Rafflesia Arnoldii

Watercolor painting of the flower


I wanted to paint a flower because I’m tired of tan and browns. I googled “endangered plants” and found mention of the Rafflesia. It’s a very rare, huge flower (1 m in diameter). The image I settled on as a reference for painting is


Rafflesia Arnoldii is native to Sumatra and Borneo. Wikipedia explains “It lives as a holoparasite on vines of the genus Tetrastigma. Similar to fungi, individuals grow as a mass of thread-like strands of tissue completely embedded within and in intimate contact with surrounding host cells from which nutrients and water are obtained. It can only be seen outside the host plant when it is ready to reproduce.”

I watched two videos here and here to get a better sense of this amazing plant.

As I am considering relationships this month, portraying a flower that is “completely embedded within and in intimate contact with…” seems appropriate. We human beings are dependent on each other. Feeling that connection is one of the skills of well-being.


I wanted to avoid making a pencil sketch, for reasons that I don’t remember. I started with green and made the flower shape. Then I put in greens and light browns of the background foliage. I added yellow dots because I see them in the photo of the flower.

Once I had the background laid in, I used various shades of red to paint the flower. (Now I can see that the flower I painted is at an angle that doesn’t match the photo.) Because I had a batch of browns in front of me to paint dried leaves in the background, I used them to do shadows.

I had the image almost finished when I went off the rails. I wanted to deepen the shadows in the flower, so I pulled out a dark reddish purple. I went into some kind of trance and added it all over the painting. Yikes! No time to start over.

I spent some time repainting the foreground to establish it “above” the background colors. This certainly is a departure from realism. I don’t know if it works or not…


if I want a realistic painting, it’s best to sketch first.

This begs the question: do I want realism? The answer is no (partly because I don’t think I’m skilled enough). I want to show volume, but I want color that is more brilliant than natural. I want to take advantage of the way watercolor blends. Next painting, I need to remember this!

Note to self: Don’t get so absorbed and mark making that you lose track of the composition as a whole.

This painting is useful in what it had to teach me.


Posted on

April 27, 2021


  1. Lee

    I find myself drawn in by this bright red flower with the deep purple shadows. Whether you’re aiming for realism or not, your paintings always capture my attention. I find this image so fun to visually explore!

    • Kate

      Thanks for your kind words, Lee. Your comment helps me realize that it doesn’t really matter where I “aim.” The best plan for me is to keep painting and watch what involves. I’m glad to know you’re having fun looking.


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