What better than receiving a request to draw a floral triptych of lush spring flowers during the Corona lockdown? After the monochromatic under layer, working on these large Arches sheets (41- 61 cm), adding many layers of colour, felt like wandering through a lush garden.
The contrary was true. We were home most of the time, our city turning into a ghost town with museums and botanical gardens keeping their doors locked. Going to the supermarket and making a daily walk through greener parts of our area was all we did. I bought new green plants and planted some extra flowers on our balcony. But my real garden was on my drawing station and it was full irises, tulips, and daffodils. Before giving the sheets a protective spray, I added bugs and bees.
Packing up an commission always makes me nervous. But it worked by using an XL artist tube and three protective folios. By the time I brought the artist tube to the post office, our lockdown was almost over. Only our botanical gardens keep their gates closed till the 1st of July. Although I long to visit them, I understand that they can do very well without us, humans. They might even have had a jolly good time!
I have studied some Dutch Golden Age painters in the past, and Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) was one of my favourite painters. She painted very well, but she also had ten children! It bemuses me how one can paint so exquisitely and have ten children (therefore a minimum of ten pregnancies). One may assume that she died a tragic and premature death, but she did not. Her dated works establish that she painted from the age of 15 until she was 83. When it came to her household, though, she had help, because she could afford it. But I am not planning on writing about my role model. I want to point out that Dutch floral paintings in the Golden Age are an illusion. When we buy lush bouquets at the supermarket, we have little to no knowledge about the plants; we don’t know when they bloom and where they come from. We care a little about seasonable vegetables and fruits, but we don’t know where flowers come from. Golden Age floral painters studied flowers by making meticulous sketches and writing down which colours they needed.
Upon designing a large floral bouquet, they needed to check their notebooks and sketchbooks. This way, they put together flowers that do not bloom at the same time, and they also added seasonal butterflies or insects, therefore showing spring, summer, and autumn in one painting. Nowadays it is easy to consult a book or check a photo, and then put together flowers from all over the world, flowers that never bloom together at the same time. The difference between the Golden Age and now is that we fly in vegetables, fruits, and flowers, and that isn’t good for our carbon footprint. Golden Age painters created prosperous bouquets, not with the help of cargo trucks, cool cells, or air-planes, but with their own notes and sketches.
For years, William Morris didn’t appeal that much to me because I was still under the influence of my study of Dutch Baroque floral painters. They, as no one else, could create depth and a feeling as if you were looking at a real bouquet. These Golden Age masters positioned their composition in such way that a large flower vases, with all seasonal flowers, would stand proudly on show and you could -in your mind- walk around it. You would admire not only the flowers but also water-drops and insect that rested on big and small petals. But, of course, you were looking at an illusion. Dutch floral painters studied flowers, one by one, made sketches on them, and then set up a composition as if all flowers were all in bloom at the exact same time, which is never the case in nature. A wonderful illusion; a much admired illusion.
William Morris looked one dimensional compared to these baroque painters, yet, I learned to see that compared to modern flower designs, Morris’s work certainly isn’t one-dimensional. He may not create as much depth as I would like to see, but he weaves flower stems, creating the feeling as if you are in nature and looking at bushes, trees, and flower beds. Some flowers are near, some further away.
My drawing will have another lovely title using again a two word alliteration. You are invited to guess. However, before doing that, one needs some botanical knowledge and isn’t that not exactly what makes us love William Morris? He educates and inspired us with his design, botanical knowledge, and colourful palette.
William Morris mainly scatters and extends broad leaf foliage, flowers, and sometimes animals for the purpose of creating a repetitive, yet not too repetitive, wall paper design. There is a difference in what we expect from wall-paper, a painting, and from a mural. We expect a mural to trick us like Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾: we like to run into the world that is suggested by a mural. Wall-paper, on the other hand, aims at supporting the design and décor of a room. Wall-paper must suggest less depth than a mural or painting, but more than a brick wall, by weaving the stems of flowers and using the technique of foreshortening, Morris does exactly that however not overly.
I have yet many white spaces to fill up with my own designs; this way of freehand drawing is enjoyable.
Here you find more on my William Morris Trellis watercolour painting. (Click here)
After my ‘Praising Plants’, a large graphite drawing that was sold rather quickly, I decided to continue with botanical theme-drawing and thus I designed ‘Ode to All Oak Trees’.
‘Ode to All Oak Trees’ copyright by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
‘Ode to All Oak Trees’ copyright by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
This drawing has a large oak tree as it centre piece, decorated with William Morris botanical motifs and leaves freehand drawn as its border. In spring a single oak tree produces both male and female flowers (catkins). The acorns are its fruits. We use both the acorns and cupule for crafts while jays eat them and squirrels store them for the winter. Oak wood was often used for building churches because of the density, great strength, and hardness. It is very resistant to insects and fungi. Oak wood was also used for building Viking ships and in Medieval times it was used for interior panelling of prestigious buildings. Mistletoe growing on oak trees were most treasured by druids in Celtic communities; it was harvested with golden sickles.
This is a large graphite drawing (about the size of A3) beautifully and softly rendered, titled ‘Praising Plants’. I have set up this drawing as a way to show gratitude towards (house) plants. They provide us with oxygen, hence the text ‘Thank Your for your O2,’ a word rhyme that names oxygen by its element. Instead of drawing plants in pots, I have used a frame decorated with Ginkgo leaves. These leaves are found near Ginkgo trees, often in growing in botanical gardens or in Asian cities. Inside the border, I have added two plant motifs, Acanthus and Pimpernel Bay-leaf Manilla, inspired by William Morris, a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. The two other plant motifs are designed by me; Bamboo and Lotus flower.
One should see this drawing as a garden, as a local botanical garden in which one can deeply relax and become thankful for what plants do for us. Not only do they provide us with oxygen, but also with soul nourishment and above all, with beauty. Frame this drawing and feel inspired by what plants mean for us and how they can enchant us with their intricate patterns. I sell this original and there are no copies available. This makes this drawing unique gift.