Friday, November 30, 2018

The Ginko Grove at Blandy

The Ginko Grove at Blandy Farm, watercolor, 10" x 14."

The Blandy Sketch Group had its last plein air outing on Halloween. The day turned out to be the last really warm, sunny day of the season, with temperatures in the 70's. What better way to spend a nice afternoon than painting in such a lovely setting?

The ginko grove lies at the very back of the Blandy Farm Virginia State Arboretum property, and was planted as an experiment to determine the germination ratio of male to female trees from seed (which turned out to be about 50-50).  Because the female ginko fruit is foul-smelling, planting female trees on city streets was banned during the early years of the 20th Century. Since tree nurseries seldom, if ever, sell female trees, this was the first time I'd ever encountered the offensive fruit, which was thick under the female trees. I'm glad we were warned to bring old shoes--it took almost a week of airing on the porch for the smell to wear off my gardening shoes after our excursion.

The leaves were just starting to turn yellow, so the grove was not as spectacular as I'd hoped, but the hollow with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop was still quite a sight. I hope my watercolor sketch conveys a bit of its charm. Here's a photo at the actual location.

Ginko grove at Blandy Farm

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Late Fall Color

Back yard in early morning light.

This fall had been so warm the leaves didn't start turning until late October, and didn't reach their peak until the first week in November. The leaves were not as colorful as in other years, perhaps because we had such a rainy September... Then as they were showing their best, a gale stripped most of them in one afternoon.

Back yard mid-morning
Front yard on Halloween

Side yard with Autumn Blaze maple.

The purple aster flowers (Symphiotrichum oblongifolium) have lasted a long time--the two small offshoots I split from the original clump and planted in the back beds also bloomed, though they probably won't reach the size of the first clump for another year or so. I divided the Thalia daffodils in the front yard and re-planted a bunch, the leftovers went in one of the back beds along with more daffodils. The other daffodils in the front beds probably could have used the same treatment, but I didn't have the energy to dig them all--they will have to wait another year.

Purple Asters (Symphiotrichum oblongifolium)

Taking advantage of the end of the season sales, I acquired a new Peony, 'Bartzella' (a lovely hybrid of a herbaceous and a tree Peony with yellow flowers), and a few more shrubs and bulbs. Most of these are already in the ground, but a few late purchases won't be shipped until next week. With the increasingly shorter and colder days, not to mention the frequent rains, it's getting harder to find decent weather for my garden chores now--the windows of opportunity present themselves less often.

West side garden

Just as I was finishing this post, our first snow arrived on Nov. 15, setting a record not seen in the past 22 years. The accumulation ended up being about 3-4", enough to lend a nice touch to our view, and as chance would have it, my plant order arrived exactly on that day! The weather has made it impossible to plant anything until the snow melts, which will take a few more days. I expect there may be at least one day next week when I can finally get those late arrivals in the ground.

Mid-November snow

Soon the ground will freeze hard and it will be time to put the garden to sleep for the winter. My gardening will then be confined to poring over colorful plant catalogs and dreaming... It's the season to spend my days in the studio working on paintings, remembering the glories of the past season, and looking forward to another spring.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Levant Cotton Painting

Levant Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum 'Nigra'), watercolor

Here is my finished painting of the Levant Cotton for the US Botanic Garden. I hope it gives a good sense of the plant's characteristics, its lovely flowers, unusual foliage and fruit (the bolls), as well as the way the bolls open when ripe, displaying their cotton-wrapped seeds.

I plan to take the painting to the USBG in the next week or so to be scanned, the image will become part of their collection. The original painting will be returned to me and will be offered for sale then. If you are interested in purchasing it, please contact me to request the price.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Artist in Residence at US Botanic Garden

Painting at the US Botanic Garden

The first week in October was my week as Artist in Residence at the US Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. This unique opportunity came my way as a member of the Botanic Artists Society of the National Capital Region (BASNCR), a regional chapter of ASBA. In conjunction with the American Society of Botanic Artists' (ASBA) exhibition: Botanical Art Worldwide: America's Flora displayed in the West Gallery, the USBG presented the "Botanical Art in Action" program as a way of showing the public how botanic artists create their work. Artist members of the BASNCR volunteered and were assigned one week for each of us to be present and create a work from the garden's collection.

We were asked for our preferences in plants we'd like to illustrate, and I gave my first choice as the ornamental Black Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum 'Nigra') AKA Levant Cotton, a plant I'd admired a few years back when they had some lovely specimens growing outdoors. I'd collected some cotton bolls with seeds at the time, and planted them in my garden the following spring.

