Artists have always paid much attention to the shapes of flowers and leaves. They should not be copied unthinkingly; each type should be studied for its basic form, especially in order to understand and interpret the perspective and foreshortening correctly.
This is much more important with small plants seen at close range than with trees, which, at the distance necessary to see them, appear much more as silhouettes. If, for example, a drawing is made of a bluebell or a sunflower, it should not resemble a botanical study, which would display as much detail as possible frontally, but instead be a living picture characterizing the personality of the plant with all the grace peculiar to its nature.
It is not usual to draw flowers in their natural surroundings, unless, like Durer's columbines and grasses, they are dug up in a great clump of earth. Then, the results seem less like pictures than botanical studies, even more so if the flower is left in its environment and rendered as a detail against surroundings which are represented by a texture. Photographers do this by showing a flower in its habitat and blurring the surroundings to emphasize the subject. To leave everything in focus would make the whole picture too dazzling. The eye itself looking at real flowers selects one on which to focus.
If a student is interested in flower drawing or painting he cannot do better than take the Chinese as his model. He will learn from them how to give himself up completely to the particular individual form after having mastered the basic form of the type. There is an anecdote about a Chinese chrysanthemum grower which should be pondered in this connection: the Emperor heard of a famous garden and announced that he would visit it. When he arrived the garden had been flattened to a smooth gravel surface. But in the gardener's house, in a precious porcelain vase, stood one single chrysanthemum, the most beautiful out of the whole garden.
Unfortunately, there are many flower pictures which remind one of the dictum of Grunhagen, a tireless and delightful painter of the changing seasons: "Three primroses in a glass are shapely beings, spreading an aura of mystery, but three hundred are nothing but an amorphous blur."