Story Behind the Art of Carrie Megan

17th Annual International American Society of Botanical Artists at
The Horticultural Society of New York


Papaver somniferum


This painting of Poppy Seed Heads is a continuation of a series of vellum paintings I have been working on over the past three years. Also part of this series was my painting of Siberian Iris Seed Heads, which was included in last year’s ASBA exhibition at the New York Horticultural Society. The series is a focus on dried specimens harvested from my friend Robin Wilkerson’s garden in Lincoln MA and painted on a single hide of calfskin vellum.

I chose this specimen to represent because I was fascinated with the faceted, globe-like shape of the seed pods and their intricately detailed crowns. The chalky white color of the pods presented a unique challenge. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to need to use white body color to accurately depict their color. I completed some initial watercolor studies in order to better understand what colors to include on my palette. Surprisingly, I was able to achieve the appearance of white color without using any white paint at all!  By slowly building transparent layers of warm and cool tones in the shadow areas and leaving the whitest areas untouched, I was able to create the illusion of white. The whitest areas are actually just the color of the vellum ground. Painting the leaves was an interesting counterpoint. The process of building these transparent layers around the intricate web of veins and maintaining the crisp edges and folds was almost meditative in its effect on me. The weight of the dried leaves served to ground the spindly stems, yet the representation of their fragile nature helped to keep them from overpowering the composition.

I spent some time arranging the composition of this piece. Because the stems are vertical in orientation, I was mindful about not creating a layout that was too static. By placing the three vertical stems to the left of the composition and orienting the fourth pod so that it bent towards the viewer in the lower right area, my intent was to lead the viewer’s eye through the painting.

Painting on vellum cannot be rushed. It takes time (a lot) and tremendous patience! Using a dry brush technique for the innumerable layers and brushes that don’t number above a 1 or 2 trains the painter to slow down and truly see. Hopefully, the viewer will slow down and truly see too.


Read more about this artist's work: 15th Annual International, 16th Annual International
  • (C) 2013 Carrie Megan
    [Papaver somniferum
    Watercolor on Vellum
    13” x 9”