Posted on Leave a comment

Watercolor Painting Inspired by the Milkweed Plant Flower

Milkweed plant in flower
Milk weed Plant in Flower

I live in an area of Wisconsin known at the Driftless Area.  I am not a geological expert, but I understand during the ice age, the glacier covered most of Wisconsin and skirted this area leaving a completely different landscape with unique rock formations.  This driftless concept was never explained to me during my informative years and has only recently been thrust forward because of my interest in watercolor painting.  I began hearing this driftless term when looking for art shows and found some special shows devoted to driftless area artists.  Then recently when our local historical museum expanded, it reinvented itself as the Driftless Historium, kind of a cool name with a bit of a Victorian nature.  In my quest for locations to display my watercolor paintings, I approached the Driftless Historium with some new products and as a result, they suggested I paint prairie flowers because they fall into their Driftless concept.

I have done several floral watercolor paintings and this seemed to be a logical step, helped limit my scope of subjects and I found myself in research mode.  During the research process, I found a local remnant prairie on Instagram called Moely Prairie.  It is only 30 miles from my home and I was permitted to use their wonderful photos, which was great considering it is tough to photograph prairie flowers in the winter.  During my quest, Moely Prairie posted a Milkweed Plant Flower as a reminder of the connection between Milkweed plants and Monarchs.  My normal tendency is to zoom in close to a flower to extract the more interesting details within the flower itself.  I had never looked a Milkweed plant flower before, but I became captivated by the five little nectar cups around the floret and the petals that pointed down instead of up as most flowers try to display their pretty parts.  I started to look into the reason for this interesting display.

I became a bit obsessed after awhile when I started to read about the claw-like thorn that came up from the cavity around the cups.  Instead of nice little pollen granules that stick to the bee or insect, a pollinator slips off the downward turned petal and a sac of pollen attaches to its leg.  It has to be pretty strong to pull its leg out or it may stay stuck on the plant and die.  It is pretty hard to explain how this works, so I have placed a YouTube video below so you can get a better explanation.

The other cool thing about the Milkweed plant is the connection with the monarch butterfly.  The monarch caterpillar eats milkweed exclusively because they are not affected by its toxic sap, but birds find the caterpillar unappetizing.  Unfortunately, the number of Milkweed plants is diminishing because they aren’t a flower garden plant and prairies are dwindling so Monarchs are dwindling also.  I recommend doing some research of your own and look around for opportunities to spread Milkweed seed if you get a chance.  Maybe plant some in your yard where they can co-exist with other perennial flowers, or contribute to a prairie restoration group to help the Monarchs continue to thrive.  Below is the completed Milkweed Plant Flower painting and the original was given to my Granddaughter for her birthday.  I have provided the Driftless Historium with Watercolor Print Blocks displaying this and other prairie flowers and they will be for sale at their gift shop soon.  Keep the wonder going Extraordinarians.

Close up watercolor painting of a milkweed flower
Milkweed Flower
Posted on Leave a comment

There is No White in Watercolor

Watercolor close up of Queen Anne's Lace Progess 05 Sep 2018

This month I demonstrated ACEO (Art Card Editions and Originals) painting at the local historical museum (Driftless Historium).   The event was part of an exhibition by the MHAAA.  I had laid out 2.5 x 3.5 inch cards taped to foam board, some with drawings printed on them and some blank.  I also provided watercolor pens, liquid watercolor, and small pan watercolor so they had their choice of medium to try.  

I explained the history of ACEOs and then I asked them if they would like to try their hand at painting, but before they started I explained that there is no white in watercolor.  Technically there are a couple of white opaque paints that are available, but watercolor purists or transparent watercolor painters do not allow the white paint when judging watercolors.  The only true way to have white show up in your paintings is leave the white of paper exposed.  This means you can’t just paint away and come back later and add the white, you have to plan ahead to protect the white spaces.  I call this “Planning for Purity”

When Planning for Purity, there are a few ways to leave white exposed.  One is to put a masking fluid on the white so you can just wash over the surface.  This is a very safe method, but when you remove the gummy material it leaves a hard edge that must be blended back into your other pigments.  

