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Vibrant Botanical Painting: The life of plants in watercolor by Jarnie Godwin

Looking for a sensible and thorough 'how to' book on botanical painting with glorious images? Then look no further. Written and illustrated by an ex-teacher and graphic designer, this book does what it says on the tin!


Reviewed by Emma van Klaveren, Botanical Illustrator and ABA Committee and Education Team Leader


Jarnie Godwin has proved herself able to meet the exacting standards of many prestigious international botanical illustration bodies. However, she freely admits that it is botanical art and not botanical illustration that brings her the most joy. Jarnie elevates ordinary subject matter to the extraordinary. As she says in the preface to her new book:

Choice of subject, composition and scale elevate the most humble of garden finds into unique and beautiful paintings.

She is a master of dramatic composition and colour which makes her artwork so arresting. As an Art History graduate myself, I can see the influence of the Old Masters in her work; the dramatic lighting from Vermeer, Rembrandt and Turner.

This book, Jarnie’s first publication, is aimed at the beginner to intermediate painter and is divided into ten chapters, wonderfully named, that are straight to the point much like the author. The book is generously filled with many large illustrations, some of which make you feel you are sitting at her desk. She is very honest about her self-taught beginnings in this art form and her teaching manner is inclusive of artists of all abilities. One is taken by the hand and gently guided through the entire practice.

In practice: recording daily progress with your mobile phone
In practice: recording daily progress with your mobile phone (Image courtesy of the publisher)

Jarnie’s skills as an experienced and successful secondary teacher shine through. I really appreciate the manner in which she takes time to describe best practices for botanical artists including drawing, composition, capturing shapes and overlaps, measuring, foreshortening, perspective and scale, negative space and proportion and lighting. She does not blind the reader with extensive materials lists. She covers all those good things that even the most seasoned artists need reminding of before being able to achieve one’s unique style.

Five chapters of the book focus on the painting of buds, leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits and seed heads. There are plenty of step-by-steps if you like this method. Jarnie shows details of four of her iconic images and carefully describes how to capture each one. These include how to paint the iris bud, two rose bud versions and the peony.

Step-by-step: peony bud, leaf and stem
Step-by-step: peony bud, leaf and stem (Image courtesy of the publisher)

She also focuses on unexpected subject matter, including decaying blooms: hers is the first botanical book I have read with a whole chapter dedicated to it!

At the end of the book Jarnie helpfully touches on connecting with the world outside the studio, namely exhibiting one’s work on social media platforms. She has a successful following on her four platforms: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. She also encourages the reader to accept the “Call for Entries” and to get involved with botanical art exhibitions around the world. She shares her small but perfectly formed reading list too.

Vibrant Botanical Painting gives the botanical artist a thorough grounding in every aspect of achieving a successful plant portrait. I appreciate the fact that Jarnie has both written and illustrated her book; her no-frills approach comes through and you feel as though you are in safe hands! I feel priveledged to know Jarnie, she is a wealth of information for the botanical artist.

This review is completely independent of the author and publisher and the book was not gifted.


Author Biography

Jarnie Godwin is an award winning, self-taught, botanical artist painting realistic, detailed, and vibrant botanical watercolours. Born in London, she has also been a teacher, a graphic designer and received a formal training in architecture. In 2021 she earned an RHS Silver-Gilt medal for her watercolour series ‘Echinacea: Life Through Color’. Her work has been widely exhibited and is held in both private and public collections, including the prestigious Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation in the US.

To purchase this book:  Published by The Crowood Press, ISBN: 9780719842658,  Also available internationally online and in bookshops.

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