Fritillaries, Again

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by pattern. My mother was a quilter and an expert seamstress. I often accompanied her to fabric stores and watched while she cut out the sections of a new dress with her sharp scissors. My eye has always been attracted to intricate or bold patterns – wallpaper, Persian carpets, butterflies, tablecloths, bed linens. So, when I saw the course description for Wendy Welch’s Painting: Pattern & Process in the Vancouver Island School of Art’s brochure for 2009/2010, how could I resist? The course did not disappoint, and the work produced in response to Wendy’s assignments had many students clamoring for a repeat offering of the course. Here’s an excerpt from the course description:

Throughout the late 20th and early 21st century contemporary painters have been exploring ideas surrounding pattern and process, both as separate elements in paintings as well as in juxtaposition with each other, creating dialogue between the rational and the irrational.

I’m still thinking about the fritillary, a flower whose name comes from its pattern: modern Latin fritillaria from Latin fritillus “dice-box” (a reference to the decorated Roman boxes used to hold dice). In my April 12th post, The Lonely Fritillaries, I noted that the “checkered” pattern of Fritillaria meleagris is not really composed of checks. The markings are irregular and difficult to reproduce. I would like to make the checkered fritillary the subject of my next watercolour, but it’s going to be difficult if I can’t paint a credible rendition of the fritillary’s distinctive pattern. So, I have been studying the fritillaries, trying to figure out exactly what the pattern is – or if there is a predictable pattern at all.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines pattern as “a repeated decorative design . . .” or “a regular or logical form, order, or arrangement of parts”. Certainly, the fritillary’s markings are repeated and decorative, but to find the logical form, order or arrangement of parts, I am going to have to produce a stylized version of the fritillary’s “checks”.

I started by painting what I could see – clearly delineated columns of lines and shapes. Working across a wide page, I painted column after column, without looking for the pattern: just trying to reproduce the shapes I could see.

The result was an interesting surface pattern, but I still couldn’t see a regularly repeating design.

Next, I tried using graph paper to capture the pattern. Finally, I met with some success. This stylized version of the fritillary’s markings is composed of rows and columns of squares connected by lines. It repeats in a logical and predictable way. The white shapes formed inside the black squares and their connecting lines are octagons, and this corresponds to what I saw when I looked at the flowers: the dark shapes were square, but the white shapes seemed to bulge within their dark frames.

The pattern reminds me of smocking: the embroidered, pleated fabric used at the necklines of infants’ gowns or the bodices of little girls’ dresses. Come to think of it, a fritillary-hued (or fritillary-patterned) smocked dress would be very pretty.

This stylized version of the fritillary’s erratic pattern was the starting point for my watercolour painting, Fritillaries in Grass. I am going to use the same drawing for another painting in a less planned, more relaxed style. I hope to get closer to the true eccentricity of the marks that decorate the “checkered” fritillary.

Fritillaries in Grass, watercolour, 19" x 25-1/2"


6 thoughts on “Fritillaries, Again

  1. Lovely watercolour! – and you remainded me of a gown I had as a child with the ‘smoking’ pattern (I didn’t know how was called); was made by my mom who was also a seamstress…


    • I made a dress for my daughter when she was little that had a smocked bodice. The smocking was quite competent, but I had to ask my mother to sew the dress together for me. Glad you like the watercolour. I’m still planning to do another one of the fritillaries. I hope the ones I planted in the fall come up this spring and flourish and colonize!


    • These butterflies are lovely (I’ve only seen photographs) and their markings are as complex as the fritillary flowers, though not exactly the same. I’ve thought about painting a picture of a butterfly with fritillary flower colours and markings.


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