Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Christmas Orchid

Brassidium, Miltassia or Miltonidia?
One of the mystery orchids I bought at a roadside stand in Florida a couple of years ago put out another flowering shoot recently--in fact, four of my orchids have developed flowering stems this fall. One orchid actually has two flowering stems! They really seem to like the environment in our new house, perhaps because it's a bit chilly at night. That 10-degree difference between day and night-time temperatures seems to play an important part in coaxing orchids to bloom.

The first bud on this plant began to open on Christmas Eve, the second a few days later, and it looks like the third one will open in another day or two.

I've tried to identify the genus-- it's likely a hybrid of two or perhaps three different genera, but which ones? The shape of the flower appears to indicate perhaps one parent is Brassia, the spider orchid, because of the longish tepals. The bi-color hues and ornate labellum are similar to some of the Brassidiums (Brassia and Oncidium hybrids) I've seen on-line. But there are also hybrids of the Miltonia genus known as Miltassia or "Mtssa." Another of my orchids (greenhouse-bought) is labeled as "Mtdm" short of Miltonidium, presumably a hybrid of Miltonia and Oncidium.  Not being a botanist, I'll probably never be able to determine for sure, but it's fascinating to try to guess. I can't wait to see what the other mystery orchid will look like when it blooms.

Close-up of flower.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Magic of Twinkling Lights

Driving to Front Royal in the evenings at this time of the year when the sun is setting and dusk sets in before one is halfway home, it's wonderful to see the Christmas lights and decorations spring up along the way. It never ceases to amaze me how a few strings of colored lights and decorations can transform the humblest bungalow or ramshackle old farmhouse into a shining wonderland...

This part of Virginia's countryside seems to make a tradition of lighting the seasonal gloom with a particular charm. The town of Middleburg with its store fronts all lit up becomes a story-book village during the Christmas season, and some of the old houses in Upperville look just like gingerbread cottages.

You can imagine my delight as I was driving over a hill on the other side of Upperville to come upon the sight pictured above: a house and pond with a small island outlined in lights. At first I thought it might be a creche on the island (that would have been gutsy), but upon closer inspection, like most decorations today, it's purely secular--a Santa, a sled and some reindeer. The ambiguity of the scene is still very evocative.

A few evenings ago I stopped to take this photo and found a plaque at the gate of the estate--Mulwyck it said. Over the summer and fall I've observed the little island furnished with Adirondack chairs, and now this lavish display! I wonder how the owner reaches the island--does he have a canoe or pontoon boat at the back? In any case, this one wins my best of the season award for the year.

 * * *

 We too have done our best this year to decorate the new house enough to match our neighbors' splendor. It's almost a necessity when you live where there are no streetlights. Merry Christmas, y'all!

Our house.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

More Ladyslippers

Yellow Ladyslipper, watercolor 22" x 13"
This is the second version of my piece for the Botanical Intensive class I missed last spring that I needed to get credit for. It's good practice for me to do this now to better develop the final painting I intend to submit for the BAEE project (Botanical Artists for Education and the Environment) next year.

This orchid is really challenging to depict, and such a complicated subject I probably shouldn't have chosen it for my project but it's so beautiful and fascinating, I can't resist. There are many faults in it, which I'm working to correct, to clear up confusing visual information. Below is the first version I did, which was with the wrong palette. The difference between the two palettes is subtle, but the colors in the earlier version look rather Disneyish in comparison with the more natural colors of the other.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Virginia State Arboretum

The Blandy Farm in November, oils on panel, 9" x 12."

Yesterday afternoon I finally got out to paint in oils, something I haven't had a chance to do since last spring. I drove out to the Virginia State Arboretum, part of the Blandy Experimental Farm, which I pass every morning and evening on my way to work. The Blandy Farm is a 700-acre facility deeded to the University of Virginia by Mr. Graham Blandy, a wealthy New Yorker.

The Arboretum is a lovely place with many wonderful huge specimens of native and exotic conifers, boxwoods and other unusual plants. The previous weekend I'd taken Herb there to show him the place and we walked around to explore the various gardens and plantings.

