Friday, 10 April 2015

Day 5, Cymbidium Orchid Flower

Finally a change of subject! and a change of brand for the materials. For day five I decided to do a quick sketchbook study of a Cymbidium orchid,  a single flower from a plant which is now nearing the end of flowering period, seemed a shame to miss painting at least a little part of it. This time working in Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook and with a limited range of Schminke Horadam artist watercolours.

Cymbidium flower study, size 7 x 7 inches on the best of all sketchbook paper, Stillman & Birn.
I only ever painted an orchid once before, I think it was a Paphio, not so much into panting them but they are fascinating! They really are the glamorous 'cheats' in the world of pollination! Tricking unsuspecting insects and other animals into thinking they offer some attractive reward but actually over 1/3 of all orchids have nothing at all to give to insects, unlike most other flowers they don't do mutualism and waste none of their energy on giving nectar or pollen away to insects..... Clever eh!

I was never more interested in any subject in my life than this of Orchids 
Charles Darwin 1861
Detail showing the column with pollinium
These Cymbidiums and some other orchids have their pollen in a pollinia, these are sacs of pollen  housed at the tip of the column and covered by an anther cap. If you have an orchid such as a Phalenopsis or Cymbidium try touching the anther cap with a cotton bud or cocktail stick, the pollinia will easily be revealed and pulled away intact. But a word of warning, unfortunately the flowers job primary job is done once the pollinia is removed and it fades and dies very quickly once the pollinium is removed. When the curious insect enters the flower the whole pollinarium comes away sticks to the insect ( it's attachment is very sticky!).  It' is then carried to the next flower and facilitates cross pollination, as the curious animal persists in it's search for a reward! I tried to photograph the pollinarium ( below) but didn't make a great job, sorry. But hopefully you  get the idea.
 Pollinarium, showing the pollen sacs and sticky attachment which allows it to be carried by insects to the next flower. actual size is only around 2mm at the widest point.
Interesting as this story of pollination is - this post isn't really about orchid reproduction but I forgot to take photos of the painting process, so thought I'd add a bit of extra stuff!

Here's a brief summary of the painting process.

Centre page is a face-on view of the flower. The fairly straight forward symmetrical view is easily achieved by drawing a box using the height and width measurements of the flower, then by dividing it up into four quarters (draw a horizontal and vertical line through the centre). Finally plot the position of the petals by judging the angles of the petal positions....kind of like a clock face. All that's left is to add the outline by  measuring of the parts for accuracy.

Simple face-on view of flower, get the basic symmetry right and then make adjustments as necessary
  Thereafter the shade colour was added, which is my usual approach when painting light flowers. I'm not at all familiar with Schminke watercolours but have some pans so thought I'd give them a go. I used manganese violet and ultramarine finest for the shadow colour. For the 'yellow' areas on the petals I used titanium gold ochre. I wanted to reach for the W & N on a few occasions because I could think of easier options but stuck with it. They're fine to use although I've yet to learn about the particular properties and only have a limited colour range.

Adding the spots to a dampened surface gives soft edges.

I then added the basic hue for the petals,  which is almost 'fleshy' pink in colour.Vanadium yellow and vermilion plus a little of the ultramarine finest. For the cooler pinks I used ruby red in the mix.  The edges of the petals were faded and brown, brown madder an ultramarine was used here. For the dark spots on the labellum I used ruby red and brown madder with a tiny amount of ultramarine for the darker areas. To apply, I wet the area first and allowed it to part dry and dropped the colour on, this give the soft edge to the spots, but care has to be taken to have just the right amount of dampness or the spots will spread too much. Darker areas were added on top, the spots are actually slightly raised so the light catches the edge of them and a darker area can be added to the shaded side.
 A simple dissection in graphite and a few other parts were added (stigma, ovary, labellum and profile view).  Hopefully this gives a good overview of the morphology on this small study page.

Simple dissection
Orchids are really simple to dissect, because they are so fleshy and resistant to wilting, so if you've never dissected a flower before this is a good place to start but don't be surprised when it looks nothing like the standard 'plant parts' illustration often used in botanical painting classes!  



  1. Lovely study painting Dianne. Orchids are amazing. they are the only group of plants to challenge the species concept too because many different species can interbreed with eachother and produce more fertile offspring. So not like Donkeys and Horses. They are one of the fastest growing plant families, if not the fastest, which I always find so funny as they probably have the most amount of endangered species as well.

    Anyway - fab painting. How do you find the Schmike? I have never used them before. Are they better for wet brushes? So they have quite a different quality to them or not really? I suppose I should just try for myself, but I thought I'd ask anyway.

    Anyway - super painting, so delicate and yet fleshy.

  2. Love this Cymbidium study page Dianne, and done in a day too! And well done on photographing the pollinia, such a tiny thing to capture!