Sunday, February 2, 2014

Butterfly commission

Each January I have a "commission" from a friend and co-worker. I put the word commission in quotation marks because she allows me to choose the subject of the painting, so I have freedom in this project that most commissions would not normally afford.

I keep her paintings within the parameters of floral subjects, with a couple of still life compositions thrown in. We counted up this year, and she now has six of my pieces, five of them being original paintings (one is a print because the original that she wanted had already sold by the time she saw it. Since then, I paint works just for her each January to ensure that she gets the original).


I must give credit to my mother for the inspiration of this project. She grows many, many flowers around her house, through all seasons. She now has a nice camera that she's been using to capture the fleeting glory of her blooms.

In this case, a large Tiger Swallowtail had taken up residence among a group of pink Zinnias, and the butterfly had no intentions of leaving his post while mom snapped photographs. So she has several closeups of blooms with the butterfly hard at work extracting sweet gifts. I saw the images, and immediately thought of my commission project.

That said, I still had some lessons to learn from this project. I initially started out with another idea -- with an image that had multiple blooms and I liked the idea of using the blooms to lead the eye around the piece. However, this is a small painting (only 5x5), and once I got into it, I realized that there was more in the composition that the space could easily accommodate. So that painting was halted mid-stream, and I went back to the drawing board, literally.

I thought about the paintings that I see other accomplished floral painters create, and I decided there were essential elements to making these compositions work, particularly when the painting is quite small.

  1. Tight focus on a primary subject
  2. Little to no detail beyond the subject
  3. Extreme value contrasts
  4. Dramatic lighting

With these "rules" in mind, I settled on a new image, mostly because I liked the little shadows some petals cast on the petals below. I thought that, plus the glow of light through the butterfly's wing, added the "dramatic" element, as well as helped with the value contrasts. I then cropped tightly on the subject and ignored all the background elements.

At this point, the painting is close to finished, but I have work yet to do with the butterfly. Stay tuned for the final product!

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