It was difficult to choose a view--I wanted to show the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background, but didn't have much time to look around so I chose this view from the main house looking through some dramatic evergreens down to the fields. Though most of the foliage is now gone, the grasses on rolling hills showed some lovely colors in the afternoon sun, with the lengthening shadows for interest.

My skills have become rather rusty during these months of moving, and I'm afraid I didn't do justice to the landscape or the afternoon light. It didn't help to have a large group of very loud teenagers (college students I presume) who were having some sort of program nearby, and were making so much noise as to make it impossible to concentrate or enjoy the place (were we ever this loud at that age or have young people become ruder?).

My painting turned out rather ordinary, yet it felt so good to be out painting again! As the shadows lengthened it became chillier, and my hands were starting to get numb; it seemed like a good time to stop as the light was fading. I hope to do better on my next session as I get back into practice.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Refining Graphite Studies

Dendrobium light & shade study

In our Drawing 309 class we have been working on refining our graphite techniques: using the botanical piece we did in our previous class we are now developing a finished piece in graphite. The process involves using tracing paper overlays in layers to develop first, a light and shade study (above). The second layer is a value study superimposed on the light and shade (below). A third layer, which I am just starting, will deal with details of the flowers.

Dendrobium, value study superimposed over light and shade
In addition to the main project, we did a couple of other exercises: a sketch of some button mushrooms, and shading a bunch of grapes to clarify what is in front and what is in back. It's interesting to apply the same principles of articulating different planes that I've used in landscape painting to a drawing where the focus is so much smaller, and the planes may be only a few inches in distance, rather than miles. The same principles apply to both.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Calm During the Storm

The Trees Before the Storm, pastel, 9" x 12."

I took some photos of my new back yard Saturday before last--there is a hollow back there where the ground drops off steeply and a rivulet of runoff has allowed this copse of tall oaks and other trees to grow lush. The trees were at the peak of their color in the early morning sun.

This past Monday morning my boss sent the word out--we should all leave at noon to get home safely before Hurricane Sandy hit our area, expected to be around 8 PM that night. As I was driving west on Route 50 the rains were coming down steadily and the gusts of wind getting stronger. I prayed that no trees or big branches would fall as I was passing underneath--there are so many old  and fragile trees along the way--or that flooding would not have closed down some of the low-lying bridges.

Oddly, it was raining less when I got to Front Royal; I guess being farther away from the coast lessened somewhat the effects of the storm. But as the afternoon progressed, the skies darkened and the wind began to howl. I knew by morning there would be few leaves left on the trees, so I was glad I'd had  chance to photograph the lovely color while it lasted.

What better way to spend a stormy evening than in the studio? My new studio has a big window overlooking the back yard. It was too dark to see much out there as I worked from my photos, snug and warm while the wind howled. It seemed wondrous to find myself in this new safe harbor after the upheaval of moving this past summer. After I had most of my painting done I went downstairs and Herb lit the gas fireplace for that extra cozy feeling.

In the morning I went in to look at my little painting and saw out the window (no surprise!) that the leaves were down and one can now see the outbuildings of the farm on the other side of the steep ravine. My newly-planted trees all came through the storm just fine, and the saffron is starting to sprout.

Herb carved our traditional jack o' lantern to display for Halloween, but disappointingly, not a single trick-or-treater came to our door. There are only a few children in our new neighborhood, so I suppose it's not done around here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Rose for My Garden

Just-planted red 'Double Knockout' rose

I still miss my old garden in Columbia with its mature trees, the huge blue hydrangeas at the base of the deck, and the topiary evergreens in front...but if there is one plant I miss the most, it's the red 'Knockout' rose my sister gave me a few years ago. The plant had reached optimum proportions and was covered with lovely blossoms all season long. At the height of bloom one or two sprigs could fill a vase. Herb and I really enjoyed having a fresh rose to display in a bud vase for half of the year, so I just had to have a rose for my new garden.

