All in a Day(flower)’s Work

Today’s flower has been saying, “Pick me! Do me!” for a week or more, and I’m only too happy to oblige. Commelina erecta is one of my favorites. Low-growing and unpretentious, they can be found in weedy lawns, woods’ edges, waysides, and so on. The ones at my house are quite content growing around the compost heap. To add to their niftiness, the leaves and stems are edible.

It is hard to capture the color of the blossoms on film. They truly are a bright electric blue, with no hint of red at all. If they were any larger, they would stop traffic!

The common name is Dayflower, because the blossoms last but a single day. The other common name, Widow’s Tears, was bestowed, snarkily, for same reason. The best story, though, is how the genus got its Latin name. It seems that there were three Dutch brothers surnamed Commelijn. Two were rather prominent botanists, while the third died before he could accomplish much of anything. Linnaeus took one look at the two large blue petals and the third, tiny, white one and dubbed the genus Commelina. Linnaeus could be a bit of a bastard when it came to bestowing names–there are SO many stories!

There is a lot going with this plant. In addition to the mismatched petals, there are six stamens of three different types. Four have functional anthers, which are shaped like X’s or bowties. The remaining two are sterile and curve out of the flower on long, pale-blue filaments. The flowers are borne inside a folded bract or spathe, which has a second, smaller bract nestled within it. The leaves have wavy edges and sheathe the stems at the nodes. Both the leaf margins and the sheathes can be tinged with purple.

It’s not an easy plant to draw, as there is a lot of variation from sample to sample. Sometimes the two blue petals overlap; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the white petal is rather larger, sometimes even two-lobed. I knew that trying to get all the stamens in there, along with the style, was going to result in something too fussy to chart, especially since we are hoping for a simple, Gerda-style chart. Here is the rough pencil sketch:

Inked up:

That’s a simple plant. There are usually more branches and more flowers.

First approximation as a graph:

After I looked at that, I wanted to make a LOT of changes. The spathes and white petals were too big on two of the flowers. The leaves needed smoother curves. I didn’t like the shape of the larger petal in the leftmost flower, and so on.

Time to select thread.

Multiple colors are needed to pull this one off–two shades of blue, for starters. Luckily, DMC makes a few shades of screaming electric blue, colors I’m pretty sure they started dyeing just so people could stitch Cookie Monster and Grover. Two greens. White. Brown for roots. Two yellows for functional and non-functional anthers. Pale blue for the long filaments.

I have never been more unhappy with the colors presented by my charting program. The blues did not display properly at all, which is odd when you think of it, because if there’s one color computer monitors get right, it’s electric blue. I had to mis-specify of one of the blues just to have the flowers not be navy in a color block chart, and then correct the floss key later. One of the greens was too dark. The pale blue was too light . The purple was too intense. And, as you can see, the pale blue and the white just vanish against a white chart background

I did a lot of editing in the charting process, fiddling with the leaf shapes and adjusting a few other things here and there. The uppermost large leaf, in particular, just would NOT chart. I’d fiddled with the hand-drawn chart so much that it was nearly impossible to count those little 1/16th-of-an-inch squares, and I kept making mistakes. I had to take a sanity-saving popcorn break before giving it a second go.

Once I was finished, I looked at some more photos and decided that I wanted to try to capture the mauvey-purple color of the leaf sheaths, and that the anthers of the long-stalked stamens would be truer to life in pale yellow rather than light blue.

It’s not the sharpest image–it won’t display any larger on my laptop, and when I move the image to a larger monitor like I did for the first color chart, the purple comes out brown and it looks very, very odd!)

The finished black and white chart looks like this

This is one that isn’t going to look its best on white. Those long stamens just won’t show. Here it is on a soft gold, more or less life-size:

Trying it on other colors, I decided I like it very much on blue. You’d think that would make the flowers just blah, but nope–and they’d be even better with leaves the proper colors!

I think I’m happy with the design. I’m not sure it’s really Gerda’s style. The flowers should probably be simplified to just the two large blue petals. Maybe the leaves shouldn’t have midveins? I don’t recall ever seening a Gerda interpretation of a Commelina, so there’s no knowing exactly how she would have approached it. It’s definitely recognizable as Commelina, though! So points for that, at least.

I keep telling myself that Gerda’s designs have differing levels of detail, and that her designs were not all to the same scale–even in a collection of small designs, some plants would be relatively smaller or larger than others. I’m trying for life-size over one, and this is a larger plant than bluets or hedge hyssop. It’s all right if this doesn’t exactly match my other designs. As long as I don’t move too far toward the realistic and any farther away from stylized, I think I’ll be all right.

What do you think? Gerda or not Gerda?