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Going with the Flow

“Go with the flow!”

As a landscape painter, I observe the flow of seasonal and micro-seasonal images. As a lover of flowers, I enjoy the flow of summer’s floral parade InSide the Back Mountain. For instance, early summer showcases mock orange, iris, lupines, and peonies. Mid-summer displays the progression of gorgeous hydrangeas, roses, sweet peas and fragrant flowering milkweed. The end of summer beauties are definitely sunflowers! As a watercolor painter, I enjoy watching colors flow across paper, especially transparent watercolor pigments with no white paint, and then challenging myself to create compositions using slightly different styles.

Peonies are probably my all-time favorite flowers. They thrive in my yard on benign neglect in full sun, producing full, glorious blooms. The local deer herd does not eat them. Peonies can be content in a yard for generations, some clumps lasting a century. In fact, in our own yard here in Dallas, we have photographic proof that a peony clump which was vibrantly healthy in 1937 is still in the same place, even larger. We believe it was planted by my husband’s grandmother… or possibly his great grandmother. The ants on the buds are a security force of sorts for the plant because they enjoy the sweet peony nectar in trade for attacking potential peony pests.

The pink peonies in the painting “Pink Neighbors” are from my own yard, painted from a photo taken with my phone one morning in early June. The sunshine created warm greens and pinks. The style is termed “naturalism,” a type of realism which is used to paint the subject as naturally as it appears in nature. I first drew each flower shape and then subdivided each flower into petal shapes with an HB graphite pencil. I used 5 different tubes of watercolor hues to achieve the different shades of pink, but absolutely no white pigment was used anywhere in the painting.

In midsummer, I love hydrangeas. I can't seem to grow them in my own yard, but whether pink, blue, or white, the beautiful balls of composite flowers fascinate me. The hydrangeas in “Summer Afternoon” are not from the Back Mountain but from a beautiful home in Cape May, New Jersey. I stood at my easel on the sidewalk and painted. In Cape May, an artist can do that and not be reported to the police! I think our hydrangeas InSide the Back Mountain are even prettier, but I couldn't find a great, safe sidewalk space with hydrangeas and a hammock close to a sidewalk! So Cape May had to substitute! The style is realism, but not the naturalism style of the peony painting.

Late summer features the crowning flower of royalty, the sunflower, named Helianthus because it tracks the sun, always facing it throughout the day. Native to the Americas, the sunflower can be used to symbolize a plethora of meanings: happiness, cheer, hope, good health, good luck, courage, a dedicated life, and pure thoughts. A disc flower in the daisy family, the center is actually composed of thousands of tiny flowers, each of which is capable of becoming a sunflower seed. Birds love them!

The models for my sunflower painting “Faces of August” were purchased from a farm stand InSide the Back Mountain. Again, I drew each petal with an HB graphite pencil. Yes, I counted the yellow petals. Actually, the math nerds among us know that the bumps on the head of a giant sunflower form 34 spirals if you carefully count to the left, and 55 spirals if you count to the right. The numbers 34 and 55 are next to one another in the Fibonacci sequence… but I digress! I toyed with the idea of painting a background like they enjoyed in the field with blue sky and lots of other sunflowers around them… or a loosely stylized composition, indicating depth with receding sizes , colors, and values… or my studio stuff in their new environment in my art studio where the blooms relaxed in a vase of fresh water. Instead, I opted for a totally clean, pure, striking background of… nothing! It seemed anything I added would detract from the brilliance of the blooms themselves. Decisions like this are called “concepts.” It is said when Van Gogh painted his famous painting of four cut sunflowers, he was symbolically stating he was on the right path.

I’m not sure what my three cut sunflowers symbolize but I am absolutely sure of one thing: I love to paint our seasonal flow of flowers, especially in flowing watercolors! What are your favorite blossoms during the flow of the seasons InSide the Back Mountain?


This article originally appeared in the August 2023 publication of InSide the Back Mountain.

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