- “Veronica’s Tulips,” watercolor, 16″ x 22″, 2008 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
I’ve referenced this painting a few other times in posts about commissioned portraits around Mother’s Day, and while it may simply look like a painting of a vibrant vase of tulips, it was actually her choice of how to combine two things she loved into a custom piece of artwork.
I had painted a watercolor of tulips in in 1996; it was popular as a print, then the original was purchased as well. When the Veronica of the title said she’d like to purchase the original, I had to tell her it had been sold but that I could always paint something custom just for her. We discussed the flowers and the colors it would have, the general tones, indoors by a window or outdoors in a garden.
- The top of the bouquet with the Battenberg lace curtains.
But she had also been wanting an animal portrait, but not of one particular animal, just something to remember her love of schnauzers and the ones she’d lived with. She didn’t want two paintings, though. Well, I said, we could work that out with one painting. Somewhere in the painting we’d also have a schnauzer, not necessarily one of hers, but preferably silver gray and definitely with floppy, unclipped ears. And she was happy to have a piece of customized art that could combine the animal art she’d always wanted with the painting of flowers she’d always wanted.
I collected my photos of flowers and outdoor gardens and took even more (imagine that), found bits and pieces from seed catalogs, department store catalogs and any other place I could find bouquets and vases and curtains and tables and garden benches and so on. I had also recently painted a small portrait of a schnauzer for a friend (someday I’ll review that painting) and asked her if I could use her photos as reference.
- Detail of tulips and table.
My first thought was the schnauzer lounging out in the garden but no ideas worked out in that theme. I had the schnauzer on a chair next to the flowers, on a window seat and other possibilities, working them all out in Photoshop so she and I could both see well ahead of time what the painting would look like.
Bbut in the end we wanted to take the emphasis off of one particular schnauzer—and at that size the dog would be recognizable—and put the emphasis on the tulips. Since it would be a fairly large painting I thought about placing the dog inside a picture frame either on the wall or on the tabletop within the painting, and the frame on the tabletop worked perfectly. I added the red pillow and red bow to draw your eye to that area and make sure viewers saw the schnauzer.
- Detail of the schnauzer in the picture frame.
Why don’t I do more of these if they are so popular? It’s a big investment in time—I might work on one tulip for a total of an hour over the course of working the painting, blocking it in, adding detail, then regularizing the light and shadow over the entire painting. But go ahead, make me study and paint flowers for hours on end! I love every single minute of it. For this painting I used a basic bouquet, but added all my favorite colors and types of tulips. If I’m going to spend that much time on them, I might as well paint what I like.
And as I spend the time I think of the illustrators in previous centuries who painted botanicals, those detailed drawings and paintings of flowers that became the color plates in books that even today people collect. Many of these painters were women because this was considered a suitable employment for a woman but they received very little notice for their work, and yet they painted on for the love of it. I have a book entitled Women of Flowers: A Tribute to Victorian Women Illustrators that gives life to all the talented women who made a living but who never saw their names in print. I am nowhere near their level, and my admiration for them is great.
- Just a section of the tulips.
And as I’ve mentioned, this pet mom got the painting for herself for Mother’s Day, and knowing her, this was the perfect solution. She really didn’t want to commemorate one particular dog nor did she want a collage, and even focusing on just one schnauzer, even if it hadn’t been one of her companions, just didn’t feel right for her. The little schnauzer in the picture frame is all of the dogs she knew and the brightness of the flowers and the sunny window echoes the happy memories.
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