Saturday, May 12, 2012

How to paint a bluebonnet

No excuses. No "I failed art in 3rd grade." If you can see a bluebonnet, you can paint it. The question is, have you ever REALLY looked at one. Just one. For several minutes.
Grab your kid's watercolor set, maybe some colored pencils and a piece of thick, absorbant paper and we will walk through this creative endeavor together:

1. Stare at the photo of the bluebonnet.

2. Ask yourself questions about it and answer out loud. What shapes do I see? What do those shapes remind me of? What colors do I see? What variations in darkness and lightness of those colors? If you can wrap any words at all around what you see, you can wrap paint around it. If you don't see what I see in this photo, don't paint what I paint, OK? Paint the bluebonnet that is on its way from YOUR eyes to your tongue, your hand, and your brain.

3. Here's what I see: a pointy white tip, light green where new flowers are just barely pulling away from the main bud, blue and white half circles where they are pulling even farther away, then full pea flower shapes in a strong cobalt blue the rest of the way down the stem. They are crowded near the top, but get sparser as they go down. Each one is like a little chair with a back and a seat, but the seat is shaped more like an almond on its side.

4. Now you do it. Look at the photo and talk to yourself. Look some more. What did I forget to mention?

5. Start with a pencil, colored pencils or if you have them, or watercolor pencils (they melt into the paint later.) Lightly draw the shapes you see: maybe a diamond to create the tip, then ovals and half circles for the tight top of the flower. Don't forget the stem and branches. I chose to add one leaf from the background to give the flower some grounding. Note that the leaf has light edges so I drew it with yellow, even though I plan to paint it green.

6. Now put some water and paint on your brush and start painting: a little green in parts of the top shapes, a little blue in the half circles. You don't have to be too precise - it will actually add to the individuality and charm if you are not. Try not to paint next to something that you just painted. Give it time to dry first. Go empty the dishwasher. Then come back and paint the parts you skipped. I like to do the "bottoms of the chairs" first on the flowers. Then I come back later and do the tops, carefully leaving the white window in the middle of each. In the photo, only the higher flowers seem to have "windows" but if you look closely, the windows on the lower flowers just turned pinkish purple as they aged.

7. When the flowers are dry, the stem and branches can be painted: start with a reddish brown, then clean your brush, load it with lots of green and not much water. Touch it to the wet brown paint in several places and you will get a nice random blend.

8. Look carefully at the photo again and compare it to the painting so far. The leaf of a bluebonnet always has 5 leaflets on tiny stems coming out of the middle of the leaf. My drawing has 6! Shoot! The photograph really looks like there is a leaf with 6 leaflets, but that would be botanically inaccurate, so we will add a second leaf to the left and make #6 attach to that. OK we fixed that, what still looks wildly different from the photo? We should not be able to see through the top 1/3 of the bluebonnet - the flowers around the back side should obstruct our view of the white paper, so we will suggest them with some blobs of blue to fill in any large open spaces.

9. Now you are done. Photograph it and send it to me, post it on your face book page, put the original on your refrigerator, or use it as a bookmark, or send it to your mother, or frame it in a 16x20 ornate gold frame and put it where you see it first thing every morning!

Nan Henke
Texas Hill Country Art
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