A Poison Flower Fairy: Digitalis Purpurea, the Foxglove

Here’s another one to add to my alternative flower fairies – the highly poisonous Foxglove… When I started with the recent fairies of deadly plants I called them The Poison Flower Fairies, but of course many things medicinal are also highly poisonous in the wrong dosage, and the Foxglove Fairy should be more appropriately named a Medicinal Flower Fairy. It’s too late now…

Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: close-up of the fairy in blue underpainting
Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: close-up of the fairy in blue underpainting

The amazingly useful properties of Foxgloves, or more precisely Digitalin, the mix of toxic molecules extracted from it, was discovered by a certain Dr William Withering (1741 – 1799), and although my fairy does not look anything like this gent, I think there was a little influence there…

Dr William Withering
Dr William Withering

Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:William_Withering.jpg

The extracts of foxgloves have been important ever since for the treatment of heart conditions, though now similar but synthetic stuff is used apparently. The unfortunate problem of Foxglove extract, I am told, is that while it’s really effective, the actual effective dosage is something like 80% of the fatal dose, so it’s rather important to get it right! Anyway, that’s my poison for this month, Digitalis Purpurea, to give the flower its full scientific name.

The conical thing in her hand is an old-fashioned stethoscope. The glasses she is wearing are another issue, I’ll explain that another time…

Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: outline tracing
Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: outline tracing

At the moment I’m still at the blue underpainting stage… and if you wonder why I am working from left to right, it is because I have not re-drawn my pencil outlines after tracing them, as I usually do. The advantage is that the rubbed-down outline will be almost invisible once I paint over it, the disadvantage is that it tends to rub off with just a swish of a hand, which is why I usually re-draw them for complex pieces…

Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: the blue underpainting 1
Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: the blue underpainting 1

Till next time, when I might even have colour!

Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: the blue underpainting 2
Work in progress on the Foxglove Fairy: the blue underpainting 2


  1. Mgon β™₯

    The shapes of those are so pretty. I love your Poison works! πŸ˜€ They appeal to the beautiful TWISTED side of me. LOL πŸ˜‰

    1. Thank you Mgon! Very important things, some of the poisonous plants of course, like this one… and then there are some that are just plain poisonous without being much use to anybody πŸ˜€

  2. The particular flower she is listening to reminds me a little at this stage of a baby Audrey 2. http://hollywoodhatesme.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/baby-audrey-2.jpg πŸ™‚ Looking forward to seeing it finished.

    1. Haha, yes it does, now you post the picture… That was a more scary plant than my little poisonous foxgloves!

  3. Beautiful work. Why do you do your underpainting in blue?

    1. That is a very interesting question that I’ve not thought about, Rosie! Partly blue seems to be the best colour for shadows to me… black would be too, er, black, but I could use brown tones… However, I used to put the blue tones on top of the colours, before I partially reversed my painting process with the underpainting work before adding colour, and Prussian Blue is very translucent, so works on top too… None of the brown pigments I have found are suitable for that – they’re all too opaque – so Prussian Blue became the first tube of paint I reached for to add dark tones. And, it has the other property I need that is the fact that it stains the paper very well. If you want to see what I mean by putting the Prussian blue on top, instead of as underpainting, look at these photos: http://nancyfarmer.net/info_tattooedfairy.html – don’t paint so much like this now, but I still often put a lot of thin layers of paint on top afterwards, and Prussian blue works both ways.

      1. That’s very interesting, thanks. I don’t like using black for shadows either. Too harsh.

      2. Wow, just looked at your link. Incredibly complex – wonderful. I love the geeky tecchie stuff πŸ™‚

        1. Thanks, and yes, I am that geek πŸ˜€ Takes so long to do proper explanations, but someday I mean to update them for the blog…

  4. Love the idea of the alternative fairies. Boo to happy pretty helpful fairies.

    1. Oh this one can be helpful with a dodgy heart… but ONLY if you are nice to her πŸ˜‰

      1. Ok – what about the periwinkle fairy or the yew tree bark fairy? Come to think about it, what about the penicillium mould fairy? I love this concept.

        1. Periwinkle, eh? must look up about that one. Yew is on my list of possibles… Penicillin…hmm… they’re quite tiny those fairies, quite hard to draw πŸ˜‰ Always thought Ergot would be a good subject – it’s a mould that can infest badly stored grain, though not wheat so much as rye, and can lead to hallucinations and people doing quite strange things! Known also as St Andrew’s Fire.
          …trouble is, it’s not ideas I’m sort of, it’s time, as always!

          1. Good point. I am not trying to suggest ideas really, you don’t lack them for sure, just making conversation.

  5. Any ancient blog-followers who became mothers in the seventies will recognise the instrument as the thing midwives used to listen to the foetal heartbeat. The did have stethoscopes back then but for some reason used these.Lovely painting.

    1. Interesting… several of the photos of them seemed to be with midwives holding them to bumps… Didn’t know they were used up to so recently! They look cool.

  6. […] « Previous / Next » By Nancy Farmer / May 25, 2013 / Digitalis Purpurea, the Foxglove Fairy, Painting, Poison Flower Fairies / Leave a comment […]

  7. […] I said in the first post about this painting, she has an old-fashioned stethoscope, because of the plant’s remarkable potency as a […]

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