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Foxglove Fantasia
Foxglove Fantasia

Painting experimental flowers in watercolour


Ann Blockley - Posted on 18 May 2011

Experimental flower centres

When painting a flower centre I like to look at it for its painterly qualities and see the flower parts in terms of mark making. Stamens and pollen, for example, can be portrayed as a series of dots or lines. The tip of a palette knife can be used to splatter a fine dusting of paint, and the edge of the same knife can be used to draw fine lines of watercolour. Dots of wax crayon or oil pastel can represent chunkier markings.

Sun and Stars, watercolour and ink, 22x15in (56x38cm).
Inspired by the name of the flower, I had the whimsical idea of developing a theme of suns and stars. I painted a night sky background with splatterings of gold ink that echoed the circular shapes in the flower centre. The sunflower was made part of a magical constellation

Using different techniques
In my sunflower series I became involved with ways of describing the large centre, with its countless small seeds. I was not concerned with the intricately arranged spiral patterns that the seeds make, although these are fascinating, but simply their repeated round shapes. I explored different methods to represent this idea. For example, in one version I (below) prepared a flower centre with the glass bead gel that is normally added to acrylics. In other experiments I tore holes in the paper surface, stuck collage on to it, broke up the watercolour with granulation medium, or used different materials to draw or print small circles.

Sunflower 1, watercolour and Indian ink, 171⁄4x15in (44x38cm).
I brushed a wash of yellow watercolour into the flower centre and drew dots and squiggles of Indian ink into the paint. I immediately poured a little granulation medium into this to break up the ink into a granulated texture

Sunflower 2, watercolour and ink, 22x181⁄2in (56x47cm).
In this rich flower centre I added dots and circles of gold ink in ring-shaped patterns to echo the design made by the seeds. I also drew some tiny seed-shaped circles into the wet paint with a black watercolour pencil

Using paper collage
During my exploration of sunflower centres I decided to stretch the boundaries beyond manipulating the paint to the paper surface itself. Cutting and sticking was one of my favourite childhood activities. I believe that in a search to move forward it can be valuable to revisit past hobbies or interests, especially those enjoyed before adulthood. Building up layers of paper shapes suggests opportunities for describing the overlapping effect of petals or other three-dimensional elements. Alternatively, a paper collage can simply act as an unusual abstract interpretation of certain shapes. Paper can be cut or torn out and reassembled, using PVA glue, in an infinite variety of ways.

Sunflower, Cut and Torn, watercolour, 22x181⁄2in (56x47cm).
I cut out the sunflower centre, using a scalpel to create sharp-edged petals, and tore the paper to make ragged edges. I roughly tore concentric circles of paper and layered them to create a textured collage on which to paint

Reflecting the plant’s character
In my sunflower experiments I was sensitive to the nature of the plant’s different parts. In Sunflower, Cut and Torn (above) I used cut edges to describe the crisp petals that curled over the middle but torn ones to represent areas within the rough, seeded centre. I tore holes out of the paper and even attacked the surface with a scalpel, picking out small perforations. In Sun and Stars (top), I stuck small overlapping circles of paper into the sunflower centre before I began painting. The watercolour gathered around these raised edges to emphasise them. I rubbed gold paint over the embossed shapes when they were dry to create a slight sheen and make the circles more pronounced.

This extract is taken from Experimental Flowers in Watercolour by Ann Blockley, published on June 20 by Batsford, price £18.99, ISBN 9781906388775. Copies can be obtained from Painters’books at the special price of £13.99.

The full extract, plus a review by Susie Hodge, can be found in the July 2011 issue of The Artist.

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