Saturday, August 1, 2015

Shale Violet and New Works

Shale Violet (Viola sororia), watercolor, 11" x 15".

Here is the finished piece, finally -- Shale Violet, photographed under better light.

Below is my next work in progress, the native flame azalea (Azalea calendulacea), still a ways from finished, but coming along. This is the first piece on which I've used the palette of Winsor yellow deep, scarlet lake, and Winsor blue (green shade). The deep yellow seems just about the right color for the flowers, but I'm struggling to get the green shades accurately within the possible range for this palette.

Flame azalea painting in progress

The purples that can be mixed from the Winsor blue/scarlet lake combination can also be difficult--too gray or brown if the balance isn't just right, though beautiful when one can get them just so. You can see a bit of the purple washes in the underpainting of the flowers at this stage. I'm putting in those thin, long red pistils with colored pencil; later on perhaps I'll apply touches of scarlet lake straight from the tube to punch them up. It's always exciting to the working on a new piece!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fort Valley Plant Walk

Yellow False Foxglove (Gerardia flava).

A couple of weeks ago the Piedmont Chapter of VNPS met for a walk at a site in nearby Fort Valley. We met at the Bear Wallow parking lot, the area where Herb and I had looked for yellow fringed orchids last year with no success. I was hoping to learn the location of these elusive beauties this time, even though they wouldn't be in bloom for another month or so.

The day was hot and humid, and fortunately our walk was short, but full of interesting plants, many of which are native and might be considered nothing but pretty weeds. The Yellow False Foxglove above is not a native, but is it attractive, whereas the Blue Skullcap and the Chrysogonum below are natives.

Blue Skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia)

Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Our group made its way slowly up the dirt road identifying plants, chatting pleasantly. At the place where the short road bends to the right, we stepped into the shady woods, and a few feet in, the ground became wetter. Spagnum Moss and a few Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora) carpeted the forest floor. A few feet beyond was a tiny seepage pond, and some Yellow Fringed Orchid plants with flower spikes emerging were visible.

Indian Pipe flowers (Monotropa uniflora) growing among Spagnum moss

Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaria) with flower buds.

To think that Herb and I spent hours looking for them last summer and there they were, a scant ten feet away!

One plant I was curious to identify was Tassel Rue (Trauvetteria carolinensis) and we came across some growing near the orchids, but my shots of the flowers were not in focus. In fact, my camera was having a hard time focusing in the mottled light of the forest, and many of my shots didn't come out as well as I would have liked.


With all the rain we've been getting this year, there were many colorful mushrooms all over. I have no idea what this orange fungi is, but the color indicates it's probably poisonous. We came across one mushroom tentatively identified as a King Bolete (which I've eaten before), but no one seemed inclined to test it by harvesting it.

Wild hydrangea growing by a stream.

Back at the parking lot I was amazed that VNPS members had counted somewhere between 30-40 different species of plants on this short walk.

Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata).

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Work in Progress

Shale Violet (Viola sororia) , watercolor 11"x 14".

I'm currently working on this small painting of wild violets I found growing in the rocky shale of my back yard. When I came across them the first spring after we moved here, I marveled at how they could grow in such an inhospitable terrain. They have reappeared every April since and usually are gone by the end of May.

The most salient feature other than their tiny size is how hairy these violets are--nothing like the common wood violets I was used to seeing. I figure they must be a different species, and indeed, I believe these are actually related to the mid-western hairy blue violet (Viola sororia) if not actually that species. I read recently that a variety of wild violet that grows in shale had been identified in southwestern Virginia and classified as a new species, and wondered, could these be that new species?

The hairs are the detail which I'm working on right now (not shown above), using a fine point pen with white ink to bring them out. Once the ink dries, I'll go over them with a light yellow wash, and hope it looks convincing. We'll see how it turns out.

