Just for Today

The following guest blog post is contributed by Huron River Art Collective member Cara Cummings. Cara’s watercolor painting, Just for Today, was accepted by Juror John Gutosky into the Collective’s Fall Juried Exhibit, 2022.

Just for Today, 9×12″ watercolor painting by Cara Cummings

Holding a flower in my hand, feeling the textures, seeing the subtleties in colors, noticing how many petals there are, how they curl, and how they are attached to the flower head – this is how I begin a painting.

Botanical art is only partially about creating a beautiful picture of a plant. It is also about learning to look, and beginning to understand, and share more about it. How are the same kind of flowers different from each other, or similar to a completely different species, genus, or even family? Twirling a stem between your fingers helps you to understand the form, to see how structures are related to each other. How can you tell the story of a plant by getting to know it? 

While photographs can be helpful reference tools, they do not provide a full picture of your subject. Using photographs to document your subject can be important, especially if it takes weeks or months to complete a painting. But even then, I use them sparingly, and only to compliment my sketches, notes, and color studies (color can be very off in photos).

Daylilies are big, bright, beautiful, magical flowers that arrive in the summer, and true to their name, only last for a day. And within a couple of weeks the whole display is gone again until the following year. 

I have always loved them, but for a long time have avoided painting them, as I was unsure of how I would work on such an ephemeral subject – I am a very slow painter – but this past summer, after watching them come and go for several seasons of living with this garden, I couldn’t let the brief opportunity pass again. Their bright, complex clusters of orange petals looked almost electric as they hovered in the deep green shade of the unmanicured jungle in the back corner of my back garden.

I chose a few stems that were just beginning to open, knowing that I didn’t have much time. I always start with quick, light pencil sketches, and find the form from there. I pulled one of the flowers apart, and holding a petal between my fingers, sketched it from several angles – I wanted to get to know it, so that when the petals began to shrivel up, I would have the memory of the feeling in my hand. I also took notes about the number of petals, the direction of the veins in the leaves (a monocot, parts in 3s, parallel veins…), and color of the closed buds – anything that would help me later. 

Finishing the initial sketch, and doing a quick color study went pretty quickly (the flower opened as I worked). But I was only able to begin the painting before the flower had changed, and then was gone.

Because I take the time to get to know my subjects, I am able to finish my paintings without having the original flowers in front of me. I do pick more blooms (if they are available) to have as references for a few more days which allows me to hold them in the light and get the colors of highlights and shadows, and to find details I may have missed, but for the most part I can continue to work from the memory of having held the flower in my hands.

Cara Cummings is a fine artist, illustrator, gardener, and educator from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her work represents the synthesis of her background in biology, environmental policy, agriculture, and lifelong love of nature. Her garden is the place where she grows flowers and food, and is a place to inspire new art, and to provide educational ingredients to share with her students. To inquire about purchasing artwork by Cara Cummings, email: cara@carasgarden.com

Huron River Art Collective’s Fall Juried Exhibit can be seen at the Ann Arbor District Library (lower level) through the Reception on November 13th, 2-4p. Artwork is available for purchase directly from the artists with no commission. Join us at the reception to hear from the Juror, John Gutosky, and for awards.

All members are invited to submit guest blog posts. For Guest Blog Post Guidelines, please email communications@huronriverartcollective.org.

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