Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the Year Musings

Our family at Christmas--we managed to fit twenty-four of us at our house. My sisters Bea (in red dress right behind me) and Silvia (also in red behind one of her granddaughters) with their husbands and children. A few kids who don't live in the area are missing.

It's that time of the year again, where did it all go? When comparing 2010's count of 62 postings on this blog, this year's 51 (and many of those without paintings) seemed a paltry showing, so I thought to add one more and make it 52. One posting per week average sounds much better, especially if you take into account how tough times are. Survival seems to have taken up a lot more energy and time, consequently it's been harder to focus on art and the pure joy of painting... but we stumble on at whatever pace possible.

Dragon Display at Brookside Gardens' "Garden of Lights."

Here's hoping that 2012, another Chinese Year of the Dragon--a Water Dragon no less!--will shape up into being a whole lot better.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Solstice Walk at Chapman's

Circling a champion Tulip Poplar at Chapman's Forest--there is a third person behind the tree, but the circumference was so large, he couldn't join hands with the young lady on the left.
Last Sunday before Christmas the Maryland Native Plant Society (MNPS) did its annual Winter Solstice Walk at Chapman's Forest. I stayed at my friend Patrise's house for the weekend so I could be close-by, and Linda and I joined the group. Only about  six or seven of us had registered on-line, so I was shocked to see that more than 50 of us showed up!

Turns out that this is a very popular event and many of the local folk who worked for a long time to obtain the historic landmark preservation status for Chapman's have been doing this solstice walk for years. One lady told me this year was the best weather they've had so far, so that may account for the number of folk there. The day started out overcast, with temperatures in the upper forties, but after about an hour, a wan winter sun broke out and it began to warm up.

Our leader, Rod Simmons, talked knowledgeably about the different  types of forest and plant communities as he led us through the upper forests of shell marl, and told about the many species of oaks found in this tract, their distinguishing characteristics, etc. The leaves are the best indicators as to the species, though general shape, the terrain and the acorns also hold clues. I had no idea there were so many different types of oaks: southern red oak, chinquapin, post, pagoda, and chestnut oak, in addition to the better-known white oak, scarlet oak, pin, and black oak. Some of these are unusual in our area, and found mostly in old-growth forest such as Chapman's.

After a couple of hours of hiking around, we took break for lunch. Rod had announced we would toast the solstice toast during our break, and I thought he was joking, that it would be a symbolic toast with the water we had each brought along--wrong! A couple of the men in the group had brought bottles of Glenlivet single-malt scotch and some wine for the occasion, along with tiny one-shot plastic cups that they passed around for the toast.

After our repast, we continued on down a steep ravine. Sadly, a champion-sized Tulip Poplar that had stood there for centuries had been brought down by this past September's storms and thirteen inches of rain. There were still plenty of other champion-size trees to see.

Rod seemed to be able to navigate by these trees, which were probably like old friends to him. He allowed that he and several other men in the group had been hiking this tract since the early nineties. We stopped by a huge pagoda oak before turning towards the Potomac River, where a high bluff offered spectacular views of Mason's Neck in Virginia on the opposite shore.

We continued along the river, down another steep ravine to an area with a couple of old abandoned houses. We were told these cabins were an old duck-hunting camp that President Hoover used to frequent in his day. There was an Osage orange tree growing near the shore, and the largest sassafras tree I'd ever seen--the bark exhibits unusual ridges when the trees get to a certain age. If one flakes off chunks of the bark, one can smell the spicy scent of sassafras.

Eventually we worked our way up another hillside where I recognized the old brick chimney near the place where Virginia bluebells bloom in the spring, and realized were were now very close to Mont Aventine and our starting point. The sun was low on the horizon--we had been hiking for over six hours and who knows how many miles over some fascinating terrain. A few folks had dropped by the wayside due to other commitments, but I was surprised by how many of the group finished the course, including several elderly among us. I was bone-tired, so I can imagine how they felt, yet it was such an enjoyable experience!

I hope to explore more of Chapman's next the spring, and definitely repeat the solstice walk next year. For more photos of the Winter Solstice Walk at Chapmans, click on the link to my Flickr album.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blue Holly, Red Holly

Blue Holly
Red Holly

The approach of winter signals the end of the outdoor painting season (at least for those of us who don't like to freeze our patooties). Other years I've made the effort to get out to paint despite the weather,  but after a particularly hard year, I'm not feeling motivated to endure the additional  hardships of cold-weather plein air this year. I'm hard-pressed to find something new for the blog, and populating it with work from my botanical illustration classes seemed fitting, especially because holly is so symbolic of this season.

These are works from yesterday's class. We were tasked with painting a value study of a sprig with fruit or flowers (previously sketched in pencil) using only one pigment, either Permanent Rose or Windsor Blue.  The idea was to use the darkest value for the leaves, the middle range for the berries with the stem being the lightest value. We were to practice various lifting techniques as well as flat and graduated washes.

I tried one sketch with each pigment, and found the Permanent Rose to be much harder to work with. The color was so bright that after a time my eyes were totally strained, and it was harder to get a really deep value even using several layers of washes.

This is a particular variety of holly planted at McCrillis Gardens that I like--the leaves have a variety of unusual shapes, some more rounded, others with three points, and pendulous branches.