We stopped by Springtime Garden Center yesterday after our regular stop at the farmer's market and I bought my rose, a red 'Double Knockout'. A thunderstorm had been predicted for the afternoon, but the dark clouds raced overhead, and it turned out to be a beautiful fall afternoon, breezy yet warm--perfect for gardening.

It took about two hours of backbreaking labor with the pick to prepare the soil--I dug up two bucket-fulls of rocks, some so large they could have been used for stacked fencing. I mixed in commercial topsoil with the clayey dirt and bits of old mulch until I finally had that proverbial $20 hole for my $5 plant. It felt so good to finally get the rose into the ground!

All this back-breaking work will hopefully pay off next spring and for years to come--I've been neglecting my artwork in favor of gardening this fall. My mother was a true artist when it came to gardening--her garden was such a lovely piece of work, with bold and unexpected combinations of colors and foliage, a real "garden for all seasons." I'm finding that plants are a much harder medium to work in than any paint I've ever tried.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birthday Roamings

Yellow Ladyslipper seed pod

Yesterday was my birthday--one of those significant numbers--and after picking up veggies, eggs and other staples at our farmer's market and doing some chores, I decided to treat myself to an afternoon of leisure. I found our local library, got myself a card and checked out the two items allowed first-time users.

After lunch I loaded my paint kit and headed out to tackle the view from a local vineyard up on Freezeland Road. Before doing that, since it was so close, I wanted to check on the Yellow Ladyslipper orchids and see if any seed pods had formed, so I took a short walk on the Trillium Trail at Thompson Wildlife.

I was rewarded with one find--a healthy, plump pod--at one of the well-established stands. I also managed to locate the specific clump I had drawn and photographed last spring, but alas, this one had been growing right by the side of the fire road, and some kind volunteer had mowed the track since I'd been there during summer. The poor orchid had been decapitated-- if one of the flowers had set a seed pod, it was gone now!

This has given me the idea of trying to map out as many of the orchid stands next spring to try to record the Yellow Ladyslipper orchid population to see how they migrate and spread through this site. This may all become part of my Certificate Project for the Botanical Illustration Certificate.

My walk took a bit longer than anticipated, and by the time I arrived at the vineyard, it was around five o'clock--a perfect time for the Golden Hour . I went inside to ask the owner permission to paint, and was informed that it was fine but they closed at six sharp; they wanted everyone out so they could shut their gate. That gave me less than an hour to set up and paint--an impossible proposition--there was no point in even taking my kit out; I would have to come earlier the next time. I took some photos of the views and left.

 * * *

The early sunlight was sparkling on the dew in my new garden this morning so I slipped out front (in pajamas!) to take this photo showing the new dogwood tree we added, and some colorful mums. We still need to replace patches of the red mulch with more suitable brown and add a few more accent plants, but gradually, my new garden is starting to take shape.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Working On The New Garden

New plants in front yard

Last weekend Herb and I undertook replanting this small bed in front of the house (the weekend before we'd transplanted the hollies that were there). Herb started digging with a pick to break up the rocky-clayey shale, then we worked in several of bags of good topsoil from the garden center before planting. The three cherry laurels 'Otto Lukens' under the windows went in first, then the dwarf Nandina to the right by the steps, and lastly the miniature golden cypress and the aster to the left.  We mulched it all and finished up with generous watering. By this time we were covered in dirt and sweat so we went in to shower before dinner.

The central portion along the walk was set aside for the saffron crocus I had ordered from White Flower Farm along with some sedums, a new variety called 'Angelina' with a lovely soft green foliage. The plants arrived mid-week, so yesterday I worked up more soil (and sweat!) planting those, as well as one of the two evergreens I bought last week at Brookside Gardens' annual plant sale. Another aster on the other side of the walk and the lace-leaf Japanese maple in the pot were bought at Springtime Garden Center in Front Royal that morning.

New additions to the garden

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Observational Studies

My class set-up

Pencil sketch (gesture & plant habit)

My Botanical Illustration classes have started once again, and this fall's challenge is Observational Studies and Composition 308. We were to bring a plant in bloom for class that would last through this course and the next one (about six weeks). I'd planned to bring an Episcia from my houseplant collection, but the Episcia was not cooperating and there were no blossoms, so in desperation I went out to our local stores to find something suitable.

