Rosie Sanders’ botanical paintings lie at the extreme end of botanical art – they exude dynamism and sensuality in every brushstroke and their richness of colour sets her apart from her contemporaries. Rosie Sanders’ Flowers is a collection of her flower paintings, ranging from tulips to orchids, roses to irises – illuminated with the artist’s signature uses of perspective, colour and light. Rosie Sanders is an artist who is always thinking about, or looking for, a painting. Here she talks about her creative process, from flower to painting.

by Rosie Sanders

Somewhere in my mind I am always thinking about, or looking for, a painting: it is in my blood and takes up a huge part of my life. When I am completely focused, the work flows. That doesn’t necessarily make it easier, I can’t say that I ever find it easy, but it’s like swimming with the current instead of against it.

I spend a great deal of time thinking about my next painting before I ever begin to put paint to paper. I collect things all the time and inevitably end up with lots of things I never get round to painting, but I like a good collection to draw on. It’s hard to say what I’m looking for, or why I choose a particular plant or flower, but I think generally it is shape and colour. It is not of prime concern to me what type the plant is, so while the subjects are plants, the paintings are not botanical in the traditional way. Having said that, it is important that I am true to the nature and form of the plant I have chosen; the paintings have a description of great particularity.

Slipper Orchid 102x102

I am most attracted to strong shapes and patterns. I like shapes that are strongly linear and make good negative spaces and I particularly love the dark colours, especially black, because I like the very subtle dark tones that are almost impossible to see. It is like walking at dusk; you can only just define shapes and colours and everything is more mysterious.

When you have a dark flower and you light it from behind, not only does it accentuate the darks but it exaggerates the lights too and that makes for very lively contrasts. Traditionally with botanical painting, the artist would attempt to match the colour of the flower in a fairly neutral light. In nature, however, colour is constantly changing. Take a white flower, for example: you put it indoors in a north-facing window, you put it outside in bright sunlight, you look at it with the light shining on it, you hold it up against the sun, and the colour of that flower will have changed through the entire spectrum from white to black but it is still the same flower.

Picture 4532

What is colour anyway? I find these questions and conundrums a constant fascination and stimulus. Every painting that I start demands a new language. It feels unfamiliar, as though this one is the first I have ever done. The initial steps are quite tentative, and it can be extremely difficult, as the whole focus of my attention is on a very small point and there is nothing except the white paper to relate it to. It is only when I have got further into the painting that things begin to fall into place and I find a way or language that begins to work. Once that happens it is very exciting.

The paintings in Rosie Sanders’ Flowers have been completed over a period of ten years. I feel that it is an evolving process, and certainly my methods have evolved. I used to plan paintings quite carefully and, with the necessary freedom to change slightly within that plan as the flowers opened or moved, I stuck with my original concept. I don’t do that any more; I now work much more from instinct. I begin by putting the first element where I feel I want to put it, and I trust my initial response.

53.Red Parrot Tulip.92 x 92

Having painted that and being left with the problem of what to do next, I then have to solve that problem. The painting then becomes a series of problem-solving steps and the art is to know when to stop and what to leave out. It is a more risky process but leads to a more interesting final piece.

Paintings, like life, can be too well planned and it is that risk and state of unknowing that leads to more unusual and surprising results.


Extracted from Rosie Sanders’ Flowers (Batsford) out now.