But I Do Not Love the Bee

Looking ahead to needing more in-the-background plants for my design, I’ve charted another tall plant this time: Melilotus indicus or Annual Yellow Sweet Clover. (can we throw a couple more adjectives in there?)

This is another introduced plant that has made itself completely at home in Texas. It was brought in as a forage plant for livestock. It can be up to about two feet tall, and the leaflets in the compound leaves vary widely from more-or-less-diamond-shape to nearly wedge-shaped. Individually, the bright yellow flowers are not much to look at. They have the typical pea-family shape, with five petals of three different sizes, and are only a few millimeters long. The newest flowers are at the top of the inflorescence, so the lowermost flowers are faded, and below them are the ovoid, single-seeded legumes. M. officinalis is similar, but it has larger flowers.

This is a very cheerful plant. It begins flowering early, while it’s still chilly, and the yellow flowers are a welcome note of color. Best of all, though, is the scent. This is what you smell when you smell “new-mown hay.” The aromatic compounds belong to a class of chemicals called coumarins. These same odor molecules are responsible for the smell and flavor of vanilla and the sweet-licorice scent of the local acacia trees. The compounds are extremely long-lasting. If you open a herbarium cabinet that houses Melilotus specimens, the scent of a summer meadow comes rolling out.

The plants tend to be a bit on the floppy side, so this sketch is a bit stiffer than I’d like.

Sweet clover needs a pollinator.

Here’s the pencil-graph. Liberties were taken with the leaf shape.

The bee looks fine up there, doesn’t it? Everything is fine until we chart this design up. I used three colors of yellow in the flowers so that the inflorescences wouldn’t be just solid yellow blobs.

I… don’t love it. The lower leaves are very dark here. The actual thread is lighter, and I think it will help this plant to recede into the background, but it still feels off and I don’t know why. Too dark anyway? Too stiff? Leaflets too pointy? Leafstalks too long? I mean, it’s a passable presentation of an actual plant (and I swear I wasn’t looking at this specimen when I sketched!):

But something still rankles. And ugh! That bee! Dark eyes on a light head makes it look mean and shifty-eyed. Bees should look soft and pettable. I played with the colors over and looks only slightly less awful.

Darker is definitely better, along with the shorter “neck”, and the yellow pollen-basket pantaloons are all right, and the wing outlines will be thinner than the program shows, but it still looks wrong. Maybe it needs to be smaller…

Oh, well. I will let it “marinate” and look at many photos of bees, as well as some stitched ones and see if I can figure out what the problem is. No one ever said I can only take one shot at a design. I bet even Gerda didn’t nail everything on the first try.