From proteas to peonies – breaking down my artistic inspiration - Manuela Bianco
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From proteas to peonies – breaking down my artistic inspiration

I’ve recently been working on new drawings for the Open Days & Botanical Art Market that took place in May at the Botanical gardens of the University of Delft (Open dagen en botanische kunstmarket, Botanische ruin TU Delft). The process of creating these pieces has made me think a lot about my sources of artistic inspiration. As you know, nature is my number one muse, and there’s one particular flower that I’ve been really focusing on lately. 

The stark outlines of the Protea flower make it the perfect subject to draw and take artistic inspiration from. It can also be dried and makes a wonderful home decoration piece.

Otherworldly beauty

Its name is Protea or ‘Sugarbush’ and it is the national flower of South Africa. It was officially introduced into Europe in the 1700s and has hundreds of different species. They are also the oldest flowering plant on the planet – with fossils dating back 300 million years. I love its otherworldliness. It isn’t delicate like most flowers but instead has a hard centre surrounded by brightly coloured tough-looking petals. This hardiness means that it is perfectly suited to harsh conditions and can survive bush fires in its native Africa or Australia, where it’s also found.

“No matter how hot the fire burns, a Protea always survives”

AB De Villiers
My drawings start simply with a rough pencil outline before I start layering ballpoint pen strokes to build up the picture

Artistic inspiration takes many forms

Not only does it last for over a couple of weeks when placed in water, it also dries wonderfully and can be used as a stylish decoration in the home. I really enjoy drawing it fresh or dried and using it as inspiration in my classes – its different tones and stark lines make it a perfect subject.  It makes a nice contrast to the other flowers I frequently draw – such as peonies and tulips.

Peonies are another great source of inspiration

My artistic process

So how do I go about drawing? My first stage is to take photos of my subject. I’m constantly taking photos when I’m out walking and a flower or plant catches my eye. Or I photograph flowers I’ve bought from the florist that I intend to use as artistic inspiration. I then convert the image into black and white and really exaggerate the contrast in the image. This is a crucial step and makes it easier when I’m drawing the tonal values. The light and shadows are really defined and take on almost geometric shapes.

I use tonal paper and white pencil as a way of playing with light and shadows

I usually sketch with a pencil to give a rough overview of the flower. It’s not at all precise but it helps me build the framework of the drawing. Then I draw over it with my ballpoint pen. I don’t endeavour to create a perfect copy of the flower but instead I exaggerate some elements or leave out parts I don’t want to include in the drawing. I then add tonal values, light and shadows – using a white pencil to add highlights. I deliberately use toned paper so that the colour of the paper is incorporated into the picture. I find it easier to focus on light and shadows using such paper. 

I love the juxtaposition of modern and traditional in my framed prints

The detail in each painting is something I like to play around with too. It fascinates me that the closer you look at my drawings, the more obvious each white and blue pen stroke is and each shape too. Often there are tiny geometric shapes that are apparent when examining the drawing up close. But once you move further away, the flower takes shape and the pen strokes and shapes disappear. It’s something that makes my style of drawing very distinctive and recognisable.

Preparing my prints for the market has also encouraged me to play around with different ways of displaying them. I particularly like using an oval passepartout – which is quite a traditional way of framing artwork. The juxtaposition of the old style of frame with the traditional subject of nature and my modern way of drawing makes for a perfect contrast in my opinion!

If you weren’t able to join me at the Botanical gardens of the University of Delft , my prints are also available at the Little Green Shop and, of course, on my own online shop.

If you missed the market you can always check out my online store!

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