I found a lovely Dendrobium orchid (species not identified) at Lowe's at an affordable price, and knowing orchid blooms last a long time, this seemed like a good choice. Orchids are a fascinating family of plants--there's so much complexity, altogether too much to learn!

I had not been expecting such a crowd at Brookside Gardens so early on a Saturday morning, but as it turned out yesterday was their annual plant sale fundraiser. I was early for class, so I went out to check the plants before class started and ended up buying a few perennials for my new yard.

Our first step in class was to do some thumbnail sketches to decide on our composition. Once we'd selected an arrangement for the sketch, do a gesture drawing of the plant life-size, to which we'd gradually add detail and shading for a finished sketch of the general plant habit. My Dendrobium was so tall, I had to set it up raised a bit off the floor so the flowers would be at eye level.

Flower and leaf detail with colored pencil

From there we would go on to sketch significant details of the plant such as flowers, leaves, stems, and make notes about shape and color. We had a number of reference books where we could look up plant families and take notes about our plant.

Among the fascinating things I noticed about this particular Dendrobium species was a spur in back, which contains the nectary. The spur is a general characteristic of Dendrobiums which usually have scent. By the afternoon one flower had attracted a tiny bee (which I included in the frontal view of the flower below). Orchids tend to have their sexual organs fused into what is called the column which is opposite to the showy bottom petal, known as the labellum. I also learned that orchid flowers are generally rotated 180 degrees on their stems so they are actually upside down! The botanical term for this is resupinate.

I won't bore you readers with all the stuff I learned about orchids in general and Dendrobiums in particular--I still have not been able to identify this particular species, other than to say that the flower has a Phalaenopsis-type of shape (though Phalaenopsis is a completely different genus the flower form bears a resemblance). In addition to thousands of species, there are millions of orchid hybrids, and Dendrobiums are very popular so the chances of being able to identify this one conclusively are probably slim.

Flower details showing the spur in back
Stem and leaf details
I must pull all this together into a one-page botanical study for next class.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A New Blank Canvas

Herb in front of the new house

Now that we are settling into our new house and the high heat of summer is almost gone, it seemed time to tackle the garden. As you see, our new garden is pretty bare, and what little there is appears to be struggling to survive. No wonder--our neighbors had warned us that we were on a hillside of mostly shale and clay, with very little topsoil. I am finding out just how right they are--gardening here promises to be back-breaking work!

I have been consulting with the owners of Springtime Garden Center in Front Royal for landscaping help, and decided to start with a red maple tree for the left side of the house to give us a little afternoon shade. They recommended a fast-growing hybrid, 'Autumn Blaze,' and we've agreed they will come next week to plant it and deliver some new foundation plants (which we will plant ourselves to save a money), along with some good topsoil and mulch.

I think some cherry laurels under the dining room windows in the central section where the gable is would look nice, but that requires moving the existing plants, some stunted Japanese hollies. This past week after work I toiled removing a patch of weedy grass that was there behind the hollies. Yesterday it was time to start moving the hollies. I noticed that a couple of hollies in the bed to the left of the garage were dead, so I removed those and began expanding the holes to receive the other hollies.

 The soil was incredibly hard and rocky, even after a wetting from the morning rain. I worked up quite a sweat breaking it up and mixing bags of good topsoil with some of the present mulch to move two bushes. Their root systems were shallow, but well spread out--I teased them out carefully so as not to damage the roots too much. I couldn't budge the other two hollies and was so tired by then, it was time to call it a day.

Herb saw me covered in dirt and sweat from head to toe when I came in to get a trash bag and snapped this photo, which I think says it all.  I really hope new growth will make the work worth while. The arrival of plentiful rain today seems a heavenly blessing.

In the meantime, the local wildlife makes itself known--here's a little lizard that likes to hang out on the porch among my potted plants--we've nicknamed him Izzy. I believe it's an eastern fence lizard.

