Gongora Orchid & Scent Collecting Bee

Painting #26 of the 52/52 Challenge

"Gongora scaphephorus and the Euglossine bee" Watercolor ©2012 MLighthipe

It is great to be back in the studio. I started this painting over 3 months ago as part of the 52/52 challenge and over the past month I have not been able to get back to it. This is one of those paintings that takes patience and a lot of time to do. It is not exactly done in one week.  It took research, tons of drawing, many composition drafts and finally time to paint it. Some of my paintings happen "over night" but this one did not.

This orchid was lent to me by Mark Whitten from the University of Florida. It was blooming in the green house when I visited back in early May.  Gongora flowers have about a 4 day lifespan. The stalk of flowers blooms all at once. I had to work incredibly fast to draw all those flowers before they all died. (More later on my technique for doing this) The Euglossine bee is responsible for pollinating the orchid. In this painting it was important to me to show their relationship. The male bee collects fragrances from the orchid and collects them in his hind leg "baskets". While he is collecting, the orchid releases its pollinaria onto the back of the orchid where the thorax and the abdomen meet. Depending on the orchid the pollinaria is strategically placed on the bees body so that when it enters another orchid of the same species it can pollinate it. What that means is that this orchid attaches the pollinaria onto the back while another species of orchid might attach its pollinaria onto the head or the leg of the bee. The placement is species specific! I was completely blown away by this. I had no idea that pollination could be this sophisticated. Here is a close up of my painting that shows the pollinaria about to be released onto the unsuspecting bee.

I struggled a bit with positioning of the bee because I was working with a dead bee specimen. I looked at some photos from other photographers to see how bees attach them selves to flowers. I also submitted my sketches to Mark Whitten and he gave me some pointers to get the positioning correct. If you look closely at the close up you will see the tiny pollinaria about to be deposited on the back of the bee. I used a microscope to dissect the polinaria, draw it and then place it into the composition to show it in magnification.

Here is a step by step breakdown of how I constructed the flower stalk:

  1. Remove a flower from the stalk. Put an insect pin through it and stabilize it on a kneaded eraser.
  2. Place the flower below eye level and started drawing it on tracing vellum.
  3. Rotate the flower and draw a different angle.
  4. Do this 6 times.
  5. Change the flower from below eye level to at eye level and repeat step 3 & 4.
  6. Change the flower to above eye level and repeat step 3 & 4.
  7. Cut up tracing vellum into individual flowers, number each flower and  place in an envelope.
  8. Work on a larger piece of tracing paper and draw the stalk.
  9. Place the flowers on the stalk to reconstruct the flower way the flower is arranged.

It took me longer to draw the components and arrange the composition than it did to paint it! I painted one flower while it was still fresh and made careful notes that I could go back to later on.

I hope that this helps give you some insight on how I do my lifecycle paintings. If you are interested in studying with me there are 3 upcoming opportunities. In February we are going to Costa Rica for a 10 day tour. I share my techniques on photographing my subjects, field sketching, research process and more! To find out how you can participate in any of these wonderful opportunities click on the links below.

Workshops with Mindy in the USA

Artistic Adventure Tours with Mindy in Costa Rica