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Painting Flowers in Watercolour:
A Naturalistic Approach
by Coral G. Guest
128 pp, 78 color illus., 43 color figures, 6 b/w figures, 11 line drawings, 8 5/8 x 10 3/4", paperback.
Composition is the art of arranging parts to form a unified whole. This simple definition brings with it a legacy of rules and principles. Many of the recommendations that prevail are by no means essential to the creation of a beautiful work that is in sympathy with the plant. It is more important to let the plant be your guide to a natural arrangement. It is always obvious if a composition has been carelessly thrown together or if the artist has run out of picture space. Beyond these obvious inadequacies, many arrangements are pleasing to the eye. The solution to the problem of how to produce an interesting and satisfactoy composition lies fundamentally in the creation of unity. This, as we shall see, occurs when various elements work in harmony with one another to create a balanced arrangement.
You may wish to include the whole of a plant in a painting, or choose to focus on a particular area. To arrive at a decision, begin by looking at the plant whilst turning it and holding it at different angles before your eyes. Observe with an open mind and with the intention of absorbing as much information as possible about the specifics and individual character of the plant. Plants display flowers, stems, and leaves at different stages of growth, offering a comprehensive account of their life cycle. Note the manner in which a flower opens, or a leaf expands or unfurls, and the direction the stems take as they grow outward into space. The changes that occur as a flower opens are a source of real fascination, and, when incorporated into a composition, they offer a valuable pictorial link between the buds and the full bloom.
Every point of view reveals something different about the plant. A straightforward side view of a flower and stem with the flower on the eye level produces a good classical arrangement. All plants offer some kind of perspective, and the more complex compositions incorporate this into the work. The view taken in the figure (above left) of Lilium longliflorum 'Ice Queen' shows the long trumpet shapes of the blooms in perspective moving from the foreground into the background.
Perspective views offer an infinite range of possibilities for a composition, because the relationships between the component parts of a plant always appear to change whenever the artist's point of view changes. A cluster of flowers growing from the branch of a tall tree has a particular appearance if observed directly from beneath. This same cluster will look very different when cut from the tree and placed squarely in front of one's eyes.
Difficult views are often avoided because the angles that need to be understood and drawn out seem too complex. The illusion of looking up to or down at a plant may actually appear more natural, and it is sometimes the case that a flower reveals its more interesting features when seen in perspective. To ensure a correct interpretation, it is essential to distinguish very clearly what lines point upward and what lines point downward. Artists tend to become associated with particular types of viewpoint, and often produce their best work by painting what they know best and love most. Nevertheless, to specialize in a particular style of composition that comes from habitually seeng only one type of view may become restrictive.