My plants didn't grow as well as theirs, of course (I have very poor soil), and the seeds from them turned out to not be viable, but I had a chance to see the unusual blossoms, which were beautiful! It was primarily the flowers that had beckoned me to choose this plant to illustrate, though the bolls are also lovely.

The USBG staff found me a nice specimen to work from, but as expected, it was too late in the year for flowers. No problem--the plant had many well-developed bolls, and I had brought some of my photos of the flowers to try to incorporate them into my piece.

The specimen.

The specimen was quite large, my first problem was how to approach the drawing--with just a few days to work there, doing the entire plant would be an impossible task. The only solution was to simplify: select one or two typical branches and focus on those. With that in mind, I set out to capture those branches in a line drawing and compose the arrangement.

Step 1: a line drawing.

The leaves were a challenge because they varied considerably in shape, and folded and bent in particular places, making them look very different from different angles. I traced my first drawing over a couple of times to correct the proportions, and broke up some of the stems to come up with a pleasing composition. This process took up the first day, while I answered questions about what I was doing and chatted with a number of visitors that came into the gallery.

Since I live some two hours away, I'd planned to spend two nights with my sister who lives in the northern DC suburbs, to cut down on my mileage. The rush hours traffic in the DC area being what it is, the actual travel time was only a bit shorter than from my house, but it was still a big help.

The following day I laid a piece of tracing paper over my drawing to do a shade and shadow study. While I was doing this, I shared the gallery with a class of some twenty 8-10 year old children who were learning how to re-pot an orchid.  Despite the added noise, listening to their class was a lot of fun. I was impressed by how well-behaved these children were, how engaged, and how the instructor was throwing them some pretty big words such as "epiphytes" and "terrestrial." After the class I asked what school they were from and was told they were from a charter school in DC--good for them!

Step 2: a shade and shadow study.

I added a detail of an open cotton boll in the empty corner in the afternoon. Once I had this shade and shadow study, I felt confident enough to start tracing my drawing in ink, ready to transfer it to the watercolor paper. I finished my tracing by the end of the second day there.

The following day I was ready to start painting, but since the unusual colors of the plant were so challenging, I thought it best to do some practice on a separate swatch of paper first. The artificial lighting also changed the colors somewhat, making them even harder to render.

The plan in artificial light.

Step 3: color practice strip.

My theory was that the underlying color should be green, overlaid by a reddish-purple wash. As a test, I did the leaf on the right using this approach, and the one on the left with the opposite--the red-purple wash below with green on top.  Applying the green first seemed to yield better results, so I went with that. Now I was ready to start the piece in earnest.

I started with the cotton boll on the upper left, laying in the shape of the cotton first, then the pod. while the washes dried, I began laying in the color of the flowers at the upper right. This was as far as I got by the end of the third day.

Step 4: painting the boll and flowers.

I stayed home the next two days to work on my garden and celebrate Herb's birthday, then drove back to USBG on Saturday morning. As anticipated, there were more people here today than on the previous weekdays, and I talked to a wide spectrum of visitors from many different states and abroad. It's a wonder I managed to get anything done, as I continued to add detail to the boll and flowers, while working in the greens of the leaves.

Step 5: underpainting the leaves.

At the end of the day, I had the underlying green for a few more leaves. The next day was our BASNCR quarterly meeting, and I would have no time for more painting. I'd have to finish the rest of the painting at home, relying only on my reference photos and sketches. During the first week after my on-site work, I put in the colors on the leaves and the first unopened boll on the left.

Step 6: more leaves and stems.

Step 7: the first boll and more leaves.

Step 8: two more bolls, leaves and stem

After letting the green wash settle for some days, I started putting the second, purplish-red wash over the leaves. Painting the larger leaves was particularly daunting--I was afraid that the green wash would run if the second wash was too watery.

Step 8: finishing color of the leaves

I was one leaf away from finishing the second wash on the leaves when I took a break to attend John Pastoriza Pinol's wonderful botanical art workshop at Brookside gardens. I wish I'd known about John's theories on color and transparency before I'd started on my piece, I would have taken a very different approach to my palette selection. But, even in these last stages, I learned enough to want to modify this piece to some extent. I've been working on the leaf surfaces and veins, trying to bring in more detail: the veining and reflected light, as well as the light on the bolls, and more color overall into the piece.

This story has taken so long to develop and write, I'm going to close this post now, without the finished piece, and show the modifications on the finished work in the next post.