of anxiety to those who feel they have failed if they don't achieve the technical excellence seen in the illustrations. On the other hand, Blockley's book should provide a real boost to experienced watercolourists with a desire to improve and enhance their skills in handling plants, flowers and foliage.

Copyright © 2001