I paint the flowers as though photography doesn’t exist. And there’s no deliberate plan, I don’t have a strategy for singling out some of the flowers and subordinating others. It does tend to work out that way at first, but the plan — if there is one — is subliminal. I use the bee plan: I flit from flower to flower.
I just pick a starting point and begin describing locations and shapes. Afterwards my attention goes willy nilly where it will.
I’ve taken lots of photographs — and may take even more since the photographs are like free flowers (and you never know when you’ll need some flowers). But this direct, unscripted connection to the flowers painted from life is wonderful. From the various studies, I’ll later choose whatever seems best, and those arrangements will become the bouquet that goes into the big painting. I keep painting until the flowers wilt (or I do).
I’ve never done a painting in quite this way before so it’s intriguing. It’s also emotionally satisfying. I contemplate all the objects separately, getting to know them, before combining them into the big scene.
So there’s a question of light — what will be the lighting of the final picture? Will it be specific and generalized, both at once? I’ve been puzzling over the topic a bit. I would offer that approach as characteristic of how my big hero Pierre Bonnard worked. He made a compositional study of his painting motif, one where the objects are lit from behind by the window. That’s the specific part. But afterwards he painted it from imagination and memory, perhaps also by reference to a few drawings (not many, not nearly so many as I make). And he got a consistent seeming image without obsession over whether the particular features were actually like the thing he had observed. And indeed his paintings create a realm of brilliant, dreamlike pseudo-reality.
Here’s one of his studies for the painting that I’m emulating:
Bonnard’s gouache drawing measures a precious 6 x 4 inches (it’s reproduced on page 138 of the Met’s “Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still lifes and Interiors”).
And my oil study in-the-works above measures 24 x 18 inches.
I worked on the study during the day and at night. I noticed only a few really significant differences in lighting (places where shadows fell in one instance and not in the other). Since I can work on the painting effectively enough no matter the light, I am guessing that I don’t need to be especially scrupulous about lighting in the painting itself.
The blue at the top doesn’t relate to the large painting I have planned because actually there’s a second, smaller intermediate painting for which I plan to use the bouquet. That picture has a blue background so I’ve used blue here. But my large, Bonnard inspired painting will have a window behind the flowers thus a surrounding of mostly greens — from the window I found with a view of trees that I found, that I will have found when my “window shopping” is completed.