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Manuka and the Bee: Process

I like to start most paintings involving anatomy with a strong reference photo. The bee photo below was sourced from the 'Central Church Council of Bell Ringers" at, serving as a nice compositional frame with interesting mix of out of and in focus components.

The photograph of ballet Kathryn Hosier was captured by Karolina Kuras, and sourced from The limb positioning is striking, showing her grace and strength. I love the shapes in this photograph. Everything I wanted to combine, (at a friend's suggestion, to turn a charming summer painting into something more unique and even surreal).

I didn't go straight to drawing gridlines on this piece, in interest of completing it within timeframe. (I also started this the week before it was due, and finished the same night as registration... what can I say, any wealth patrons out there are welcome to buy my art or commission so I can make painting my day job).

I did keep an eye on proportions though, mapping out rough features by estimating thirds in the drawing, I started with general placements, refined the shapes in the floral elements, and then worked on the main features of the faerie. I became frustrated with the realisation four limbs was both anticipated and lacked parallels to a bee or insect. I felt much happier after awarding her two extra limbs. These framed and cupped the flower, creating interaction between the faerie and the manuka flower, rather than simply dropping a random ballet dancer into the picture.

Next I laid the light colours first, then mid tones. I moved into darker tones in some areas, just so I could see how the contrast would work with the petals. I wasn't quite sure how I wanted to do the ruffled collar or the faerie's dress, so I kept it loose and focused on just getting the right base colours down. I really liked how the leaves started to pop, so I tried to focus on keeping this detail and style somewhat consistent.

I slowly built up layers in the dress ruffles. I deepened a lot of the lines, by picture a dark red and dark purple, with additional touch ups in white gel pen and black ink pen. I went in with white gauche to touch up and lighten the flower petals. I mixed this in with the gold watercolour paint to get the right opacity for the wings, dress and ruffle.

I ended up opting to add more detail into the wings. I love the shimmer on these with the paint mixed. I was worried this would overwhelm the painting, but in the end I think it's just the right amount of detail to make it pop yet still balance the composition.

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