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