The Flower En Masse

Backlit Iris (watercolor, 24 x 33)

“I love painting flowers because I love the light, both how it strikes blossoms and how it passes through them. These paintings give me, as well as my clients, real joy,” says Susan Webb Tregay. “I start painting flowers in March, after the Buffalo winter, when I can’t stand the gray weather anymore. I go out and buy flowers and paint them from life. Later, as my friends’ gardens grow, I tour the neighborhood and photograph the low evening light that streams between houses on flower beds.”

Sounding a little like a spy, Tregay advocates the use of a digital camera: “When I use a digital camera, I can stick the camera over a fence or lay it on the ground and shoot from the bottom up. The digital camera (Sony Mavica) has given me a whole new way to look at things. I take shots, then plug the disk into the computer. After I print the images on regular paper, I punch holes in the pages and stick them into a notebook. If there are prints I want to study, it’s easy to enlarge them.”

Rather than focus on a flower’s distinct form, Tregay likes to paint flowers in abundance, as they occur in nature. “I do gardens whenever I can. I avoid vases/containers because they’re tricky to deal with. They tend to show up in the middle—leaving unresolved corners.” Tregay describes her way of working: “I wet my paper and then put the approximate colors down. Rather than follow a preconceived plan, I improvise, changing colors as I go along. I may start with a warm and switch to a cool. The decisions I make early in the game may change later. I try to develop the background at the same time that I develop the flowers; I work in a continuous way. If I make something negative, I try to make something positive, as well.”

The light that’s fundamental to her work appears at the end of the process: I tape 2-inch wide strips of packing tape around the part I want to lighten or change; next I make a stencil which protects the rest of the painting. Then I lift off one layer of paint. I’d rather lift out whites than save them.”

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