Friday, 7 March 2014

Snake's Head old favourite

I know I've blogged about painting Fritillaria meleagris before but I do like it!.... and so do lots of other artists, most notable of course are Rory McEwen's paintings, which probably can't be bettered, but also Elizabeth Blackadder, Charles Rennie MackintoshPandora Sellars and many more have painted Fritillaries.

At the beginning of the month I decided to concentrate my efforts on this flower and have a number of pots to keep me going for the next few weeks. Over the last week several studies have been produced - although they are intended to be work towards a series of paintings....I haven't even started the actual paintings despite the fact that they're due to be exhibited during April! But today I painted this larger study ( x2). 
Study of flower head x2 in size ( 22 x 26 cm)
I even painted Fritillaries as part of the Nature Trail Sketchbook Exchange project this week.

Nature Trail Sketchbook pages for this month, showing a white and double headed forms. 
There's something unique about the colour and pattern in this plant, the colour varies between flowers and changes with the light, and, as the flower ages. The stems and leaves are elegant with beautiful curves and the hanging flowers are delicate. The tepals have the most interesting nectaries, which creates the distinctive square darker coloured 'shoulder'. A look inside the flower reveals the glistening nectary on the reverse of the 'shoulder'.
The petal showing the outside with the shoulder (top) and the inside with the nectary (bottom)
 F. meleagris is a member of the Liliaceae family, which grows in damp grassland and meadows. In Britain it is often referred to as a native species, however this is disputed by botanists, it was not recorded growing wild until 1736, prior to that it had only been recorded as a garden plant, so is now believed to be an introduced species and garden escapee which became naturalized. Although it was once commonplace, it was picked excessively and sold in markets as cut flower. Much of its habitat was lost after WWII due to the agricultural 'improvement' of the land, when ancient meadows were ploughed and turned over to food production. The plant is now deemed nationally scarce in Britain and only a few wild sites remain, including Magdalen College Oxford, Cricklade and the village of Ducklington.

It's a lovely flower to paint, the best approach is the lay down the washes first to form the basic shape of the flower. The colours range from cooler purples to fairly bright reds in places.  I used various combinations of Permanet Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Magenta and Permanent Carmine. In the really warm red areas I added a little Scarlet Lake. The warmer red shows through more prominently in some areas, such as near to the petal tips - also where the light shines through the back of petals. Yet in other light the colour is a cool purple.
Once the form is established the chequered pattern can be added on top, but remember that the pattern follows the contours of the petals and is also lighter or darker depending on where the light hits the flower. I mention this because I've seen patterns added on top of a form without enough consideration of the effect of light and shade on the pattern. 
I used Ultraviolet in the shadows and added Payne's Grey on the 'shoulder' and for the darks. A small amount of Manganese Blue Hue was used on the 'light' areas at the top of the petals and around the highlight on the shoulder. 

The first stages: washes are laid first to create form, the the pattern is added next.

Building up the pattern from light to dark,  pinks and purples but keeping a close eye on the light.

The stems are slender and elegant, they should be carefully observed because the way that the stem bends under the weight of the flower gives a very specific look. To keep the stem clean looking I draw slightly outside the area that I intend to paint and paint inside the line, this avoids painting over pencil lines, the pencil can be erased afterwards. The curve should be smooth and painted in flowing continuous strokes. Nothing looks worse than thick uneven stems on flowers like this. The colour of the stems is variable some are green and others have some red/brown in them but all are fairly light with a 'blue /grey' appearance. I use a mix for the basic green of colours with high light values. Manganese Blue Hue plus Winsor Lemon was used and a small amount of Permanent Alizarin Crimson added. I try as far as possible to use the same reds in a green mix as those used in the flower, this I believe gives continuity to the painting. 

   Above: detail of the stem and darker 'shoulder' areas

And then I came to a field where the springing grass
Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries
Sullen and foreign looking, the snaky flower
Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls
Camping among the furze, staining the waste
With foreign colour, sulky-dark and quaint

from 'The Land' by Vita Sackville-West (1927)

And here's a late addition to the post, not quite finished but painted this morning


  1. Fantastic work Dianne, love your posts xx

  2. Beautiful! - You are so good at Frits

  3. Amazing work, Dianne! I really love your work

  4. Really luscious Fritillaries, Dianne!

  5. Stunning as always Dianne, and lovely to see the stages of progress.