Monday, February 27, 2017

Cardinalflower in Shade

                       oil on canvas 10 x 20 in.  $950

6 August 2016 found me rejoicing over flaming spikes of Cardinalflowers in bloom on a steep creekbank thick with Buttonbush and Decadon, near its outlet into Upper Rock Lake at Opinicon Road, 8 kilometres northwest of Battersea, Ontario.

We had just come from helping staff and volunteers of Nature Conservancy Canada in a cleanup bee at the old cottage site on Fishing Lake, where we'd discovered the rare freshwater mussel Ligumia nasuta in 2015.

Now, as Fred walked the shore of Upper Rock Lake for mussels and snails (finding a couple of Pyganodon grandis mussel shells, a couple of Brown Mystery snails,  Campeloma decisum, and a dozen adult Banded Mystery Snails, Viviparus georgianus - strangely "peeled" by a predator).... I photographed the Cardinalflowers for a painting.

Photographing them in the direct sunlight did not work. The red was too bright for the camera, and glared out to orange, so the shade would have to do. 

When I painted a watercolour of Cardinalflower in Tobermory Ontario in 1983, I had to buy a special tube of "Windsor Red" for it. This time, in water-mixable oils, I used three colours of Cadmium Red, and also
Alizarin Crimson - but still I needed a deliberate colour contrast to make those bird-flowers fly.... Yes, they do look like scarlet cranes, or flaming angels, spreading their wings to take off, arching their ribbed gray necks and jutting their little white beards - as if flowers could dance or fly!

In this painting I departed from my usual oil technique of doing an initial solid underpainting of the entire canvas. I couldn't decide which colour the underpainting should be, and finally decided that the red paint needed white canvas to glow through it on the petals. 

So first I painted the flowers on the white gessoed canvas, then filled in a blue underpainting in the negative spaces, leaving a thin electric glow along the edges of the petals, to produce a kind of "dazzle" in the eye of the beholder. Then I worked the pondweed and tree reflections into the blue of the creek at the bottom, grading up into sun-bleached green-golds on the bushes of the far bank - creating a contrasting backdrop for the heavy, unopened buds at the tip of the spike. My idea was that this vertical counterchange should help you to see that although brilliant, the plant is actually in shade.... so imagine how vivid the Cardinalflower must be in full sunlight!

This has been a cheerfully satisfying painting to do in the dark days of winter.


Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

The 10 x 20 inch original oil painting, "Cardinalflower in Shade" is available for purchase at $950. If you would like to purchase it, please contact Aleta 


  1. You are a master Aleta - especially your botanical art. This is a beauty of one of my very favourite flowers.

  2. So gorgeous! Thanks Rae Smith


What do you think of this painting, and what do you know about the subject that I have painted?