Tulip Herbarium

A spark of red. Bold color after months of winter. Unfortunately, my poor bouquet of tulips drooped within hours of when I purchased it, and well before I had time to paint it. Alas, the grand wilt gave me the perfect opportunity to create this herbarium page inspired by Wendy Hollender’s wonderful book, Botanical Drawing in Color: A Basic Guide to Mastering Realistic Form and Naturalistic Color (2010). It turns out that Emily Dickinson, too, kept an herbarium. Her poem, numbered 978, conveys the essence of may be missed when you think you have another chance, another day, but don’t.

It bloomed and dropt, a Single Noon—
The Flower—distinct and Red—
I, passing, thought another Noon
Another in its stead…

Tips and Techniques– Precision, accuracy and beauty are the hallmarks of natural science illustration. Botanical illustrators like Wendy Hollender, who works in colored pencil and watercolor, provide great insight into techniques used to make highly accurate renderings. While a journal hardly needs to be so detailed, I find it instructive to paint this way on occasion. I began the tulip with a pencil drawing, followed by a very loose wash of watercolor. From there, I used an increasingly dry brush (sizes 2 and 0) to apply more layers of watercolor. Getting a full range of values from light to dark is essential to making the petals take shape.

23 thoughts on “Tulip Herbarium

  1. Really nice work here. I have have been trying to do the same thing with colored and watercolor pencils. I love how you were able to maintain light and highlights in your flower and petals.

    • Hi Mary- I would think colored pencil would make it easier to control. I find it hard to work with reds, since the darkest values aren’t that dark. I sometimes add blue to the red, but in this case tried a bit of burnt umber, which I thought worked well for the shade I wanted. I think the trick is to always go a little lighter at the start so that you have room to add a full range of values all the way to dark.

  2. Regarding preservation of cut tulips, I learned from ikebana that cutting the stems under water and wrapping completely in paper, then standing the stems in water containing a little gin, makes the tulip stiff and easy to handle.

  3. You’re such a master. So you used burnt umber for the shaded areas under the “bends” in the petals? It worked really well. I may have to add that to my palette!

    • Melissa- I’ve long struggled with how to darken reds in objects like apples or tulips. My first instinct, adding blue, never seems to work out right. Adding brown (like burnt umber or sepia) yields deep maroons. I thought this worked better here. I also use burnt umber in combination with ultramarine for dark browns, with sap green for deep greens, and with ultramarine and alizarin for the reddish-brown-gray tones of branches and twigs. Go burnt umber!

      • Thanks for your nice, long reply. Whose brand of burnt umber do you use?

      • Hi Melissa- I’m using Daniel Smith, which I bought because it is less expensive than W&N. Truth be told, it seems a little weak, but that may be the way I’m using it. The one color that I strictly stick with W&N is burnt sienna. I find the other brands chalky and less transparent.

  4. Jean, thank you for the beautiful rendering of the tulip….and for the reference to Emily Dickinson. She is my favorite poet. She never failed to grasp both the finite and the infinite.

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