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Practical class: Realistic botanical illustration in watercolour

I think that I can just about draw myself anything, (this statement is open to debate…lol), so when I decided to take this practical class on realistic botanical illustration, I hoped it wouldn’t be a waste of my time, (I’m such a cynic!) What I meant is that possibly I could have taken a different practical class which would have been a bigger benefit because there was only so much time in the day.

But Roger Reynolds is such a master botanical illustrator that I absolutely fell in love with his work and wanted to see if I could pick up a trick or two.

And I’m so glad I made this decision because I found this class very rewarding.

The object of the game was to draw and then paint one of these exquisite marigolds. (I managed to snag all of them to take home after the course because I couldn’t bear to see them thrown out)

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About ten students gathered around Roger as he examined the flower and pointed out his method of seeing it.

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He compared the actual flower to the painting he did earlier that day, and we each had a chance to examine the two.

He then talked about the way he handles watercolours and the sorts of tricks he’s evolved in his methods, and that’s what I’ll tell you.

Here is Roger’s flower:

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Here is my station and my little limited palette. That yellow liquid in the little glass is yellow ink, and using that’s a lovely trick you’ll see in a minute.

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But first, Roger uses the same technique I use when drawing realism and especially fiddly little botanicals. I call it “as the cell divides”, but I think that’s a Veronicaism. What I mean, what we both mean, is start in the centre and draw the approximation of the central area, then the next petal, then the one beside it, the one beside that…etc. That way, (as the cell divides), you have the best chance of reproducing the flower as life like as possible. It’s much harder to draw the outside and then try to fit everything within the confines of your outside borders. Do you get that? Sometimes my explaining things isn’t as clear to people as it is to me. 😀

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So here we go. If you scroll a couple photos above at Roger’s marigold, I was intrigued with how he preserved, or even painted in, those vivid yellow borders, and here’s the best trick in the world! And incidentally, the greatest result I got from taking this course: IT’S THE YELLOW INK 😀

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Seriously cool!

Seriously cool because the ink sits on the paper, just like watercolour, makes a lovely warm base for the orange tones to sit on top of, (what I mean is that it shows thru a little, toning and warming and acting like a unifying force making the whole flower one cohesive bloom) Ack! Wish I could explain it better. Wait, I’ll ask Robbie.
He’s put it in better English for us: The yellow acts like a third dimension for the oranges and reds to go on top of giving it depth. YES! Thank you. 😀

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So there you go, and all you do is use a fine brush, keep your eye on the petals you are drawing so you can describe the lighter and darker tones.

I found that the watercolour lifted off the ink beautifully without disturbing the ink; which was a nice thing for me since I’m not so sure of myself with strange brushes and did blob on the paint a little too wet and too much in some places.

The other wonderful bit of instruction was to not try to paint the central ares, but rather, paint the shadows around the central area. Brilliant advice.

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And here’s is my marigold.

It’s not “finished” to the degree I would like, but then, instruction plus demonstrations to finished product time was only 1.5 hours. And actual painting time only maybe 45 minutes. I could have used more time. But overall I’m happy with my marigold and think it might deserve a little frame.

See if you can adapt some of this info. It seemed to me to be a much less complicated method of drawing and now I want to rush out and buy a few coloured inks! Happy painting. 😀

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Comments: 9

  • July 25, 2015

    Mmmmmm…. I left a comment… But it does not seem to appear…. Mmmmmmmmmmm…..


  • July 25, 2015

    It did not show up!!!!

    So, let’s try again….


    How to achieve ‘depth’? This, answers that question… “The yellow acts like a third dimension for the oranges and reds to go on top of giving it depth.”

    Thank you for another amazing tutorial…


  • Patty/NS

    July 25, 2015

    Wow! A light just clicked in my brain. How fantastic is this?! ?.

  • July 25, 2015

    Lovely marigold at the end! I totally understand about working from the inside out. This is how Steiner school children are taught to paint and draw. It’s how I write. It makes sense to create this way – growing a vision, rather than marking its shape and filling it in. Seems to me when you do the latter, it becomes all about the artist’s control, whereas the former method allows a conversation between the artist and the art.

  • July 25, 2015

    This is just lovely V. the detail is so good and the vibrant colour. A must have flower in my garden ? I would have taken them home too.

  • July 26, 2015

    Very good advice… Centre out… I will work on that! The colours are so beautiful and create depth and realism! Thanks for the ideas!

  • daryledelstein

    July 27, 2015

    brilliant … and i often find no one understands me even tho i am making perfect sense …. 😉

  • Shahana Akter

    July 27, 2015

    Excellent ! Now i want to do this experiment.

  • July 29, 2015

    Unbelievably lovely!! Love the yellow ink trick. Thank you for sharing all your thoughts and techniques. I love the analogy as the cell divides 😀

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