Composition and Depth – Drawing invasive species

Himalayan Balsam.pngAssignment 5 for the SBA’s Distance Learning Diploma Course was a composition study of a single variety of flower, with leaves.

Recognizing that I have used extremely amateur compositions in much of my past work (single thing being illustrated in one blob in the middle of the painting), and eager to be working in coloured pencil again, I decided to really push out of my comfort zone in this piece, choosing a subject with lots of dimension and depth creating potential for negative space.

While walking along the Spur Line trail that runs behind the KW Artist’s Co-op  in late august, I was struck by a thick mass of small, brilliant pink flowers.  Research revealed them to be himalayan balsam, an invasive garden-escapee originally marketed as an easy-maintenance, low-budget floral.

I quickly returned with garden shears – the exuberant dangly pink flowers hanging from thick woody stalks with barbed textured leaves, heavy exploding seed pods and deep fuschia buds would provide a very complex and interesting composition indeed.  I wanted to show the plant in all it’s messy, woody glory.

I must have been suffering from a cold when I started this illustration, because it wasn’t until the third day of drawing that I started noticing the overwhelming, pungent, sickly sweet mildewy scent of himalayan balsam, which would become my constant companion for the next several weeks.

As frequently happens, I gradually started to hate both my illustration and my subject.  The once thrillingly unique little flowers became twisted and vulgar.  The exploding seedpods became a constant annoyance as I spent days and weeks carefully positioning stalks and leaves to be both scientifically accurate but still aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand.  As the short Canadian summer drew to an end and I had to depend on sketches and photos to complete my work, I second-guessed my colour balance and shadows

I still can’t look at this drawing objectively.  I think that I was successful from a negative space/composition side, but it might have come out too cluttered despite my best efforts.  I was torn between overusing cast shadows (a big no-no in traditional botanical art) or rendering unnatural looking textural detail, and I can’t discern how well I walked that line.

 

 

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