And above is an enormous beetle Herb found on our driveway and photographed--we think it's an Eastern Hercules beetle--it's about 3'' long, and we've never seen anything like it before.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A New Home for Maza Studio

From the Front Porch, watercolor, 5" x 10"

Maza Studio blog has been off-line for the last few months while Herb and I were busy selling our house in Maryland and relocating to Virginia. It was hard going there for a while. Our Columbia house sold much quicker than we had expected, sending us scrambling to buy a new house pronto. The areas west of where I work in Chantilly seemed our best bet for something that was affordable, and eventually we found a foreclosure in Front Royal that we bid on--we were the high bidders and got the contract.

Moving is always such a bother--so much stuff to pack! Even shedding the few paintings that friends took on, the old piano which my sister took, and pitching out a good bit, our household goods added up to over 12,000 pounds in weight. The closing on our new house was delayed for several days because the foreclosue documents couldn't be found, and we had to have everything put in storage while we lived in a hotel for several days. On Thursday the proper documents turned up and we were able to close that afternoon, but it was too late in the day to move, so we had to wait until the following day.

Heavy rains were predicted for the afternoon on moving day, and our movers got here so late in the day, I was sure it would be a disaster, but mercifully, the rains held off until the evening after everything was inside the house. Then the skies opened up and it poured! Herb and I went out to dinner under a tremendous downpour--we hadn't had a bite to eat all day. It was wonderful to see the copious rain after such a dry spell, especially when it was so well-timed.

Now that we have finally moved into our new home in Front Royal in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, this is what the view from our front porch looks like. I painted this little watercolor last Sunday on a rainy afternoon. The first range of the Blue Ridge Mountains forms a lovely backdrop looking to the east from our hilltop.

Nowadays as I leave for work in the mornings the mountains are veiled in fog, and layers of mist sit on the farm fields at dawn, looking lovely with the rising sun. As we get settled into our new house, I hope to once again get back into my weekly paintings and postings. There's much to paint here in the Shenandoah, and many new places to explore.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Standing beside Ray Bradbury signing at a bookstore in Albuquerque, Sept. 1999.

During the months I was in Santa Fe doing my first artist-in-residence gig, I read in the paper that Ray Bradbury was visiting the area. He had spoken at a book signing in Los Alamos the day before. The article mentioned that he was scheduled to be at a bookstore in Albuquerque signing the next day. Herb's birthday was coming up and this seemed like the perfect gift--a copy of The Martian Chronicles and anything else signed by his childhood hero. I just had to drive down and get this, so next day I zipped down I-25 for the signing--there was a huge crowd there--who'd have thought the old guy still had such a following, in Albuquerque of all places? Anyway, I ended up being #113 in line, and patiently waited my turn with a pre-printed slip to write in the name of the person to dedicate the book to, "Herb." I asked one of the delighted store clerks (sales were brisk) to take a photo of me with Ray to include with my gift. You will be missed, Ray Bradbury, R. I. P.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Field Sketches

Arum italicum

Arum Study, pencil & color

Last Saturday in our botanical art class we continued learning about how to identify plants, their parts, and how to create field studies of them. In the afternoon, (it was a gorgeous day), we went out on the classroom grounds at McCrillis Gardens to practice. The idea was to do a quick gesture sketch of the entire plant to give an idea of its habit, then fill some of the details, making notes on color. Next, look closely at the flower and analyze it, drawing it so that all its parts can be seen clearly.

I selected this arum species because their curious flowering structure, called a spathe, caught my eye. They were all over the understory, edging other plantings.

Last fall when we were studying leaves in Drawing 102, the vein patterns of the leaves and their curling edges appealed to me, and I did several  sketches of these, so the leaves were already familiar, but I had no idea about the particular species of arum. I later searched on-line and found it is called Italian Arum.

To examine the flower, I found another specimen that was a bit more developed than the first one photographed above, and cut apart the papery hood to reveal the curious details inside. The female flowers at the bottom of the shaft appeared to have been fertilized and were developing into seeds. It seemed likely that the middle bump of small grains were the male flowers, but what about the ring with long hairs above it? That was a bit of a mystery, so later I went on-line to research.

