Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Passel of Pink Lady Slippers

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids (Cypripedium acaule)

Last  summer when I was poking about in the woods at the site I had visited with VNPS where we found the native Yellow-Fringed Orchids, I had seen some other leaves and a seed pod that looked as if they might be Pink Lady Slipper Orchids, and decided to come back the following spring to verify my find.

After two weeks of plentiful rain, I figured this would be the right blooming time for slipper orchids, so last Sunday I went back to Fort Valley to look for them. With the leaves just emerging and the woods more open, it wasn't hard to locate the area. Lo and behold, here was a huge patch of Pink Lady Slippers in bloom--I counted twenty-seven open flowers with a twenty-eighth one just fading!

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids (Cypripedium acaule)

About twenty feet upstream from this colony I found another three or four flowers--it's amazing how these orchids manage to hide so well in plain sight! I hope these patches flourish for many years, but  I think this particular year may be a rarity--somehow I doubt so many orchids flower at the same time every year. I plan to return next year to check just in case.

Close-up of the flower

In the close-up you can see the pollinia (pollen sac) just behind the staminode (the flap-like triangle at the opening of the slipper).

After such an exciting find, anything would be an anticlimax, but since I had never driven any farther into Fort Valley, I decided to drive on to the small town that takes its name from the valley: a small community of farms in a beautiful setting bounded by mountains.

Farms in Fort Valley

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My first Vellum Painting

Slipper Orchid Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum on vellum, 12" x 9".

In April I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Carol Woodin at USBG on painting orchids on vellum. Painting on vellum was something I really wanted to learn--the techniques are very different from watercolor painting on paper. Since vellum can easily buckle with moisture, it's essential to apply the paints very dry, in thin layers, and build up the color gradually. I had read about this, but wasn't quite sure how dry the paint needs to be.

USBG brought out a group of lovely orchids from their collection for us to work from. I chose this delicate-looking Paph--Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum--for my painting. Many of the other orchids had wild colors: yellow, orange, magenta and purple, that were appealing but seemed too difficult to deal with.

Photo of Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum on my stand.

I struggled with the composition of my drawing, trying to give a sense of the winding stems and their bracts. I noticed that this species of Paph is of a type that has multiple flowers on one stem and a small bud could be seen beside the open flower  in front (most of the Paphs I've previously seen had only one flower per stem). The hairy spotted petals were one of the features that attracted me to this species.

Transferring the drawing to the vellum presented another problem--without a light table, it's very difficult to put graphite lightly on the back of the drawing and get much to go on the vellum, so one had to re-draw a good bit of the original drawing with the slim guidance given by barely-readable linework.

Once I started to apply the paint, putting an even wash with a dry brush was another challenge. Even more challenging was adding layers to the previous washed to build up the color--the slightest dampness tended to lift the previous layers to create "holes" or streaks that were hard to deal with.

Carol was very patient explaining how to repair these problems. Most of my classmates had a little more experience painting on vellum than I, and many obtained wonderful results with their pieces, bringing their expertise to bear on their particular orchids.

Paphiopedilum painting  on vellum by Cristina Baltayian

 The workshop breezed by very quickly, my piece is not quite finished but I managed to get enough on paper to give an idea of this specific orchid. I can see it's going to take a lot of practice for me to get these techniques down, and I hope to have the time to devote to it.

Paphiopedilum painting on vellum by Renee Johnson

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Japanese Umbrella Pine Sketches

State Champion Japanese Umbrella Pine (Sciadopytis verticillata), pencil sketch, 10" x 8"

Ahh, spring! Yesterday on the way back from delivering my three pieces for the Art at the Mill spring 2016 show in Millwood, I decided to stop by the Virginia State Arboretum on my way home. It was such a fine spring day, I took along my sketch book, pencils and camera, thinking to sketch the Japanese Umbrella Pine in the garden that is rated a state champion for its size. I've been studying the trees at the Arboretum with an eye to producing a painting to submit for the ASBA show next year, and the Japanese Umbrella Pine there is certainly an unusual and beautiful tree.