Another way is to wax the surface, but with that method you can’t remove the wax so you better get it right the first time.  The trickiest method is to paint around the white, being very careful not to get any pigment on the white space.  If you do, you can try to lift the pigment off, but it will never be the true white anymore.

Close up of Peony and thistle
Pricks and Petals

I have had a lot of trouble painting white things.  This picture is a peony and I didn’t leave that much white, it is more of an ivory because of trying to get shadows in the folds of the petals, I used a lot more yellow than intended.  I like the results, but just not really white.

I keep trying to improve my use of white, for example, Silas, the Siberian Crane was a big challenge, since he is all white, except for a few black tail feathers. Siberiancranewatercolor

Planning for Purity in life can be even harder.  We start out pretty good but even as small children it is tough to make good choices when we are bombarded with worldly knowledge.  Our canvas gets darker and darker over time and eventually we need intervention to remove the dark pigment.  We can seek help from others, but there is only one source capable of wiping the slate clean and that is our Savior, Christ Jesus.  I am so thankful for His gift, now my heavenly father can look at me and my canvas is as white as snow.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Queen Anne’s Lace Mystery

Queen Anne's Lace in variouse stages of development

I have always liked Queen Anne’s Lace and felt it would be fun capture it in a painting.  It is August in Wisconsin and they are abundant in the fields so it was no problem getting a close up shot with my trusty little camera.  As I processed the various photographs looking for just the right image to use as a reference photo, I decided on a close up that looks like an every expanding network.

Close up of Queen Anne's Lace and First Wash Watercolor Painting
Queen Anne’s Lace Close up and First Wash Painting

In the middle of the flower I found a dark spot that I thought was a bug or piece of debris so I did not include this spot in the transfer of the image to the watercolor paper.  I didn’t think much more about it until I started to research Queen Anne’s Lace a little more, looking for other macro images of the flower.  What I found out falls into the Extraordinary category in my opinion.

According to the information I reviewed that little dark spot in the center of the flower is a single sterile purple flower.  Botanist’s have not determined the reason for this anomaly.  Is it there to attract pollinators or ward off bad bugs?  Who knows, it is a mystery.  I have been looking at Queen Anne’s Lace for over 60 years and this is news to me.

I am inserting a link if you are interested in learning more about this little mystery:  Queen Anne’s Lace Close Up

As I  continue on my painting, I will add pictures of the progress.  Hopefully you will have had a chance to make you own close up examination and find that little purple flower.  Send in a comment when you find the flower and let’s see how many Extraordinarians we can get into action.

The Red Center Flower has been added to the Queen Anne's Lace painting in progress.
Queen Anne’s Lace 21 Aug 2018 with red center flower

I have been away from my painting for a couple of weeks getting ready for my first art show (more on that in future blog).  I added the purple center flower and started to detail the stem colors in the upper right side.  This is going to take a long time to put in all the details so I may not add a section to this blog very frequently, but I will keep you in informed.

Funny thing though, as I work on this picture I can’t seem to get the story of the Danish Queen pricking herself while making lace and leaving a drop of blood in the center of the flower.  Instead of the Danish Queen, I think of Jesus and that a single drop of His blood was all that was needed to blanket my sins so they became white as snow.  The power of the blood, that’s what the song says because just one drop give eternal life.

Watercolor close up of Queen Anne's Lace Progess 05 Sep 2018
Queen Anne’s Lace Progress 05 Sep 2018

I have been away from this painting for a little while as I worked on another painting for a special customer, but I am back at it and wondering why I chose to do something with so much detail.  Each tiny flower needs to have shading added and trying to follow the direction of the stems gets pretty confusing.  I like where this is going, but I can only focus on it for about an hour or so at a time.  I can’t say how long it will take, probably at least another week if I work steady each day, but I think the end result will be pretty intriguing.  Thanks for following along.

Oh, I have also created an Instagram account if anyone is interested you can find me at @nanakatesartcards

Close up of Queen Anne's Lace Squared off from original
Queen Anne’s Lace Closeup

After several more hours of work I have completed the painting and created the card.  Please check out the card in the link below.  I also made a canvas reproduction in a 12 x 18 in size which really looks great on the wall.  Send me a note if you might be interested in one for yourself.

Queen Anne’s Lace Close Up Card