“I love your flowers, but I’m curious– why do you paint them?,” a man at a gallery exhibition asked me. “Normally you paint landscapes, portraits, street scenes, dreams…. The flowers are beautiful, but they seem like an odd fit.”
It’s thanks to Soroptomists, I told him. It turned out that his wife was a member, so I didn’t have to explain that Soroptomists are a service organization that is dedicated to helping women, children and families throughout the world. Every Spring, as part of fundraising efforts, Soroptomists of the Sierra Foothills, a chapter in our area, sponsors a tour of flower gardens. Participants pay for a ticket to visit the beautiful gardens of local residents. Artists and musicians are invited to the gardens to draw, paint or play music to help create a welcoming ambiance. We get to abandon our studios and spend a few hours in the fragrances of flowers and the chatter of birdsongs. Whether our presence has contributed to the success of the tours, which over the years have raised thousands of dollars, I can’t say. But I’m grateful to the Soroptomists for placing me, one weekend in May a while ago, in a radiant garden where I encountered the irises you see in the image.
If you don’t pay close attention to them, flowers seem to be simple creatures, yet the more you observe them, the more complex they become. Needless to say, this is also true of everything else in this world, but drawing and painting flowers in a garden present specific challenges. As usual, before anything else, it’s essential to be practical: find yourself a spot in the shade. This means paying attention to the path that the sun will take during the hours you will be at work, so that the light in the composition will remain as consistent as possible. In other words, if your spot is in shade now, will it still be shady in a couple of hours? You should also provide food and water for yourself. At its best, painting can be an act of meditation. This is especially true of painting flowers, so cultivating the ability to ignore distractions is helpful, although the visitors in the gardens are usually more interested in flowers, so they tend to leave you, and the musicians, in peace.