The Bishop’s Garden in Spring
i love to paint outdoors, but not in the winter. There are many plain air painters who enjoy being outdoors in winter, painting snow scenes; but I am not one of them. I would much rather spend my winters in the studio working on larger paintings that I couldn’t get to when it was warmer and I was eager to spend time outdoors.
Last spring, I went with a friend to the flower show at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. After seeing the beautiful arrangements inside the Cathedral, we walked around the Bishop’s Garden which was filled with purple and white flowers. This is my favorite garden color combination, and I took many photos with the intention of making a painting of the garden. However, it was the height of the outdoor painting season, and my sketches sat there for a long time before I was able to start the painting.
As soon as, the weather got too cold for my taste, the first thing I did was pull out those sketches. I had made them when the color and feeling of the day was still fresh in my mind, so I relied heavily on my sketches as reference, as I feel they are better than my unskilled photographs.
When I’m painting something that uses a lot of cool colors like greens and purples, I like to begin with a vibrant red or gold under painting, and allow the color to show through to the final layers of the painting. I love the surprise and energy of bright red popping through.
I did my preliminary drawing first in chalk and Payne’s Grey paint thinned with medium. My photograph of the scene did not have much interest in the foreground so I decided to “plant” some anemones I had photographed in another section of the garden in front of the irises. After blocking in my colors, I decided to add some white anemones to the foreground as well. I don’t like to paint exactly what is in front of me, I prefer instead to move things around, exaggerate, and occasionally, even make things up.
My original plan for this painting was to have the irises be the focal point of the painting. A focal point is like the star of the show, and the entire rest of the painting is the supporting actor. After painting for a while, I changed my mind and wanted to make the anemones the star of the show, because I thought they would better express my delight about this beautiful spring day spent in the garden with a friend. I exaggerated their size, and took extra care to leave more portions of the red under painting showing through to attract the eye to that section of the painting as well as to balance all the cool greens, grays and purples. I also made the colors more vibrant and the brushstrokes more energetic to draw your eye.
This painting was such a joy to paint, I am sure I will revisit this subject again. Perhaps, I should plan another trip to the National Cathedral flower show this spring!