State Champion Japanese Umbrella Pine

Its "needles" are arranged in whorls around its stems that curve gracefully in a manner reminiscent of an umbrella's spokes, hence the common name. Looking it up on-line I found that the "needles" are actually cladodes, which are botanically classified as stems, but function as leaves. The tree is the sole representative of its family and genus, and a living fossil native of Japan, where it is associated with old Shinto temples and an emblem of the Imperial family.

It was introduced to western cultivation in the 1860's and grows very slowly. This state champion at the Arboretum was probably planted after Mr. Blandy's death in 1926, when Dr. Orland White took over as Director of the Blandy Experimental Farm and started collecting plants for the arboretum. Over the years this tree has been engulfed by other gigantic evergreens in the conifer garden so that this was the only unobstructed view of the mature tree that showed the trunk and structure of the branches. I sketched this while standing up and did a detail of one branch and a cladode from a nearby bench. I looked but couldn't find any cones on the tree or on the ground.

Younger Japanese Umbrella Pine at the VA State Arboretum, pencil sketch, 10" x 8"

I asked a gentleman at the gift shop if he knew where in the garden another specimen of this tree might be found, since the Blandy Experimental Farm website's "Map It" page listed two specimens on the grounds. Bill didn't know, but he was so kind as to find a smart phone and use the app to find the second one in a less-visited portion of the garden. He walked me there and helped me to move one of the garden benches closer so I could sit comfortably to sketch, thus earning my gratitude and friendship.

This second tree was much younger, and still had the classic pyramidal conifer shape. The strong breeze animated its branches, giving my sketch a very lively look. Happily occupied, it wasn't until my sketch was almost finished that I noticed it was getting chillier as the shadows became longer. I looked at my watch: it was five o'clock! Time to head home with a good afternoon's work.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Out of the Box Botanicals

Big Cypress Box, oils on wood tobacco box, 5.25" x 4.5" x 4.5".

Preparing art for the upcoming BASNCR show, "Off the Beaten Path" has been fun, if a lot of hard work. The theme was to present botanical art that went beyond the traditional format to be "out of the box". The Big Cypress Box, a piece with five tiny oil paintings on a gessoed cigar box that I'd started many years ago (I can't recall exactly when but I think it was around 2001) and hadn't quite finished, seemed like a perfect piece for this show--botanical paintings literally on the outside of a box!  

Big Cypress Box: right side and rear panels.

Five miniature oil paintings of various plants and a butterfly native to Big Cypress appear on each of the sides: bromeliads (Tsillandia fasciculata) appear on the top and rear panel. Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) is on the front panel, Florida's state butterfly, the zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonius) on the right hand side, and bald cypresses (Taxodium distychum) on the other.

Big Cypress Box: left side and front panels.

Decorative stripes in red, green and yellow outline the edges so that the design wraps around the box and creates the illusion that the paintings flow into each other. Next week I'll show you how the painting of "The Holly and the Ivy" I was working on back in December turned out.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

First Signs of Spring 2016

First Crocuses  of 2016 (Crocus tommasinianus)>

That harbinger of spring--the crocus--has begun to bloom in my yard. Today the first patch of Crocus tommasinianus planted two years ago, is finally putting on a show under the cherry tree in front. The early daffodils are also coming up.

White hyacinth buds (Hyacinthus orientalis).

My white hyacinths are also starting to show their buds--I'd almost forgotten where I planted them. It seems that we may yet have an early spring, provided we don't have any sudden cold snaps. The past two years spring has been so late in our area, a change would be very welcome.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Plant Oddities

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) watercolor with colored pencil, 17" x 11.5".

I've been preparing works for BASNCR's exhibition at Strathmore Hall in June. The show is titled "Off the Beaten Path" and the idea is to present botanical art that is not quite in the traditional mold. "Out of the box," so to speak.

