20th Annual International American Society of Botanical Artists & The Horticultural Society of New York


Magnoliasoulangeana 'Lennei'
Ever since botanical illustration sparked my interest, my subjects of choice were wild plants, vegetables, and fruits. I didn’t really paint flowers much until this past spring, but then everything changed: I moved from Russia to Slovenia and the warmer climate and brighter colors are now reflected in my art.
It was 2016 when I first saw a magnolia tree and I couldn’t wait for the following spring to come so I could try to paint it. Finally, March in Ljubljana came, and all around the city magnolias were blooming with unbelievably beautiful flowers, while most of the trees still had little to no green foliage. The flowers had many colors: some were white, others were pink, purple, crimson, or even lilac.
One sunny morning, while walking through my friend’s small city garden, I spotted an old magnolia tree covered with dense pink-purple buds. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The rich colors and variety of textures caught my attention. I couldn’t resist asking if I could have a branch cut for painting! When I got home with the branch, my room filled with the attractive citrus-vanilla fragrance.
The magnolia buds posed a real challenge as they opened really fast. I carefully wrapped each of them with a piece of thin thread in hopes of getting a few more days of painting from the living subject. Botanical painters know all too well how difficult it can be trying to keep up with the opening flowers!
I set myself a goal to catch that elusive pink petal color and the varying bark shades. I noticed that the branch consisted of several parts, each being of a different age – that’s why its texture and color changed from smooth yellow-brownish to brownish magenta, and then to dove-grey hues. I had to match the pigments carefully and test multiple texture painting approaches in a sketchbook.
As the buds opened, they changed their color from deep purple to lighter pink. For the youngest and densest buds, I used a mixture of Scarlet Red (Schmincke) and Winsor Violet (Winsor & Newton) with a drop of Quinacridone Red (W&N). For the more developed buds, I switched to Quinacridone Magenta (W&N), Cobalt Blue (W&N), and Rose Madder Lake (Sennelier). Working from lighter towards darker tones, I needed to apply a lot of transparent and semi-transparent layers to reproduce the velvety petals. After shaping out the forms with broader washes, I went on working in dry brush to show smaller details.
I didn’t know in advance that magnolia bark was such a wonderful subject to paint! For me, the most captivating part of the process started when the buds were ready and I continued painting the branch: every furrow, every small crack, and all the tiny leaf buds.
I wanted to capture that very brief moment when the magnolia flowers weren’t fully open yet. That’s why I altered the initial composition a bit so I could present one of the lower buds as it was opening.
I’m looking forward to the next magnolia season so I can create more paintings dedicated to the mesmerizing beauty of this tree. 
  • © 2017 Anna Suprunenko
    Magnolia x soulangeana 'Lennei'
    Watercolor on paper
    15" x 22"