According to Wikipedia, the upper ring of hairs functions as a trap for insects. The pollinators are beetles or other crawling insects which are attracted to the spadix (the club-shaped organ) by its odor of decay and temperature several degrees warmer than the ambient. The insects get dusted with pollen and when they escape they take the pollen to another spadix, ensuring cross-pollination. The purplish color at the bottom of the spathe has the tinge of carrion, another good indicator about the kind of insect pollinators.

At the bottom left of my sketch is the further developed fruit of the Arum, again found on another specimen nearby. Here the spadix has almost rotted away as the stem grows into a pineapple-like fruit. The seeds will turn red when ripe, much like the seeds of Jack-in-the-pulpit.

We were instructed to collect parts of the flower and seeds and preserve them by sealing them under transparent packing tape. We are to include these with our finished drawing. In my case these specimens were so bulky that I was only able to put them under tape by pasting them onto a piece of paper. Unfortunately, this did not seal them completely and my specimens have already lost their color. I had included some color notes with color pencils on my sketch. That may have to do unless I can collect some new specimens and seal them better. I may yet go back to McCrillis to do just that.

It's all so fascinating!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Secret Sex Life of Ladyslippers

Yellow Ladyslipper in Virginia Forest

Yesterday my friend Linda and I went out to hike at the Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Virginia. This is one of the richest places in our area for spring wildflowers, and one particular portion, with its spectacular display of Trillium grandiflora that extends for acres, is known as the Trillium Trail (previous postings about it here and  here ).

We hadn't visited the Trillium Trail for a couple of years, and with this year's unusually warm spring putting our season two weeks ahead of a normal year, I was fairly sure the trillium display would be over by now.

We found some fading trillium flowers in small patches here and there (the white flowers turn pink as they age), but the main reason I wanted to make the trek was to find some yellow ladyslipper orchids for my botanical studies. The yellow ladyslipper seems to be prospering at this site, and my impression is that each year I've visited there are more flowers to be found.

I'd brought my sketchbook and pocket magnifier to make some field sketches of the flower's reproductive parts, but what exactly these were in this species, and in orchids in general, I wasn't really sure. I hoped direct observation would help clear up the mystery.

All flowers need pollinators to set seed, and orchids have evolved some of the most unusual strategies to accomplish this. Some orchids mimic bees or moths to attract specific pollinators, but in the case of the ladyslipper, the pouch forms a trap for the insect. The flowers produce nectar to attract the insect, presumably some kind of bee small enough to fit through the opening. In order to get out, the insect must crawl up towards that small protuberance you see in the photo, called the staminoide. Under the staminoide you can barely see two tiny pollen sacs, the anthers, which will drop their pollen on the insect to transfer it onto the stigma.

 I was lucky to find some decaying flowers where these parts were clearly visible. I was also fascinated to learn from my on-line research that the seeds have a very tough outer covering and need the help of mycorrhizal fungi to germinate and get nourishment during the early part of their life cycle. No wonder they are flourishing here--there is plenty of fungi all over this forest.

The young corm may not develop a true leaf for several years, but as it develops into a rhizome and produces more leaves, eventually it will no longer depend on the fungi. A plant may take up to sixteen years to produce its first flower, but they are long-lived plants.

I'll want to come back in mid-summer to see what the seed pods look like, and how many of the flowers have set seed. The secret sex life of these lovely orchids is fascinating!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Botanica Exhibition

African Violet II, watercolor, 9" x 12."

I was surprised and pleased to learn that my two entries have been accepted to this year's Botanica, the exhibition of artwork presented by students and teachers at Brookside Gardens' School of Botanical Illustration. This year's exhibition will take place from May 19 through July 6 at Brookside Gardens Visitor's Center.

Now I'll have to get my pieces framed (another expense I hadn't planned on!) but I'm used to it --art is an expensive if rewarding mistress.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Green at Jug Bay

Spring Greens at Jug Bay, oils on linen panel, 9" x 12."

