This Flower has a Deadly Side

The work above was painted in September. I had asked a friend in town if I could set up my easel in her yard to paint a stand of Monkshood. The blue flowers were on a 4-5 ft. woody stem or stalk that grew in front of a large corner window with interesting reflections. Afterward the owner offered to give me several cuttings of the Monkshood to use as models for a botanical watercolor. I took them and first did a drawing and made notes because flowers change after they are cut.

My habit is to do research on the flower. I try to identify the parts such as the number of petals, stamens and so on. My eye can’t locate these features without magnifiers. I do this because it improves accuracy and makes it more interesting. There is always a surprise or two. In this case 2 petals seem to fuse to create the hooded structure that gives it the name Monkshood. And in my research all parts of this plant can be poisonous. I wanted a fuller explanation since the yard where this flower came from had signs that the deer had been eating the Monkshood. So would that kill them? And what about humans? I needed help to find out. The next stop was to my local county extension office. She referred me to Abi Saed in Bozeman, a horticulturalist that sent me to a link for the North Carolina Extension Gardiner Tool Box. It says the Monkshood is poisonous to humans but resistant to rabbits and deer. [There was no mention of dogs and cats!] It seems that through cultivation this plant is safely used in gardens but at least on one website I read, recommended the use of gloves when handling the flowers and stems because all parts of the plant are toxic. [Gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/monkshood/growing-monkshood-plants.htm]

Watercolor Working Space

The petals began to drop on the first group before I could finish so I asked for 3 more stalks, knowing a hard freeze was coming. During this process I always do color swatches. The big challenge was to match the blue-violet color of the flower. I also take photos but color especially is hard to duplicate when referring to a photo.   I will mix color and label which ones I used. It’s a good habit because if you get interrupted and have to put it away for weeks or months you have the information you need to finish.

Unlike the plein air paintings, I’m looking to duplicate the form and color as accurately as I can. So it’s not so much about my interpretation as it is about bringing the flower to its full expression.

4 Comments
  • bennetthorowitz

    December 11, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Very delicate, graceful work.

  • pat

    December 11, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    love getting these insights into your artistic process, nancy. thanks for that. so interesting to see your 2 ‘takes’ on the same flower – well, 3 if i include your verbal description too.

  • Stewart Buettner

    December 11, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    Loved the full story behind the paintings. The botanical, with its hooded petals, is so delicate and alive. Loved the rich saturated colors of the plain-air version.

  • Karol Oakley

    December 15, 2020 at 12:39 am

    Nancy this is so interesting!! Your painting is so delicate and beautifully observed. Who would think that this almost shy looking plant is so deadly.