Our conversation with Heeyoung Kim continues…
Question #4: I read the painting of Silene regia, the Royal Catchfly
(Image 6), took two years to create. What challenges did you encounter with this project?
Heeyoung: The biggest challenge was the weather and location. This beautiful red plant was in full bloom in August. The temperature at that time went up to 100 degrees in the prairie. The hot and humid prairie was heaven for the bugs and insects. They literally tried to eat me up alive. When we have hot and humid weather in Chicago land, usually sudden showers follow. You can imagine what happened to me with my big sketch pad. Another challenge was the plant itself. It had a very complicated structure with multiple flower stalks branched out at several nodes. And it’s hairy and sticky. That is how it got its common name; the sticky hair catches flies. When I tried to start drawing, the composition didn’t come to me. After several days’ trial, I still could not get it started. So I changed my strategy. Forget the composition! Study parts first, and then work with the whole image! For many days afterwards, I did detailed drawings of petals, flowers, and leaves to make myself familiar with the plant structure and shape. Finally when I felt I got to know the plant, I could compose the image on paper with confidence. It took 2 weeks to get the composition I liked. At the end of the year, I proudly showed my finished painting to my mentor. He gave me wonderful compliments, but very cautiously advised me to see some other photos, as he believed the red on the painting was not intense enough. I could not believe that, because I worked first-hand with the plant right in the habitat for so long and so hard. Without having my signature on that painting, I put it in my flat file and waited one year to see the color again with my bare eyes. The following spring, I made regular visits to check the whole life cycle of the plant. What I found out in the second year was very simple. My observation in the first year started too late. I missed the very early bud which had more orange and the brightest red in freshly bloomed flowers. That was the biggest lesson I keep in mind ever since. I feel like I learned everything about botanical drawing and watercolor, and the way I should approach my subjects, in this one project.
NOTE: Heeyoung’s painting of the Royal Catchfly is the signature image for the upcoming meeting of the American Society of Botanical Artists. This year, botanical artists from all over the world will travel to Illinois to attend this annual meeting.