This painting represents a departure from the conventional lighting used on botanical paintings, in which the light comes from the upper left hand of the image. Here the light is coming from the right, and is very low on the horizon (the photos were taken in the evening). And I've included a bit of the ground too, showing the shale. My image is a bit yellowish because it too was photographed at sunset; in reality the greens in the painting are much cooler except for the bits of sunlight on the leaves.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Botanica 2015 Reception and Awards

Certificate recipients at Brookside Gardens.

Last Sunday was the opening reception for Brookside Garden's "Botanica 2015: Art Art and Science of Plants" exhibition, and five of us students at BGSBAI were awarded our certificates after completing our final project.

For me this has been a wonderful experience, starting out back in 2011 with the core classes. After completeing the required classes and electives, we began working on our certificate projects about two years ago. After many sessions with our instructor advisor, Diane Berndt (second from the right) and many revisions to our drawings and compositions, here we are, finally ready to go out into the world of botanical art as trained artists. Diane, by the way was also working on her certificate, in addition to teaching other classes and meeting with us to advice and direct our work, so she had to work twice as hard.

Today I'm off to hike with my VNPS chapter to look for more beautiful plants to illustrate (perhaps some yellow fringed orchids). It will be interesting to see what plants we come across--I always learn so much on these walks!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Glorious Roses

Rose 'New Dawn' with Clematis 'Etoile Violette.'

In late May my garden explodes with bloom, and roses, my mother's favorite flower, are the main feature. I love this particular combination of the climbing rose 'New Dawn' with the Clematis 'Etoile Violette' that is starting to spread over the porch.

Rose 'Double Knockout'

The rose 'Double Knockout' planted three years ago is really living up to its name, and the pink 'Petal Pushers', now two years old is making a nice show, along with a red 'Simplicity' behind. The two hybrid tea roses planted last fall, 'Peace' and Veteran's Honor' are still struggling to become established in my rocky shale, though I did get one lovely flower from 'Peace.'

Rose bed

Hybrid tea rose 'Peace'

The Flame azalea planted two springs ago is also developing nicely, and will probably become the subject of a painting as soon as I can find some time. I wish my trees would grow faster and provide more shade so I could plant more rhododendrons and azaleas--the mainstay of spring gardens in this area. But a gardener must be patient... sometimes it seems the more desirable a plant, the more delicate and slower it grows.

Flame azalea
Red Alchemilla with white salvia, lavender and peonies.

In the meantime, herbaceous perennials in other colors brighten the surrounding flower beds. As a painter, I love a riot of color in flowers and foliage. As a gardener, my greatest fault is that I tend to change my mind about where a plant looks best, so I end up moving bedding plants and even trees after I've planted them when I see a better spot, or realize the plant is not prospering where I've put it. I believe that like in art, changing the position of an element or two can improve the overall composition.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Regal Iris

It's that time of the year when irises bloom. I can't think of a more regal flower, the natural inspiration for the emblem of the French kings, the fleur-de-lis. So many artists have painted it: Van Gogh's irises come first to mind, but so many other artists also.

The ones I bought at the Blandy Farm Arboretum and planted in my garden during my first fall here keep getting more beautiful each year. The first year only the white ones bloomed; the following year yellow and deep purple manifested themselves--the yellow ones are the only ones that seem to have scent, a lemony fragrance in this case.

This year a bi-color purple and cream have shown up. Soon it will be time to divide the clump, to give it more room the expand. And I couldn't resist buying a new iris on sale--white with a lovely purple-veined splash. So, I must dig a new iris bed soon.

In the back bed, the old-fashioned very fragrant irises from my mom's garden that sister Bea gave me cuttings of are starting to spread, though they only produced a few flowering spikes this year. In my old garden in Columbia, my clump of this variety would have had 50 flowers or more. Oh well, next year they'll do better.

And then there's the Dutch iris--I planted a color mix two falls ago. Last year they bloomed together, but this year, the pale lilac with yellow falls bloomed earlier, the traditional blue with yellow spots about a week later. A gardener should always be ready for surprises!

Pale lilac Dutch iris with white salvia

Dark blue Dutch iris with red-flowered yarrow.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Art at the Mill 2015

Blue Gentian (Gentiana scabra) digital print, 16" x 20" matted.