Yesterday I had signed up to go on a hike with the Maryland Native Plant Society. This was to be a hike to see the big trees at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and check their statistics against previous years' records. I was really curious to learn how these big tree statistics are recorded and kept, and which kinds of big trees are found in this natural area.

It was a beautiful spring day, and I was ready to spend some time enjoying the outdoors. The hike was scheduled for the morning, from 10 AM to noon. Since Jug Bay is a long drive from home, I decided to take a sandwich and my plein air kit, intending to stay after the hike and paint in the afternoon.

That turned out to be providential--I was about ten minutes late, and when I arrived at the agreed upon meeting place, I found a hand-written sign saying the hike had been cancelled because no one had signed up. Actually, two of us had. No problem--more time for me to paint. I went to the visitors' center to check out the trails and views.

There is a viewing platform on a bluff behind the visitors' center overlooking the marsh. From there I could see a pair of ospreys fussing over a nest about 50 yards out. The male swooped down and scooped up a fish to take to his lady love who was cleaning out the nest. Looking down I saw a narrow boardwalk by the water and some Pinxter azaleas blooming. I took the trail to the boardwalk to check the view from there and the marsh looked wonderful framed by the azalea blossoms. I saw lots of huge mountain laurel and high-bush blueberry plants down there too. The boardwalk was wee bit narrow, but wide enough for me to set up provided no one else needed to walk by.

I went back to my car, fetched my kit and trundled, heavy-laden, down the steep steps to the boardwalk. It was breezy, but not so windy that my easel was in danger of blowing into the muck. I set up, trying to leave as much room as possible to walk by, but in order for anyone to pass me, I had to move out of the way and ask them to be very careful to not knock my easel into the water. Sure enough, while I was setting up and getting started several groups of hikers, some families with small children, showed up and needed to be let by. I checked my watch as the last group went by--twelve thirty! And I was only half-way done. Lunch could be eaten later, I wanted to finish my little painting before the light changed completely.

Fortunately, the day was becoming more overcast, and the shadows softened. I reoriented my easel to keep the glare off my painting and kept on working. No more hikers came after that. I checked my watch again as I was finishing-- two o'clock. How is it that time goes by so quickly when one is so absorbed? I started to pack up my kit, taking a few photos of myself on location first so you could all see my set-up (Guerrilla painter 9" x 12" box) on the boardwalk.

After packing up I walked down the boardwalk with my gear over to the other end, where I found a convenient bench overlooking the water, and had a late lunch there. I took in the osprey who had settled down on her nest by then, the one azalea bush that overhung the water--I had no idea they grew so close to water--and other interesting plants nearby. I took photos of some of them to identify later, and decided to call it a day. This is the first time I've gone out to paint plein air since our vacation in February, and the first time with oils since last fall. I'll have to try to do this more often now that nice weather is back.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Viola tricolor, watercolor, 12" x  9."

My latest class opus are these pansies. I bought a flat of six plants at Riverhill, our local garden center, to take to class. In the drawing I merged two plants to show a little of  the range of different colors and markings these hybrids sport. There is also one with ruffled orange flowers, and another all-blue double I may try to record before their season ends. I planted the pansies in the front flower bed after the painting was finished.

Monday, April 2, 2012


A few years back I dug up a new flowerbed under the maple tree in my front yard and planted Virginia bluebells, a Bleeding Heart a fern and some European ginger there. My idea was to have a progression of blooms from early spring through summer, perhaps extending into early fall. The following year I added some crocuses and blue Grape Hyacinths, and some Lamium to extend the blooming season. The plants have been slow to get established because of the maple roots and the compacted soil, but they are finally starting to pay off with a lovely blue and pink color scheme.

This is the first year my bluebells have actually blossomed and I am so pleased to finally enjoy their lovely flowers here at home! I wish I had time to do a botanical illustration of them from life, but life is going at so fast a pace these days, I know I won't get around to it this year. Their growing season is so short, the blossoms will be gone in another ten days, and the plants will disappear by mid-May to lie dormant until next spring.

