By Guy Barter and Sam Falconer
Published by Aurum Press ISBN 978-1-78131-604-7
Reviewed by Spencer Hill
Flora: The Graphic Book of the Garden is a book about gardening, as you would expect from that title. Written by the Chief Horticultural Advisor to the Royal Horticultural Society, Guy Barter, it is a comprehensive practical guide to caring for your garden. Split into six sections it details everything you need to know, including Planning, Planting, Choosing, Vegetables & Herbs, Fruit & Vines and Practicalities. As someone who has occasionally got his soft illustrator’s hands dirty in the past, I can tell you that the advice is clearly laid out and very interesting reading.
The illustrations have been produced by Sam Falconer, and there are 100 wonderful colour illustrations within to enjoy. Everything from flowers and fruits to tools to shapes created from illustrated manure. It’s all here, and it is all achieved with a superb blend of technical accuracy and artistic creativity. I contacted Sam to ask him about his experiences whilst illustrating this book.
Spencer: How did you come to work on it? How long did it take? How was it for you?
Sam: My agent Laura at Début Art contacted me to arrange a meeting with Melissa at Quarto publishing. Melissa had seen a few nature themed pieces from my portfolio and thought they could work well for the project. I knew from the outset it would be a very time consuming job but after a brief period of hesitation I decided to take the plunge!
The project took just over a year from the meeting to having final sign off and it was easily the largest single project I have worked on to date. Initially the prospect of working on the same type of imagery for such a long time was daunting, however I was given a lot of freedom on how to arrange each page, which did allow for experimentation throughout. This kept things interesting for me although you’ll notice a few recycled layouts here and there!
Of course with any project like this there will always be times of stress and self doubt but I was determined to keep a regular check on things and keep to the milestone deadlines we agreed. We more or less managed this and avoided too many crunch moments thankfully. I certainly find it hard to believe when flicking through the book now that it managed to get completed in such a relatively short time! I think that with a different author and publisher it could have been very arduous, but Melissa and Guy were great to work with.
Spencer: Your style is described in the press release for the book as ‘digital collage’. Could you tell us more about how you work and how you applied it to Flora?
Sam: My process would usually start with finding public domain imagery and references for the specific plants before arranging them into the layout that I had scribbled down previously. This would all be done in Photoshop which is where I do the vast majority of my work nowadays. Once that was cleared by Melissa I’d then polish everything up on my desktop before taking each spread on to my iPad for some additional colouring and highlights.
Spencer: I have two favourite illustrations in the book; Aspect on pages 10 &11 and Lawn on page 47. Do you have an illustration you are particularly pleased with?
Sam: Thank you! Yes I was pleased with Ferns and Wildflowers. I also still like the cover and endpapers. But as time goes on this may change.
Spencer: Working on large projects like this is time consuming, and I find that it limits my creativity for personal work. What was the last creative project you did just for fun, and what inspired it?
Sam: Yes absolutely. I found that was one of the toughest parts of the process. The last piece I did just for fun was I believe ‘Boy’ here I had wanted to branch out of human heads for a while and push the painting side of things a little, so this gave my an excuse to do that. And of course draw a dog!
Spencer: Finally, what Illustration projects are you working on at the moment?
Sam: I have just finished an interesting piece for New Scientist magazine and am now working on a series of pieces looking at anxiety for Kenyon College’s alumni magazine. I have also been fortunate enough to book in my first solo exhibition for April, so I have been busy working away on that. This is both scary and exciting!
If you like the look of Sam’s work and you have even a passing interest in gardening then this book is for you. It is also a gorgeous product and produced to a high standard so it would make a wonderful gift for the gardener in your life. I recommend it, and you can read it in the warmth of your home without blisters from shovels or getting dirt under your nails.