The sun has finally come out, the primroses and windflowers are scattering palely across the green and my cherry tree is blossoming flamboyantly in the back garden. Work always gets put into perspective when the spring flowers arrive.
It’s been a busy month with multiple small projects: from educational commissions, to an outsized image of a wolf for an outsize book cover, to a couple of self promotional map projects of Barcelona and Lapland, to creating sample illustrations for a proposed book in time for London Book Fair. Hardly time to feel the spring warmth kiss my face and smell the first cut grass of the year.
I adore painting plants and the recent blooming extravaganza has made me think how often they’re included in my illustrations. Perhaps, as the daughter of a botanist and botanical artist, that’s not surprising. It’s a truism that there will always be flowers in my mother’s house.
I realised that I cut the flowers in my illustrations from many different metaphorical gardens. First there’s the straight watercolour, more of a realistic botanical approach. I generally look at photographic reference material and keep colours naturalistic. I know from watching my mum work that using photos isn’t ideal but access to the real thing isn’t always possible. The following image shows details from a logo I did recently for a florist. It’s not gone live yet so I can’t show you the illustration in its entirety.
Then there’s the more stylised approach. I often use designs from other times or cultures to inspire more graphic flowery renditions. The flowers in ‘Feathers for Peacock’, for example were informed by the punchy style of 1970’s patterns. They have a blocky feel and there are circle shapes and tear drops and squares with rounded corners. The clean spaces really lend themselves to using collage. I think we might have had something reminiscent on the old wallpaper in the kitchen as I was growing up…
Here are some more details of stylised flowers, this time inspired by Mexican embroidery. I spent a lot of time researching Central American textiles and was blown away by the beautiful colours and compositions. These illustrations come from a cover of a forthcoming children’s magazine, due out in May.
Sometimes I take a real-life plant but subtly adapt it by simplifying shapes and colours so it has an air of reality but is stylised… In this illustration, I researched pondside plants, all flowering around the same time, and used them as a base for those in the picture. This is from ‘In my Garden’.
And then there’s the combination of the two approaches. Nobody said you had to stick to one style, did they? Why not combine a more naturalistic look, based on genuine botany alongside a created imaginary plant world? Here’s an image commisioned for Cricket Media’s Ladybug Magazine published last year. The buttercups on the right are naturalistic in comparison to the collaged blue flowers in the centre that are entirely imaginary.
(N.B. I like drawing frogs as much as I like drawing flowers…).
And in this endpaper, also from ‘In my Garden’, I used painted stylised flowers alongside collaged stylised flowers cut from origami paper alongside more naturalistic depictions of animals, birds and butterflies.
I think drawing and painting flowers will always be a love of mine and just like real flowers, they will clamber and climb and push their faces to find the light in my illustrations regardless of whether I choose them to be there or not.
And just like my mother, I hope there will always be flowers in my house.