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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Holly and the Ivy

Holly and Ivy, in color pencil (in progress)

The other day that lovely old English carol 'The Holly and the Ivy' was running through my mind while I was taking my lunchtime walk. I found myself on the grounds of the Hilton Hotel walking by a bushy variety of holly I often see used in landscaping, which had abundant clusters of red berries (probably some variety of Chinese holly, Ilex cornuta). Underneath, the ground cover around the parking lot was English Ivy (Hedera helix)--an aggressive grower that can be a plague for gardeners who do not want it.

I took a few cuttings of each with the idea of doing a seasonal-themed botanic painting and brought my cuttings home. I trimmed and arranged the sprigs in a container in my studio and have been working on a color pencil drawing of them as time allows. I used the Faber Castell watercolor pencils  in conjunction with the regular Faber Castell oil-based pencils I normally use, and it's interesting to see how the watercolor pencils behave as opposed to tube watercolor pigments. The watercolor pencil colors blend after water is applied, but some of the shading and texture of the color as it was put down can stay behind, giving interesting variations.

This is as far as I have got with it. There's still quite a bit of work to do making everything darker, particularly the greens.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

More Garden Additions

New tree: deciduous Magnolia 'Butterflies'

The fall weather has been so pleasant recently that it's allowed me to continue expanding my garden, while taking advantage of the great sales to be found at this time of the year when nurseries are trying to clear out all their stock.

Springtime Garden Center had two nice-size deciduous magnolias of a new variety named 'Butterflies' with yellow flowers, and it was impossible to resist. I'd been wanting a magnolia for some time, so I bought the best-looking one of the two and made arrangements to have them plant it for me, which they did this past week.

New boundary flower bed

During previous weekends I'd been working on consolidating the three plants I had at our eastern property boundary into one larger continuous bed. I put in one of the Japanese maple seedlings gleaned from the grounds of the office building next door to where I work. This will eventually shade the Rhododendron I had planted there a couple of years ago. I added two divisions of the Gazanias from another bed, a yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea 'Artic Sun') and a Pieris shrub. The Silky Thread grass (Nassella tenuissima) that wasn't doing well in the back I transplanted here, adding a few bulbs of Blue Squill to fill it out. We'll see how this bed looks over the next year as the plants grow.

Gordlinia grandiflora

Beyond this bed I planted another irresistible bargain found at Wayside Gardens: Gordlinia grandiflora is a hyrbid of the famous Ben Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) and the well-known Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lassianthus) of southern forests. Like the Franklinia, Gordlinia blooms in the fall as the foliage turns red, and it's supposed to be evergreen. We'll see if it lives up to that claim in these latitudes.

Bed with evergreens on east side of house (Gazanias in front)

I finally decided upon what I think is the right spot for the ferny-leaved cypress ( Chamaecyparis obtusa filicoides) I bought last spring. This meant moving the lovely dwarf blue spruce I'd planted under the bay window to the other side of the Golden Hinoki cypress, and moving the Floxglove that was there to another bed. Fortunately, herbaceous perennials are easy to transplant, and the spruce had only been growing for one season, but I think the combination of foliage colors looks better in the new arrangement.

Herb kids me about transplanting and moving plants so frequently, as if it was as easy as rearranging furniture, but it's really not that much different. If it improves the overall look and the plants were not prospering where they were, why not?

Front yard from the east, construction of new houses in the background