Rachel Eskandari at work | Photo by Lauren Peachie
Rachel Eskandari is a Phoenix-based artist, teacher and entrepreneur. This summer, she’s adding another title to her robust resume: author.
In 2019, she was selling painting kits on Etsy, hosting watercolor workshops and producing work for local boutiques and several stores at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport under her Pink Puddle Studio brand. When the pandemic hit, these projects and partnerships slowed as the world started to shut down. Her saving grace was the painting kits. As people sheltered in place, the demand grew and sales skyrocketed.
Last fall, California-based publishing company Rocky Nook took notice and offered her a book deal. The writing, editing and painting process took a matter of months and Watercolor Botanical Garden: A Modern Approach to Painting Bold Flowers, Plants, and Cacti is currently on pre-order and will release on July 20.
Eskandari’s work is marked by whimsical floral frescoes, from bright red roses to sage-green succulents. Her book is a gorgeous and informative introduction to the world of watercolor, featuring color theory and mixing guides, blending and shading techniques and step-by-step instructions for creating more than two dozen beautiful botanicals including roses, cacti, peonies, nigella and agave, plus a stunning blueprint for incorporating botanical imagery in a cohesive landscape painting.
The painter says the hardest part of the process was reading through the copy countless times and coming up with ideas of what to include. She had to think out-of-the-box and figure out how to stand out among the slew of watercolor books already on the market. As her style suggests, she wanted to do something different.
“I wanted to pick things that were unique or exotic, things that I didn’t necessarily see as much in a how-to book as far as flowers go. You have your typical flowers, but I wanted to put a spin on them,” she says. “People know all the different colors I use. They’re not conventional or realistic. It’s more out-of-the-box and more of a dream-like quality, so I wanted to emphasize that through a lot of the pieces in the book.”
Saguaro image from book
Each plant in the book has “random, cool” names, she says. She didn’t just pick a rose or a peony or a daisy because “they’re nice, but they’ve been done,” she says. She chose to pair the featured flora with funky colors and fun names, like “Lady Gay Peony” and “Benjamin Rose.”
“My main goal is to show something that’s unique or taking a different perspective,” she says. “I’m proud of that and my style. I really want to share that with people and teach them how to not be scared of color or trying something that isn’t realistic.”
In her teaching experience, Eskandari says that a lot of beginners fear color and prefer pastels. Through her book, she wants to emphasize not to be afraid of taking a risk. She encourages green painters to mimic a style they admire without outright copying it. In fact, there’s a whole section in her book about staying away from stealing others’ styles.
“Once you start drawing what’s natural for you, then it comes out and it’s for the better because obviously it’s your own,” she says of finding a style.
At the end of the book, Eskandari combines a handful of different botanicals into landscape scenes. “You can learn to paint a flower, but how do you use it?” she says. “You can have the tools and skills, but to put it all together… that can be a challenge. I thought it was important to introduce and address that so that people have somewhere to go after they’ve painted something.”
Amid the pandemic, Eskandari came out with a series of landscape paintings that she started “just for fun.”
“It was honestly the first time in a long time that I was able create something without pressure,” she says. “I think the pandemic alleviated a little bit of pressure when it came to me creating for myself because I had more time to do it.”
She adds that she created some of her best work last year and was able to experiment and not worry about the opinions of her audience. She was able to reconnect with her passion and put things into perspective. One of her biggest inspirations was spending time in nature, often snapping pictures of scenes and using them to create her art.
Miniature series | Photo by Lauren Peachie
She also challenged herself with a miniature series, which she released on June 8. Each painting is on a 4-inch by 8-inch wood panel and features ethereal desert landscapes in her signature style, but “so much smaller,” she says.
On July 24, the Phoenix location of Changing Hands Bookstore will be hosting a book-signing event at 7 p.m., where the author will discuss the book and demonstrate some of her watercolor techniques. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own supplies to paint along, but a limited number of her popular painting kits will also be available for purchase. The event offers a number of ticketing options, including $5 general admission, a free ticket with the purchase of the book from either Changing Hands location or a pay-what-you-can donation.