 I want to do some botanical studies of this native plant, it may yet become part of my Botanical Illustration Certificate project. That would involve digging up at least one of the tubers to illustrate the root structure, but I am not about to do just yet; not until the plants have managed to propagate a bit more.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

African Violet Painting

Pink African Violet, watercolor, 8" x 10."
This was my classwork from the Painting 205 class week before last. I was surprised to see how quickly it took shape following the methods I'm being taught, and how nice the results. It needs a few more touches to be completely finished. I'll be submitting this piece and one more from class to Brookside Gardens' upcoming Botanica exhibition to see if the jury accepts it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Giant Studio Moving Sale

Big Blue, oils on canvas, 36" high x 42" wide.
Firefall, oils on canvas, 48" high x 36" wide.
The Aliens, oils on canvas, 48" high x 32" wide.
Red Sea Whips, oils on canvas, 56" high x 42" wide.

Dear friends and collectors:

My husband and I are getting ready to move and our basement is full of large paintings that I would prefer not to have to move or store, so I'm holding a once-in-a-lifetime studio sale. These four paintings are among many others for sale. All offers will be considered, no matter how ridiculously low. I'm willing to negotiate, but please start at $100--the materials in these cost at least that much. If there is more than one offer per painting, these will be bid competitively, and the bids announced here (bidder's identity will be kept confidential).

If you live in the DC area or within drivable distance, I will be happy to deliver any painting to you whenever convenient. If you are out of the area, I don't know about shipping, that may be more difficult--these are large paintings--but perhaps something can be worked out.

Any of these paintings could be a wonderful focal point in your home. Please make an offer.

Watch this blog for more paintings coming up for sale soon. My Afro-Cuban paintings will be coming up next.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Cummer Museum of Art Garden

Garden at the Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville, watercolor, 10" x 14."

On our last day of vacation, Herb and I went back to the Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville so I could paint in the historic garden. We arrived mid-morning and found a group of painters already there. While walking around to take in the gardens and decide which was the best view to paint, I chatted with some of the artists, who told me they were students from the nearby University of North Florida. Their class met at a different location every Friday to paint plein air and the museum's gardens were--quite understandably--a favorite.

Looking at the beautiful gardens on the banks of the St. John River, it was hard to choose what to paint, but to me the most outstanding feature was a gigantic live oak which appeared to be at least a few centuries old. Its venerable trunk had been sculpted by riverfront storms into a striking, contorted mass, and its spreading branches twisted and leaned down so far that some had supports built under them to keep them off the ground. A glass-topped table and some chairs had been placed on the lawn under the tree--there seemed no need to go any farther. I spread out my painting stuff and sat down to study this amazing tree.

It took me a long time to get the drawing right. Simplifying the masses of branches by eliminating some of the extraneous ones while keeping enough of them to give a sense of their size and intricate twining was the most challenging part, and it was well past noon before I was ready to start laying in any color. By this time the breeze had started to pick up and a gust of wind took my tiny metal water tin and brush holder and dumped them on the ground. After that I kept the brush holder on the ground and my spare hand on the water tin.

I felt confident that no one would steal my painting gear at the museum, so I left it on the table while we had lunch at the cafe (dynamite black bean soup and chicken salad) and then came back to finish my painting.

The botanical illustrations classes have helped tremendously with my watercolor technique, and I was able to put down the shapes of the branches and trunk with washes from the start. It's a time-consuming process that requires patience: wetting the paper, waiting for it to have just the right amount of moisture, putting the wash down quickly, manipulating it to get the darks to fade gradually into lighter shades, and so on. Herb was very patient and kept me company reading his book; when he got tired of that, he went into the museum and visited all the other exhibits we'd missed before.

I still wasn't finished when the four o'clock closing time was announced, but I had enough down on paper to be able to finish my painting later. We decided to make our way back to Amelia Island using the route we'd taken on our way in the previous time, but got a bit disoriented on the freeways downtown. Eventually, we found our way back to the scenic route just in time for a sunset along the coast--lovely ending to a wonderful day!