Watercolor of a tulip, loose and free

A watercolor sketch of a fading tulip by Wren M. Allen

Observational art doesn’t have to be tight and detailed! This loose, gestural watercolor sketch offers a strong impression of a dying tulip flower.

I painted this rough sketch of a fading tulip on Tuesday in Lisa Coddington’s class at Santa Fe Community College.

Loose, gestural painting is fun and relaxing, a nice break from the tight and tiny markmaking common to botanical illustration style.

I selected a limited palette for this watercolor: Winsor-Newton’s Permanent Magenta and Rose; Ultramarine Blue (W-N and Daniel Smith), Daniel Smith’s Hansa Yellow Light, and a few touches of Holbein’s Opera and Alizarin Crimson.

Fortunately, I took a few snaps on my phone, so I can have the option to work with this faded beauty in a more detailed fashion at a later date.

The fruit of winter’s labor: A painting of red Indian corn

"Red Indian Corn" colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 30" x 22", by Wren M. Allen.

So many details! Working on this 30″ x 22″ mixed-media (colored pencil and watercolor on paper) painting, “Red Indian Corn,” challenged and developed my rendering skills.

I’m so pleased to share this image with you all! This depiction of an ear of red Indian (or decorative) corn has been challenging me all autumn and winter long. First came the difficulty of composing the contour drawing, with the wildly flying dried leaves of the husk. Then figuring out how to render the glossy texture and subtle colorings of the kernels became an obsession. My final quest was balancing the pale, dramatic movement of the husk against the weight of the darker column of the cob.

This particular ear of corn ignited my inspiration over the other corn cobs I bought at an Española farm stand because of its wild, waving leaves curving around the vertical cob in a perfect example of Matisse’s “arabesque”. My working title, in fact, was “Wild-Haired”.

At the beginning of March, I realized I might actually be able to make an exhibit submissions deadline if I could complete the image. All my creative time this month has been devoted to this beauty, instead of blogging or working on my classwork for Lisa Coddington’s spring bulbs course. Time well spent, I’d say! 🙂

A great weekend to all!

Tools of the trade: Using a smartphone to record progress

Botanical painting of red Indian corn, work in progress. Snapping a photo of daily progress in the studio helps with motivation.

A snapshot a day keeps discouragement away when working on big projects.

Painting a botanical art plant portrait is a slow and laborious process. Details build up slowly, almost invisibly. It’s easy to lose motivation when it seems like nothing is happening on the paper and there’s still so much more left to paint.

To combat discouragement, I like to take a quick snappy on my iPhone of my current project at the end of each work session or day. This gives me concrete evidence that I’m making progress and motivates me to get back to the drawing table the next morning.

Using a camera to record work in progress is a time-honored habit among artists. Hilary Spurling has described how Matisse would photograph his day’s work on his late Blue Nude painting before his assistant would wipe the canvas clean for the great artist to start fresh the next morning. Picasso took snapshots of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as he worked on what was to become the world’s first Cubist painting.

Do you take snapshots of your work in progress? What mental tricks do you use to keep yourself motivated while you work on a major project with lots of details?

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