Still pursuing camellias

I’m still in search of the secret of shiny leaves. So here I am, Day 2, after a night’s sleep. (See the day before yesterday for my first attempt, in watercolor.) This is an experiment in acrylic, suggested by Cynthia on the botanical art list. I have very little experience with acrylic – my practice has been almost completely in watercolor and pen and ink – but acrylic is starting to grow on me.

Watercolor is a stern taskmistress. She’s like the Olympics. You get one try on the 10 meter board and if you do a belly flop there are no do-overs, you just have to go find another piece of paper and try again. (Unless you can lift or scrub your mistake out, but that’s a different story.

Acrylic is like your favorite aunt that says “Relax, have fun, you’ve got a little wiggle room. Don’t stress.”

That being said, I’m still not satisfied with the leaves but I like the fluffy camellia a bit and most of all I liked the experience. I am always surprised with what a project teaches me; it’s never what I would expect. Maybe that’s what makes art such an addictive experience. There’s always something new to learn and you can mix it up infinitely and never, ever be bored.


  1. deb
    April 6, 2006

    You’re such an inspiration with all the work you do. How do you keep up the momentum?

  2. Karen
    April 6, 2006

    Thanks, Deb. My secret is that I’m a late middle-aged woman with occasional insomnia, allowing me to get up and work at 3 am instead of doing sensible things like sleeping!
    Sometimes I feel as though my energy, attention and ideas are limitless. But time can be very limited. I take advantage of those hard-to-sleep nights!

  3. Robyn
    April 7, 2006

    I am completely jealous of that camelia! A new medium and you handle it like a professional. The lack of sleep is not showing in your art.

  4. Lin
    April 7, 2006

    GORGEOUS Camillia, Karen!!! The challenge of white and all that subtle shading — you’ve overcome and fantastically succeeded here! LOVE the leaves too … My only acryllic experience has been dabbling with it as a collage element … but I too found it much more forgiving than watercolor. BUT love the transparency of the watecolor medium … so I’ll keep trying. Your work with acryllics is wonderful … and even with such a challenge as a white flower, you’ve outdone yourself again!

  5. endment
    April 7, 2006

    I have heard that we need less sleep as we get older (hope it is true)
    You are certainally making those hours bloom and glow.
    Your experiment is a success.
    I still love your work in watercolor – you are a wonderful inspiration.

  6. Jean Mikulla
    April 7, 2006

    Karen, Your acrylic camilla is soft and lovely, but I still like the sparkle of the watercolor one. Jean

  7. Nancy Bea
    April 7, 2006

    This is fabulous. Although I think it is great as is, I can understand what you mean about the leaves: somehow you might want them to be a little crisper and shinier to contrast with the fluffy softness of the flower head. But as I haven’t laid eyes on a camellia in years, what do I know? It is a wonderful painting and the fact that you were “trying out” acrylics, and got this, just takes my breath away. Go Karen! You are brave as well as talented.

  8. Katherine
    April 7, 2006

    Karen – I went to see the exhibition by the (UK) Society of Botanical Artists yesterday and the work was overwhelmingly watercolour. I’ve got no idea what the situation is like in the USA (but suspect it’s similar). You might want to check this out if you have aspirations in that direction – it might just be better to stick with your stern task mistress?

  9. Karen
    April 7, 2006

    Thank you, everyone.

    Nancy, yes, there’s a different quality to acrylics, at least how I’m using them, that isn’t as crisp as watercolor. I know it can be done, I’lll just need some practice and figuring out.

    Katherine, I quite agree – most of what I’ve seen in shows is done with watercolor, and this isn’t in a botanical style anyway, it’s too impressionistic. Had I started with a tight drawing instead of a general shape it might have turned out differently, which will give me something else to experiment with. Cynthia Padilla on the botanical arts list does wonderful botanicals with acrylic and colored pencil. She really has the technique down perfectly.

  10. Cynthia Padilla, Botanical Artist
    April 9, 2006

    Acrylic can be used in a manner to look just as transparent and flowy as a watercolor painting but its working properties are so diffferent that one must abandon all one has learned (if a watercolorists) when giving acrylics a go. Karen mentioned ‘crisp’ being a property attained with w/c. That is becasue you have mastered w/c’s Karen! I find that acrylics look far more ‘crisp’ than watercolor and that is why whenever i need to portray a waxy cactus, a shiny plastic-y tropical floral or the pearlesence of a tiny shell, AND with the added task of portraying it in great detail….it is acrylic i would reach for,
    hands down, over fussy w/c. LOL

    Peony…like roses, are most difficult to portray, and your peony portrait
    here is simply breathtaking!

    Cynthia Padilla, Botanical Arts Forum. Dedicated to the realistic portrayal of plants, flowers and natural science subjects.

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