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Bromeliad Society International Journal Article

January 5, 2011

As a result of a recommendation from Lyn Wegner (Bromeliads for Africa), I was asked by Jay Thurrott (President of Bromeliad Society International),  to write an article about my Bromeliad paintings for the BSI Journal.  Yay!

I’m jumping the gun posting it here before it is in print, nevertheless, here it is:

Bromeliad Paintings

I am a very amateur Bromeliad enthusiast.  I don’t even know all the names of the Bromeliads I paint!  I just love the colours and forms of these fascinating plants.  🙂

I  love the sculptural shapes and the seemingly endless variations on a set of themes:  the sometimes obvious, often subtle, differences in leaf shapes:  long and skinny, spidery, broad and spoon-like, thick or thin; the edges either smooth or spiny.  Some leaves have borders to their edges, are outlined; sometimes with decorative, longitudinal lines or crossways hatching or both.  Some have speckles and splotches – a kaleidoscope of pattern and colour.  Oh the colours! – the range of greens and greys, reds and pinks, cream, white…  Nature certainly is a master of colour:  a feast for my eyes that saturates my heart with joy.  And I love too the different surface textures:  glossy and reflective, light-absorbing matte or velvety fuzzy.  And of course the sensual curves and the radiating structures please me endlessly.  Bromeliads are a fractal world of repetition with variation.

I begin a painting first with seeing a particular Bromeliad plant that appeals to a sense and appreciation of it’s beauty.  I then try capture something of this beauty in photographs.  I choose from the photographs one that I think would be worthy of a painting, cropping and framing it, seeking a composition that will draw the observer into the plant,  arranging the shapes and framing them within the space of the canvas.  I give emphasis to the radiating lines and curves, the repetition of forms and the inbetween spaces in the composition.  It is important to me that these paintings, while painted with realism, be satisfying too in an abstract sense.

With the shapes largely established I begin feeling out the surfaces, laying in base colours and layering over these many subtly adjusted hues to produce a complexity of colour, a richness of light-absorbing and reflecting pigment developing a depth to the surfaces true to the living leaves.  Each brush stroke is a caress and exploration. Paying particular attention to the quality of touch of brush and paint to the painting surface and underlying paint and to each stroke direction I build up the texture, layer upon layer.  I want the observer to experience the plants as if on their fingertips through the paintings, as well as feel them in their hearts.  It is a process of weaving paint back and forth over the canvas:  saturated colours and muted colours over each other and again, overlaying mark upon mark, this way and that, following the contours of the leaves and the concave and convex curves and layering patterns within the colour.

As the leaves begin to take shape, I will begin defining the edges, overlapping the soft and hard edges, representing the perspective of the receding forms by means of the sharp, defined, more highly-contrasted edges of the nearer leaves compared to the softer, blurred edges of the further leaves, inbetween filling in the spaces they inhabit.

The flowers grow in paint in a similar method to the leaves, their composite forms often alluringly convex, the flowers rising upright or draping, with colours exuberant or sometimes subtle and immersed under water, revealed in the shadows, obscurred by the reflections on the water surface.  The little pools of water begin with the leaf surfaces below the water surface, then the edges where the surface touches the leaves and toward the end of the painting, the water surface itself.

Painting Bromeliads is, for me, a dialogue between the plants and I.  I grow to know them more intimately in the time I spend observing and in capturing their likeness, honouring their beauty, growing the plants from the surface of the painting.

This plethora of plants provides potentially infinite material to explore in paint.  I love to paint Bromeliads!
If you have a special Bromeliad plant that you would like to see in a painting, please send a photograph to the e-mail address below and we can begin discussing sizes, formats and prices.  I would be very happy to paint your prized plant.  🙂


Vanessa van Eyk

The paintings can be viewed here and here.

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