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


Sunflower x2

Helianthus annuus
In the late spring of 2016 I was looking for a subject that would push me to paint my botanicals larger, in the hopes of freeing up my hand, challenging myself and giving my paintings impact that my smaller works didn’t have.
One day I passed by some tall, dried Giant Sunflowers that were still standing along a wall that bordered a highway. I pulled over to take a better look. They had a tired feeling, one of having moved through their lifecycle, but still standing after enduring the long, harsh winter weather. Looking closer at their spent and curled dried seed heads, and strong hollow stem tissue, I found enticing tiny, numerous details, textures and color changes that would be a good challenge for me to paint. Not knowing if they had been planted by someone to brighten up their view of the huge brown wall, I didn’t want to deny them this treat, so I approached a man working on his car across the road and asked if I could take a few. I got his okay and, having pruners in my car, I took 4 large seed heads home to sit with and study, hoping to find the right composition.
Given that these sunflowers were so tall, I wanted to portray the feeling of height and started out by including a long section of stem down the left side of the paper and placing the arched seed head near the top of the page nodding down at the viewer. I hadn’t realized how challenging these complex seed heads are: with rows and rows of fine spiked hollows, the remnants of flowers where the sunflower seeds had nestled, the rows curving around the curled surface and the foreshortening when they pointed right at me. My biggest surprise and challenge was that I kept getting confused on which row and area I was working on. I tried to isolate small sections with paper windows, bits of kneaded eraser, string and also numbered paper diagrams taped on photos and my painting, but this problem would prove too much for me and I found myself completely starting the painting over twice before I realized that I needed to map out the logic of what I was seeing by doing a more complete and detailed graphite drawing of the seed head. Even within the drawing I would lose my place and the 100% accuracy I was seeking still eluded me. From complete frustration, I ended up purchasing a projector to find my way through this problem. Now, I do have some guilt about my inability to map out the complex seed head unaided. But I also realize that the painting that I was creating was going to be far more than the accuracy of the rows, and either way, this was a learning experience for me and I planned to do justice to the beauty I was seeing. 
Then the drawing was transferred and the third painting attempt begun (the painting in the exhibit). I used watercolor in most of the painting to obtain soft transparencies and luminosities throughout and to soften the sides with the dried sepals. I choose to use gouache for most of the center of the subject to give strength and rigidness of the hard, dried, spiky rows. In this final painting I really sank into some of the soft browns, yellows and blues that I found in the dried sepals, seed detail and the fine hairs along the stem. Using the arch of the stem, some atmospheric perspective and the swoop of a dried leaf, I wanted to move the attention of the viewer in a circular motion up through the sepals and down into the collection of seeds that are still nestled in their birth place and then give the viewer a little treat of a single dried flower peeking out of the contracted center. 
I learned so much from this subject and the challenge was almost too much for me, but I’d like to think that it has given me another level of skill that I didn’t have before I was pulled into its story.
Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual International
  • © 2016 Linda Medved-Lufkin
    Sunflower x2
    Helianthus annuus
    Watercolor and gouache on paper
    22-1/4" x 18-1/2"