The spring 2015 Art at the Mill show has opened at the Historic Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood on Friday April 24. The show will be open the next three weekends, April 25-26, May 2-3 and May 10  (a Sunday), hours are from 10-5 on Saturdays and 12-5 on Sundays.

I have several botanical art pieces in the show. In addition, digital prints of two of my botanical paintings are for sale at a really wonderful shop in Front Royal, called Gathered.

Spring is here and my front yard is looking better and better. The new bed of Thalia narcissus in front echoes the whites of the poet's narcissus farther back and their fragrance spruces up the entire front yard. Several new shrubs and perennials are on the porch waiting to be planted. It's hard for me to keep up with the yard work: digging new beds, re-edging the older ones and putting down new mulch. But the work is so rewarding when the garden looks resplendent after a good rain!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

St Marks River Wilderness and Lighthouse

St. Marks River salt marsh.

Our bird photographer companions on board the Alligator had told us about the St. Marks River Wildlife Refuge nearby, and that a festival was taking place there the next day. The following morning we left the lodge around ten and by the time we arrived at the festival site, many cars were parked alongside the road, we walked about a quarter mile to the site.

I had expected the festival to be of a commercial nature, with lots of vendors hawking arts, crafts, and gizmos, and was pleasantly surprised that most of the booths were informational, with only a few commercial ones. I wish I'd taken photos of some of the exhibits, particularly a wood carver's stand which had some wonderfully whimsical hand-made toys on display, and the elderly gentleman who had created the toys sharpened Herb's pocket knife so expertly for free! But alas, I had left my camera in the car. There was a fisherman teaching children how to cast, an Audubon Society booth, and the local native plant society, whose congenial folks told me about the Florida Wildlife Corridor that state conservationists have been working to establish.

Warning sign

After an hour or so at the festival site we drove out to see the historic St. Marks Lighthouse. Approaching the coast, hardwood forest and stands of slash and long leaf pine give way to expanses of salt marshes crisscrossed with streams. It was getting warmer by the minute, and we quickly shed our jackets. I wished we'd gotten here earlier or later, as the high noon light makes things look too flat and contrasty, but the views are spectacular in any case.

St. Marks Lighthouse

A group of Civil War reennactors had a camp set up at the base of the lighthouse. The lighthouse played a role in the Battle of  Natural Bridge in 1865, reputedly the last southern victory in the war.

Civil War reennactors

Built in 1830, the St. Marks Lighthouse has not been occupied since 1960, when the beacon became automated. In 2000 the Coast Guard stabilized the structure but transfer to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service did not take place until 2013. The old fresnel lens was taken down for hand-cleaning and the old refurbished lantern is now on display inside, along with some artifacts.

The captain in the tower.

The stairs going up to the tower were off-limits--too bad, it would have been wonderful to see the view from the top. One of the reennactors, dressed as a captain, posed for us tourists at the entrance of the tower stairs. The lighthouse keeper's quarters beyond consisted of two rooms, containing a few exhibits. The artifacts on display bespoke of the isolated life the keepers of the lighthouse and their families must have led, even into recent times.

Outdoors again, we drove out towards one of the nearby salt ponds overlooking the lighthouse, where I could work on a small watercolor sketch. The afternoon sun was merciless, and there was no shade there to protect us from it, so we stayed in our car with all the windows open to keep the heat at bay, and shed even more layers of clothing while I painted as fast as I could.

St Mark River Lighthouse

After my sketch was finished we drove back through the refuge towards Wakulla Springs Lodge for our last night there. After dinner we went out in the gardens for a last look--the starry sky dazzled, and in the night's frosty air it it didn't take much imagination, one could almost see the Creature from the Black Lagoon creeping along the foggy shore...

This last photo was taken the following morning, as the mist was lifting, just before our departure. I hope we will have a chance to visit beautiful Wakulla Springs another time soon.

For more photos of the St. Marks area see my Flickr album here.