Monday, August 13, 2012

Book review - Brave intuitive painting / Flora Bowley

Title: Brave intuitive painting - techniques for uncovering your own unique painting style
Author: Flora Bowley
Info: 128 p. - 2012
Rating: 7 / 10

I'm torn in my review of this book as I was torn in getting it in the first place. I had never heard of Flora Bowley until Amazon recommended her book to me as it does with dozens of others, because Amazon knows what an artsy book addict I am. Yes, these are the dangers of the internet, too much access to potentially interesting stuff. ;-)

The reason I was torn  about getting it is because of the content of the negative reviews of the book and I wasn't sure if I would like it. I did however immediately fall for Flora Bowley's painting style and I figured that if I didn't like the book for what it said I would at least have a book full of beautiful pictures of Flora's work.

Well, let me start by saying that the book indeed looks absolutely scrumptious. The photographs are just dreamy and the layout is gorgeous and of course Flora's work does most of the prettifying in itself. It's so colorful and indeed bold. But...I could have done without the many pictures of Flora herself. Flora in several yoga positions, Flora at work in her studio, Flora on a swing and the ones that almost made me laugh out loud: Flora jumping ecstatically into the air!

I'm sorry. I'm sure Flora is a wonderful person and I do like her voice in the writing of the book which sounds really well meaning, but all this Flora was just a bit too much. It was a bit...well, a bit blogsy really (I know that's not a word, but you know I've used it before, my blogsy people).

I'm still not sure if this book does or doesn't deliver what it promises. Techniques for uncovering your own painting style. Hmmm. What it mostly does is deliver Flora's philosophy on painting. I think I can summarize this philosophy as follows: be brave, do what feels right and there are no mistakes, oh...and work big. Flora repeats this at many turns in many different words (although this book is not very wordy when you consider that a lot of pages have about a paragraph on them) and it's an important message, but after a while I think you get the point. Follow your own voice when it comes to painting.

As for techniques the book is not very generous with them and remains very basic. I think anybody who wonders about Flora's own techniques in painting (how does she do it?) will be very disappointed. It's almost as if she went out of her way to avoid people from copying her style. Some tools are mentioned and the different marks that can be made with them and there is a very concise introduction into color theory. There are some exercises to get you going and some of those are quite interesting and fun too and I'm going to try some of them myself.

I think this book has the same 'problem' that a painting class I took a few years ago had where the teacher kind of let you figure it out all by yourself. It's not that there were no assignments, it's just that they were very open to interpretation. It will work perfectly for people who are not afraid to dive in and experiment. There's no real guidance, no real explanation of what to do or how to do it. It's diving of a cliff straight into the deep end. That's good if you are that kind of person, but if you need more information on materials, more smaller exercises to get to know your instruments and just plain painting techniques and skills, this may not be the book for you.

I remember in my painting class some people just kind of standing there wondering where the hell to start. Not everybody gets that you just start by starting. If that's the kind of person you are Flora's book will be too 'open', too unstructured. I know that's exactly what she intends and I get it, but it may not be for everyone (then again, what book is?).

All in all I think she could have been way more generous with her information, but I also get why she wasn't. And that's why I'm torn. I don't think it's a book I would recommend to anyone who wants to get into painting for the first time, because they would be lost at what to do. I also personally don't really care for the spiritual approach she gives, but that's a matter of preference in way of working. It might work for you to dance or do a yoga exercise during your painting sessions.

As a picture book it is absolutely stunning and that's why it still gets 7 out of 10 from me, but as content goes I would not give it more than 6 or 6.5. As a final word I do give her a thumbs up for effort and ... she did inspire me to put up a big canvas on my easel, because her work itself really is inspiring.


  1. Wow, can you do all the reviews on Amazon please? you could have saved me a small fortune. Great review, I know exactly what you mean.

  2. Your book reviews are always so diplomatic. I feel that you really give the pros and cons in a way that leaves us with a level idea of what to expect. I also loved hearing what you said about teaching because I've taught classes and will do so in the future...and really want my 'students' to feel like they've come away with everything positive that I can possibly give them. Thanks Caatje.

  3. Thank you! I have been buying art books lately, so this is helpful. You are such a good reviewer!!!!

  4. How interesting that you are reviewing her book right now: about a week ago, I too was told by Amazon to check it out, and I too read the negative reviews; I decided against ordering it. I was looking for more information, more techniques, and less of the open-ended inspiration and lifestyle message Flora's book seems to focus on. But I have heard wonderful, positive, amazing things about her classes, but that they are very expensive; I haven't looked into them for myself, but lots of people in Blogland seem to be taking them right now. Thanks for the review; you confirmed what I came away from the Amazon reviews suspecting about the book!

  5. Such a great review! I didn't like it. At all. Now I work intuitively 99.9% of the time, so I'm well used to it, but for a book that claims it has "techniques for uncovering your own unique painting style", it's very low on techniques! Anyone can say "make marks, dance while you paint, don't think about what you're doing, just do it and a painting will emerge" (see, I just did it), but that doesn't make a great book. It would have been more honest as "a collection of Flora's paintings and photos of her lifestyle, with annotations". Sorry, really peeved I spent good money on this book!

  6. This is an excellent review :) it gives me a very good idea about what kind of book it is! thanks!

  7. Great review Caatje... totally get what you are saying... but must say it was one book that really spoke to me... and inspired me...

    Jenny x

  8. I appreciate your honesty! It is hard to order books online, I like to look at them first :) I thought she was going to be teaching near me and considered the class, but then it was canceled.... Painting is not my passion but I do find her work interesting. I don't think it is my thing, I stick pretty close to collage. Enjoying your blog immensely!!!! Beth - California


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