Weeds and an Artist's Obsession
This blog is in two halves, the first half about my passion for the environment and the importance of what many consider as “weeds” is for anyone who loves nature, flowers, gardening, and the environment or is concerned about climate change.
The second describes my working practice as an artist. Over the last few weeks, I have been obsessively creating artworks about dandelions. I am choosing to discuss my artist practice and this obsession to help fellow artists and art students alike, as well as being of interest to the non-creative. It will give a curious insight for those who want to know how an artist creates paintings, projects, and ideas.
Part 1 - Weeds
Are they weeds or are they wildflowers; are they simply the wrong plant in the wrong place? Why are some flowers considered better than others? Indigenous flowers that grow within the local landscape around your home are to be treasured for many reasons:
- They are perfectly adapted to the soil, aspect and area and will be healthy and flourish.
- They are part of the local ecosystem and are important for the other organisms within it, that rely upon them.
- Many (not all) have herbal and other benefits.
- They often attract pollinators, which themselves are under threat.
- They increase diversity within the local environment.
As a gardener I rarely see weeds. I, like other gardeners, seek to establish plants in certain areas so that they are aesthetically pleasing, so I will frequently dig up my “weeds” and replant them elsewhere. My lawn is covered with dandelions, daisies, clover and buttercups. My favourite flower, Ox-eye daisies are also in the lawn, flowerbeds and plant pots, and I am constantly re-locating them, but they are all rescued and saved, however small the seedling.
In Spring my lawn is covered in dandelions, and this year they have been very prolific. I believe that this is one of the reasons I have been so obsessed this year with the dandelion. They truly are beautiful flowers, and their seed heads are phenomenal. I have painted them before and am always enchanted by their seeds and the patterns which they make. My very first painting of a dandelion, “After the Seeds have Gone” was painted several years ago (see below) and is still one of my favourites.
Most gardeners are eager to dispose of these tiresome weeds, but although they freely seed themselves, dandelions are easy to remove and replant. The bees love them, as they provide pollen before many other plants come into flower. I always think they are a jolly little flower that brighten up the garden after the long winter, so I always allow them to stay and actively encourage their growth. Hopefully one day I will have an entire dandelion lawn.
Part 2 - Being an Obsessive Artist
In any other walk of life, being obsessive is considered unhealthy, but when an artist obsessively draws and paints it is accepted. The problem is this obsession can interfere with routine eating habits, although I have learnt for this not to be the case and have had to work very hard at taking appropriate breaks just as any employed person would. However, one obsession remains, when I get hooked upon a subject, whatever that maybe, it will get drawnover and over, sometimes for weeks or months, and other times for years. I will often revisit these obsessions over time which you will see them appearing in my artworks for many subsequent years to come.
This year, it is the year of the dandelion. I am spellbound by how different they look at all stages of life, and I have set about documenting their lifecycle through photography and my drawings. Some of which can be seen below:
My visual research of the dandelion has been developed so far into several different finished paintings, most of which belong to the “Lifecycle Series”. I initially studied the perfect clock, before it has lost any seeds, inspired by the maths and symmetry, for which you can see this development in the video below:
My obsession soon developed into drawings and paintings where the dandelion seeds are blown away. I developed the wind-borne seeds so that they morph and change into something else. As the seeds are whisked away on the wind, they transform into dragonflies. This watercolour is both about lifecycles, but also the beauty within the dandelion clock. I have called this painting “Metamorphosis” and it is a comment about the importance of the ecosystem even on a small scale. The humble dandelion, taken for granted as a “weed”, supports larger life forms. The dandelion feeds the goldfinches as they hop around the lawn and pick out the seeds with their beaks, showering clouds of seeds everywhere. The dandelion flowers also provide pollen to the bees, so all parts of the plant support the ecosystem. “Metamorphosis” can be seen below:
After several weeks of study and exploratory drawings in my sketchbook, which you can see below, I have developed this idea further, so that the dandelion seed heads become part of the landscape rather than the subject alone. This idea includes both whole and partly blown away dandelions, which both show their beautiful symmetry and my idea of metamorphosis, in "Metamorphosis 2":
These are just three of the paintings I am currently working from the dandelion as a source of inspiration, however I am currently working on a fourth in my sketchbook, seen below:
I am still working from the original source imagery of the photos I took documenting the lifecycle of the dandelion from bud to seed head in my sketchbook and I suspect that there are a lot more paintings that will include dandelions in the years to come.
I like to share this process with you because I think it is important for people to see how an artist works. Many of my students are disheartened and frustrated because they can’t capture their subject accurately straight away. The only reason an artist appears to be able to do this is because they have been drawing and painting every day, in my case, for the last 4 decades. Artists take time to study their subject, so they can reinterpret what they seein their own way. Some artists don’t show their sketches and rough workings, whereas I like you to see the work behind the art. As you can see, I have been obsessively studying dandelions now for the last 4 weeks or so, but also a subject matter that I have studied off and on for many years. Many people also question the price of art works; when you buy a painting, you are buying the years of skill and practice it has taken for the artist to reach that point, which is often why the more experienced the artist, the more expensive the art.
Each of the paintings you can see below have been painted with an incredibly small brush. For the watercolours, “Dandelion Clock” and “Metamorphosis” I have used black paper so I can use silver paint for the seeds, which catches the light, depending on the angle in which you view the painting. The green/pale yellow centre and stem I have used Winsor and Newton watercoloursto build up several layers of paint for the colours to be seen. I have created these paintings by using a compass to get the perfect circle and then painting in the seeds and insects freehand with the brush.
The oil painting of “Metamorphosis #2”, which is still a work in progress, has layers of paint, including the dark blues and greys to create the moody sky, providing a contrast to the dandelions clocks being painted on top. Once again, I have used a compass to ensure that they are circular, but the seeds and the rest of the clock is painted in freehand using very thin oil paint. For the dandelion clocks I have used the palest of greys; I had considered using a silver enamel, but the consistency is just too tricky to get the detail that I wanted. This oil painting will take several months to complete as it is over a metre wide and the detail has to be added to the field, foreground and clocks once each layer has dried.
If you would like one of these paintings that celebrate the beauty and symmetry of the humble dandelion, simply click on one of the images below, if you like one of the paintings you have seen in this blog that is still to be finished you can email me to arrange first refusal, firstname.lastname@example.org