Encouraged by a friend, I entered the Art in Bloom plein air painting competition held yesterday at Balboa Park. Members of the Floral Guild set out flower arrangements for us to paint from during a period of four hours. A strong field of painters did some excellent work, so I was pretty excited to get honorable mention and a cash award for my results, shown above.
The thing about painting flower arrangements of this sort is that they are created with a florist's aesthetic, which may or may not be something that would inspire a painter. Here are photos of the actual subjects.
I included a human in that first shot so you can see that those dahlia blooms are bigger than her head. I've never seen basketball-size blooms before. They're surreal. The size, the color--not what we see and relate to on a daily basis. What I hoped to do in my painting of them was to capture their color and beauty, but to humanize them more. To give them more empathy, more humility. To make them more like something I can relate to. The photo was taken early in the day; later, when the sun hit them full-on, it was much easier to break down the planes of light and shadow and bring out the simplicity of their beauty.
The rose arrangement was easier to work with, and in fact that was the first painting I did. Simple, humble.
I am pretty rusty when it comes to painting flowers, even in the studio--so the prospect of doing them plein air, in front of spectators and under time pressure, was making me a bit nervous. The way I prepared for it, during the past two weeks, was to revisit Manet's flowers.
If you don't know the story, basically it's this. Edouard Manet was an extremely gregarious and social painter who had to retreat to the country in the hope of curing his fatal illness. While he languished there, his friends would visit him and bring him flowers. His final series of paintings were of these simple flowers which represented everything that life had meant to him. There is such power and profound humanity in his portrayal. In my opinion, no one has done flowers more beautifully. If you've not seen the book "The Last Flowers of Manet", I highly recommend it. Out of print now, but used copies can be found for around $20. (check Bookfinder.com)
I painted copies of 15 in the series--all but the last one. I did them on the same scale as the originals, and emphasized speed (because I knew this competition would be timed). Here are my versions of my four favorites, each done in less than 90 minutes. Needless to say, Manet's paintings are much more beautiful than these:
Communing with the spirit and practice of a master is always beneficial, however you are able to do it. Here's a closing shot of me (just packing up), and my award.
And yes, the judge's last name was "Flowers". :)