The Monotropa family of plants are certainly off the beaten path--most grow in old forests rich in mycorrhyzal fungi and are usually no taller than 6 - 8 inches--they would be easy to miss unless one is looking for them. I'm fascinated by these saprophytic plants (meaning lacking in chlorophyll) with scales that are modified leaves and tiny pendulous flowers that unfurl to become upright after they have been fertilized. I hope to eventually find and illustrate other members of this family.

Last summer came across another relative, Yellow Pinsesap (Monotropa hypopitys), growing at Pandapas Pond in southwestern Virginia, and have been working on an illustration of it. The first stage of my artwork in colored pencil is shown below.

Yellow Pinesap (Monotropa hypopytis), colored pencil, 12" x 10".

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Blizzard in Front Royal

Elena thigh-deep in snow.

Our driveway in the snow.

Everyone else posted their photos of the blizzard on FB long ago, but since I hate being the merchandise there (what reasonable person wouldn't?), I waited until I had time to post these few photos here on my blog. I brought my laptop home on Thursday evening in preparation for the blizzard starting on Friday.

The snow started right on schedule at noon, only about five inches had accumulated by dusk. It snowed all night and the photos above was taken around eleven the next morning. The snow finally tapered off on Saturday evening and a profound stillness descended upon our neighborhood.

Door to the back deck

The following morning I awoke to this lovely scene of winter wonderland. There were about 32 inches piled on our deck.

Looking over the back yard.

Looking over the back yard, the eleven Little Indians were buried deep in the snow, the boxwoods in front not quite visible. The nylon mesh barriers protecting my saplings from deer (which are 48" tall) were buried in the drifts to within a foot or so of the top.

Our front steps.

Nothing moved on Sunday, though Herb shoveled out the drive way. Monday around noon our HOA contractor plowed our neighborhood, but my office had Emailed to ask that we stay home until the parking lot of our building had been cleared. I didn't go in until Wednesday, and the side streets in northern Virginia had barely been cleared, most with only one lane open. Traffic was a nightmare for the rest of the week while VDOT contractors cleaned out the lanes. Thank heaven warm weather has followed and two weeks later now, only a few small patches of snow remain.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A New Look for the New Year

White Phalaenopsis bud opens.

The company I work for "refreshed" our corporate graphics for the New Year. The presenters explained the concept of "refreshing" as opposed to "re-branding" thus: when a well-known brand such as the Holiday Inn decides to change the corporate logo and all of its associated graphics, it's known as "re-branding" in corporate-speak. If a corporation maintains its historic logo but updates the design a bit to make it look more contemporary, it's called "refreshing" the brand.

The Maza Studio Blog has been refreshed for the New Year with new colors and a new header background that I think suits the new botanical direction my adventures in art have been taking. I'm curious to know what my readers think of it, so please feel free to comment.

The orchids in my bathroom continue to bloom during the winter; above is the white Phal that is just opening a new spike. Below the Brassidium is repeating its performance of December, but with a  much smaller flowering spike.

This Brassidium flower just opened today.

My latest acquisition for the bath was this delicate fern pictured below, Selaginella  krausiana variegatus seems to be a very popular houseplant innovation--I've seen it at several greenhouses in the area. I picked this one up at half-price. It's a gorgeous plant, though it requires very high humidity and watering every other day (in my house at least).

Frosty Fern (Selaginella krausiana variegatus)

This is a small fern of northern forests; in fact I remember seeing it growing at Dolly Sods last summer when we visited. The amazing complexity of its fronds can only be appreciated under magnification. Here are two shots using the macro setting of my camera, and they give some idea of the structure of leaflets, but to really appreciate its singular beauty you need the 10X that my hand loupe can give. I wish I had a camera that could photograph at microscope-type scale!

Close-up of Selaginella fronds.
Closer macro shot of Selaginella