|"Orange Blossoms and Honey Bee", 16" x 20", Oil on Canvas, ©Victoria Page Miller|
Several times during the week, I did a photo shoot alternating between Aperture and Shutter setting on my camera. I generally prefer Aperture when shooting flowers, to make the background blur away. I also used higher Shutter settings to capture some detail of the bees so that I would have some information when painting.
I prepped the canvas with a wash of burnt sienna and odorless mineral spirits. I let it dry overnight, and used vine charcoal to draw in the composition, aided by rough grid marks on the canvas. I had assumed that drawing flowers would be easy, but it was surprisingly challenging and complex. I knew once my drawing had to be revised several times that painting it would also be a learning experience.
|Color Wash with Initial Vine Charcoal drawing, "Orange Blossoms with Honey Bee"|
My approach is to work the whole painting at once, rather than concentrating in one area. It helps in laying the correct values immediately. I work with the largest brushes first, saving small brushes for later.
After painting several days, I went back to the citrus trees expecting to retrieve a live flower blossom as a studio model and reference. There I received a shocking reminder of how transitory nature is: all the orange blossoms were gone. I missed my chance. I had to rely on my memory, familiarity, and my photo references.
During this period, a honey bee fell into our swimming pool and I was around to fish him out. He sat on the pool's edge, cleaning himself off. I watched him at eye level from inches away. Their thorax is very soft and fuzzy, reminiscent of a duckling's down. Their telltale stripes aren't so stark black against a constant yellow body, like commonly depicted. After a few minutes, he regained his composure and flew off. I used this field observation to more fully render the rough areas of the bee in the painting.
I've already planted Lemon Queen sunflowers and other attractors in our vegetable garden so I look forward to more close encounters. Our pollinators are so important and are threatened on many fronts: colony collapse disorder, habitat destruction, viruses, pesticides, mites, and fungus. For a great Q & A all about bees, their behavior and the Varroa mite, check out this online session with Marla Spivak.