We had these moon flower plants in our yard when I was a kid, and I just simply loved them. When my mom and dad moved from our childhood home, I asked my mom to bring me some of the moonflower pods so I could grow them here.
This morning, I decided to paint one, so I went to the yard and snapped some photos.
When I looked through the pictures, I noticed a tiny little fly on that last one, and I zoomed in on it. When I did, I was pretty intrigued by the scene of that little fly, standing on the edge of the petals. These flowers only bloom for one day, so it was almost as if the fly was waiting for the flower to die so it could jump in and eat the juicy flower juice or whatever it is flies do. I love how the fly seems like an astronaut standing on a cliff of some alien world, and it’s even better knowing that this is a moon flower. So, I decided to paint the fly.
This composition is pretty great because it has a lot of the elements of a good landscape. There is a definite background, midground, and foreground, and the fly is clearly standing in the focal point, just at the edge of the foreground. There are great leading lines from the veins in the flower petals, and a wonderful sense of contre jour lighting created my the light filtering through the petals near the stamen. The stamen provide interesting verticals, and help create a sense of perspective and depth. I’m pretty excited about this one.
Step 1: Background
I started by sketching the image very lightly with a B pencil. I then wetted the paper, carefully avoiding the stamen, and added some very light pigments, blue and purple at the top, and a warm yellow at the base of the stamen.
Looking at it again right now, I see that the fly is too large, which makes the flower itself seem much smaller than it is. I’ll need to let this dry and erase the fly to make it smaller.
The rest of the lines are probably too dark, so I’ll try to erase them before I go too far, and find it difficult to erase the lines without roughing up the paper.
I added another layer of pigments, again wetting the entire painting (minus the stamens) and added more purple to the top, blues to the middle, and some high key Hansa Yellow Light at the base of the stamens.
Next, I need to paint in some shadows in the background, but be careful to avoid a lot of very crisp lines. If I rely on lost edges in the background, I should be able to render the shadows without bringing the background forward.
I tried to erase the lines, and managed to clean up most of them, but that fly didn’t clean completely. I’ll need to cover it with pigment, which will be very tricky because I need that area to be quite white. Before I add pigment, I’m going to try to lift the graphite with clean water. If that doesn’t work, I’ll resort to pigment.
I was able to remove much of the graphite by gently brushing with clean water, but not completely. To hide the mistake, I used some Quin Gold at F4w and blended it with Hansa Yellow Light at F4w both of which I used clean water to blend up from the base where the stamens are gathered. I let that dry to the damp stage, and then used clean water to pull out some highlights in order to preserve some whites. This sufficiently hid the early drawing of the fly so I’m going to consider it done.
I then wetted the shadowed portions of the background with clean water, and added some blues and purples to define the shadows and mass of the back petal.
In order to give the impression of light filtering through the base, I will now need to add some shadows with slightly more crisp lines. I still want the edges to be largely lost, but they should be very soft in order to keep the depth of field.
I glazed another layer of blues and purples. I’ll need to add another layer to continue developing some depth in the background, and to really develop the light source.
I added the darkest values to the background, and now I see the golden color starting to get a bit muddy. This is because the purple and yellow are complimentary, so they create a grey. In order to combat that, I’ll try lifting some pigment at the base of the stamen. I won’t go overboard though, because adding values to the stamens and the foreground petals might help punch up some of those neutrals. In order for that to work, I’ll need the elements in the foreground to be much more blue. Hopefully, because blue and yellow are not compliments, this will make the yellow appear more saturated, and reduce the neutralizing impact of the purples in the distance.
Step 2: Midground
To start the midground, I painted the stalks of the stamen using a purpleish grey. I then added Quin Gold to paint the heads of the stamen, letting it blend with the purple in the stalk. When that was nearly dry, i lifted pigment from the center of the head to define that structure. Next, I need to refine the stalks, and add some detail to the heads to give them a fuzzy appearance. Then, I’ll glaze a light blue wash over portions to put some of them into shadow.
Step 3: Foreground
Well, it’s done. I really dislike how the stamens came out. I should have used a MUCH cooler tone to paint them. I lost sight of my reference photo and started just painting what I felt like – as a result I didn’t capture the image the way I meant to. It doesn’t look like a painting, it doesn’t look like an illustration, it just kind of looks odd. At least it does to me.
Oh well. Just keep swimming.