Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring Arrives

A rainbow after the rain.

I've been neglecting my blogging for the past few weeks in favor of working on my garden. Spring has finally arrived in Front Royal, bringing its usual cycle of beauty. The cherry tree in front is blooming and last fall's back-breaking labor is showing nice results with white narcissus and pansies among the sedum ground cover. The three small Korean boxwoods by the porch are putting our new growth after a dose of good garden soil worked in last fall.

The improvements on the evergreens by the porch encouraged me to try a similar treatment on the stunted barberry bushes along the west side of the house and the puny row of arbor vitae in back. I spent a couple of weekend afternoons digging two holes at the base of each plant, removing many large rocks and filling the holes with good potting soil, then mulching the beds. My back gave out before getting to the last three arborvitae--they'll have to wait a bit longer for their treatment.

In the meantime, the Japanese Full Moon maple, the climbing rose and the clematis I had ordered on-line arrived and needed to be planted. I started to strip the skimpy turf at the side of the porch for the rose and clematis, and soon realized the soil there was much too rocky for these plants--I'll have to re-think the location, or create a raised bed there. I have my heart set on training an old fashioned ever-blooming rose, 'New Dawn,' to twine around the posts on the porch so the wonderful scent can greet visitors.

Full Moon Japanese maple unfurls its leaves.

Herb helped me dig the proverbial $20 hole (more like $100 in today's inflated currency) for the full moon maple and we got it into the ground just before the spring rain. As the rain retreated a lovely rainbow appeared.

On another beautiful evening I began to tackle the brambles and weeds invading the strip of back yard that starts to slope down to the ravine. I want to eventually plant some small redbud trees and other flowering bushes there as a transition to the backdrop of tall trees growing in the ravine. Imagine my surprise and delight to find some tiny violets blooming in this inhospitable rocky soil! They appear to be a native variety, not the common European weed-type, so I'll leave them there in hopes they spread over this shady corner.

Wild violets

Monday, April 1, 2013

Drawing with Color Pencils

Pear and Orange, Prismacolor pencils on mat board, 10" x 9."

I really enjoyed the recent Colored Pencil class at Brookside Gardens. Colored pencils were my favorite medium for drawing as a child. My sisters and I had amassed a huge collection of Prismacolor pencils which we would expand during our shopping expeditions to downtown Havana with my mother and aunts. Each of us was allowed to select one pencil for purchase as a reward for good behavior. At the rate of four pencils every other week or so, our collection grew over the years until we had the equivalent of an expensive 120 or 150-color set (of course, favorite colors also had to be replaced often).

I've tried many other mediums since then: watercolor, acrylics, oils, pastels, you name it. To me, colored pencils are still the most portable, easy to use, and versatile. No mess either--nothing to clean up other than pencil shavings and keeping your paper smudge-free. My love affair with them has been re-kindled by this class.

Artichoke with asparagus spear, Prismacolor pencil study, 17" x 11."

There is such an amazing variety of effects you can get with colored pencils, blending and overlaying of colors, along with varying pressure and linework. Prismacolor pencils have a wax base, and the one thing to watch for is that excessive application can cause the wax to rise to the surface over time creating a "wax bloom" that obscures the artwork.

In these botanical illustration classes I have been exposed to another type of colored pencils: Faber Castell's Polychromos pencils, which are oil-based. These are well-suited for shading and adding detail such as veins under watercolor washes. The range of colors is lovely too--I just invested in a 60-color set so I can experiment more with them. I wonder what else can be done with these as a stand-alone medium? Stay tuned.