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Review: RHS Flowers, The Watercolor Art Pad

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

There are lists on my Reminders app of the art that I would like to do. (Okay, there's more like 3 lists, you got me!) If art is not your main thing, you will be able to relate to only being able to carve out a couple of hours or less for art every day.

A good portion of my list are, as you would have no trouble guessing, plant subjects. But what has always kept me from painting more is that some plant drawings can take anywhere from one to three hours. It's a process that always pays off, I feel like I paint much, MUCH better if I've observed the subject for a while before the first stroke of my pencil, and even more with every one I lay down. Oh but sometimes, this lure of playing with paints, I just want to get straight to it!! There are just times when I have no patience, or time, to savor the feeling of my left and right hemisphere wrestling with each other! I’ve always had a queasy feeling about tracing, which is the obvious solution, but it's like there's a voice inside my head calling me, "phony, phony!", haha! With time, I've learned to let that go and I occasionally trace when I'm studying color mixing or trying to learn a technique which requires me to do a piece over and over. I'm never proud of the pieces started this way, but I tell myself it's better than not having picked up a brush at all! My dear husband is aware of these creative struggles, and last Christmas, he gave me this watercolor art pad by the RHS. It's a beautiful book, with gorgeous botanical subjects, the line art printed lightly on watercolor paper. I was happy about the notion - I could just sit and paint when I had a few minutes, practice some painting techniques without having to draw - the practice book of my dreams!

Now, the art 'pad' is actually a softbound paperback. ALL the pages are glued to the spine, like a regular book, quite good binding if I may add. The front and back covers are this folded spread that shows all of the artist's finished paintings of the subjects on the coloring pages. It is followed by 24 pages of a brief introduction, advice, a quick guide on tools and techniques; then on to four tutorials of how to paint: flowers, a white flower, pattern and texture, and seeds and shiny objects; then a Flower Gallery of the author’s finished paintings, which will be your guide in painting your line drawings on the succeeding pages. There are 15 line drawings, all subjects are gorgeous.

The instruction says, “Pull out a sheet of watercolour paper and tape it to a hard surface.” I found this simple instruction very difficult to follow, because there is no easy way to “pull out” a page without effectively ruining it. There are no perforations to tear from, and the glue is so strong you pretty much say goodbye to the spine if you do attempt to pull a page out! I think what’s worse is that the pages are laid out with the subjects centered on the entire paper with no allowance on the left side for ‘wastage’ in the process of taking the page out of the book, i.e. if you literally pull off, you end up with a rough left side that if trimmed will have you end up with a bigger right margin and an odd paper size.

So what I did was run my X-acto along the binding, positioning as far into the spine as I could but trying not to break it. Because the pages are quite thick, I had to exert a good amount of pressure, which ended up cutting through to some of the glossy instruction pages. I’m not sure how I will eventually bind them all together for future reference or appreciation, this was, after all, a present from my husband. All that book wrestling didn’t make for a good start for me, and I was really distracted by the lopsided margins.

Eventually, I sat down and got my paints out to work on the snowdrops drawing. The first thing I noticed was that the paper has a tooth to it, a linen-like pattern is the best way I can describe it, as my paper vocabulary is not that expansive. It’s not incredibly rough, but the texture is there. I didn’t find it too bothersome when I tried it, guess I just thought traditional hot-pressed paper would have been the expected choice.

The next road bump was the size of the drawings. I have a botanical painting brush set with spotter/miniature brushes, my smallest being a 3/0, but even that brush was too big for some of the areas on this snowdrops piece. The dimension achieved on the reference (the author’s finished work) is extremely difficult to emulate in such little space. Inexperienced as I am, it took me a while to realise that the drawings are likely to have been scaled down to fit the size of the book. This is a problem for me because I’m not really sure how to achieve smooth blending between 3 colors on a stem that’s barely 2 mm wide! It is possible with some painstaking effort, but it would be challenging for a beginner.

Somehow, I managed to finish that snowdrops piece, all the while wishing for a photo of the flowers instead of copying another painter’s mixes and strokes, but I guess if she painted from a live specimen, that would have been hard to approximate by photography.

This watercolour art pad is a brilliant idea poorly executed. I’d recommend it for the gorgeous work inside, but be prepared to choose between a torn book and copying the line drawings to another sheet of watercolour paper, which kind of defeats the purpose of the book, but oh well. I’ll still get back to it because I do want to paint all the beautiful compositions inside, in fact, if they come up with a better version, I might still get a new copy :)

If you're interested in giving it a go, here's a link to the product:

If you find this post helpful, please consider buying your RHS Flowers, The Watercolor Art Pad using the links in this post. These are affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that helps me make more blog posts like this.

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