This striking Dahlia is most unusual, having a single form white flower, but dramatic near-black leaves. Most of the other Dahlia cultivars with these dark leaves also have deep-hued, dramatic flowers such as the red ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.
The painter discovered this plant at the shop at Highgrove, the country seat of HRH The Prince of Wales, during a garden visit in summer 2016. The stark white flowers stood proudly against the dark bushy foliage, and it was the perfect garden plant, as well as painting specimen.
The leaves are fascinating. They are a mix of violet, red, brown and blue moving into black, but with a green base. The newer the leaves, and the closer to the base the greener and fresher they appear. Towards the top of the plant, they appear blackish-purple. A wonderful foil for the white flowers.
The flowers are of single form with light pink tracings over the more prominent veins, especially from behind. Like many others in the Asteraceae family, the flower heads are held together by a strong bract, with colours from light gold/green to deep violet.
The emerging buds are plump and rounded. Once the flower has finished, the closed bract (looking deceptively bud-like) is elongated into a pointier shape (see closed ‘bud’ top right) and plainer/darker in colour.
The flowers, at full blush, have a rich yellow centre packed with disc florets. These are quite disciplined and bright at the early stages, but become increasingly more ragged as the flower ages (top right). The yellow/green blush which appears to leak onto the ray flowers (petals) becomes more yellow as they age.
The preparation and composition
Around 15 hours was spent in collecting specimens, drawing, colour matching and working out composition.
The plant is a very busy one, and large, so this painting needed to be A2 size to give the correct impression of “busy-ness” that this Dahlia evokes. While the plant appears very bushy from above, from the side, many of the leaves show in a narrower perspective, with more space between them. This was helpful to the composition, as it allowed a pattern of white spaces, and fewer messy and indistinct crossovers.
Otherwise, this plant tended to compose itself on the page, once the necessary elements had been chosen to display. Showing flowers in various stages, and in profusion, seemed important, as this is a defining element of the plant.
Allowing some leaves and flowers to fade towards the back of the composition would help provide the impression of depth, so those elements were selected for lighter treatment.
Stem cross-overs would have been confusing to the observer, so were limited to those necessary.
The drawing ended up being a brain-teaser, with similar but sufficiently distinct elements repeated throughout. Stem size varied according to the strength required of each stem (supporting flowers, leaves or further stems) and discipline was required to maintain the relativity of stem size.
Winsor Yellow (Winsor and Newton)
New Gamboge (Winsor and Newton)
Quinacridone Gold (Daniel Smith)
Sap Green (Daniel Smith)
Perylene Green (Winsor and Newton)
French Ultramarine (Daniel Smith)
Permanent Rose (Winsor and Newton)
Perylene Violet (Winsor and Newton)
Paper: Fabriano Artistico Extra White 300 gsm (stock purchased in 2013)
Paper stretched on 9mm coated mdf board (with wet-in-wet, the paper will usually cockle, as some areas have up to 10 washes).
Brushes: Winsor and Newton Series 7 Miniature brushes sizes 4 and 1, plus a rough flat size 0 for lifting
Time to complete: 80 hours (Heidi keeps a record of hours spent at the easel)
While Heidi usually starts a painting with grey under-painting, this time she proceeded without. While it is an excellent guide, increases confidence, and allows painting to be pursued more quickly once the under-painting is done, the deep leaf colours meant that paint could more liberally be used, in denser washes, without the usual level of risk.
The work was painstaking, with challenges being to convey the true depth of the darkest leaves, while ensuring the white flowers remained visible. It was clear that the shadowed areas of the darkest leaves would accept – and would require – several layers of thick wash, viscous with pigment.
Perylene Violet is a wonderful, sticky red-violet colour, perfect as a base for these leaves. It needed some French Ultramarine to darken it. Light washes of Permanent Rose, Perylene Green and/or Sap Green were used to convey location on the plant, freshness, vigour, or age. The mature leaves display markings (veining, dimpling) to a greater degree, having settled into their final shape, whereas the younger leaves near the base are still fresh and more simple in form.
The backs of the leaves were more green, and pale, with purple veining.
The tiny hairs on the lower stems were a joy to paint, partly because this was the last step!