Saturday, January 26, 2019

Pink Lady Slippers

Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), watercolor, 16"h x 13"w.

I'd been wanting to paint a grouping of Pink Lady Slipper orchids ever since I came across that amazing patch in the forests of Fort Valley a few years ago. I finally started on my painting just before Christmas. I used the same process as usual: start with a pencil drawing, refine it, do some shade and shadow studies, and ink the line drawing to transfer onto the watercolor paper. This time I skipped the light and shadow study, since the photo I'm working from seemed fairly straightfoward. The flowers in my photo already composed nicely into an arc, and the leaves surrounding them set off the flowers well.

The challenge here was to select a palette that uses the transparent watercolor pigments I've been transitioning toward. With the old palette from Brookside Gardens, I would have used Permanent Rose for my red; the closest equivalent to this pigment is Quinacridone Coral. Other primary equivalents were Indrathrene Blue and Vanadium Yellow, and I added Quinacridone Gold for the brownish tones of the sepals and petals and Bright Blue Violet for the magenta veins.

Step 1: washes on the flowers and leaves

The flowers were so tempting that I painted the two on the left in just a few passes, before even getting some washes on the leaves.

Step 2: building up the color

As I began to refine the leaves, I used a new brush, a Neef comb, which has these great "teeth" to make thin parallel lines, very useful for painting vein patterns. I'm almost finished, but I'm going to let this painting sit around in my studio for a while, to see if I need to add anything. Maybe a hint of  some of the missing petals on some of the flowers, darkening a few parts of the shadows?

I intend to enter this painting in the BASNCR group show organized by the Richmond area artists, "Ancarrow's List: Native Plants By the River's Edge" which will be exhibited at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, VA.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Winter Postcard Snow

Back yard in the snow.

It started to snow on Saturday evening, and continued all through the night. It was the first snow of the year, and by mid-morning there were about five inches on the ground. Several days before, I had arranged to deliver my artwork for a show at the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore that Sunday, and since our street was plowed before noon, I figured the main roads would be fine. Herb agreed to come along for the ride, just so I could feel a bit safer in case the roads were worse than expected.

We took the northern route through Harper's Ferry and onto I-70 east toward Baltimore--with very little traffic to compete with, it was a winter wonderland! The wet snow clung to every branch, transforming ordinary weeds and brush into lovely visions of snowy blossoms. I wanted to stop at every turn to take photos, thinking this view, or maybe that one, would make a lovely silverpoint, but first we had to deliver the paintings.

It took about two and a half hours to get there. After delivering the paintings I would have enjoyed  walking around the snowy Arboretum for a while, but Herb dissuaded me--his old Frye boots were in no condition to make the trek. And, we only had another two and a half hours of daylight left, so we started back.

I-70 was deserted--we saw a few vehicles heading the opposite way here and there, but we traversed long stretches where we were the only car on the road, on an interstate highway where traffic is heavy every hour of the day, every day. Unusual, to say the least!

It started snowing again as we approached Frederick, and the snow became heavier as we reached Harper's Ferry. I pulled over to the side of the road to get these shots.

The rocks by Harper's Ferry

Icicles on the rocks.

The Shenandoah River at Harper's Ferry.

After a brief stop here, we continued; the wet snow was building up on the road and making the hills  somewhat slippery, but not too dangerous. The snow slackened a bit as we got closer to home, but it continued well into the night, building up to nearly eight inches.

Our neighborhood.

Front yard evergreens.

The next morning as I was getting up, I noticed the sun was breaking through the clouds...lit in the brief flash of the rising sun, the wintry landscape from my studio window was a sight to behold!

The back yard at sunrise.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Indian Pipe Painting

Indian Pipe (Monotropa Uniflora) watercolor, 13"h x 10"w.

This painting is a new version of one of my favorite plants. Herb and I first came across this member of the Monotropaceae family years ago during a Fourth of July hike we took at Rachel Carson Conservation Park in Maryland when we lived in near-by Sandy Spring. It had been a very wet summer and the tiny flowering stalks of this ghostly apparition were all over the forest floor. I was charmed by their delicate beauty and decided to pick one to take home so that I could draw it.

When we got back to our house a few hours later, I unpocketed my prize only to find that it had turned completely black! In my disappointment I began an internet search, trying to find out what kind of plant it was, and why it was so perishable. I've been captivated by this family of myco-heterotrophic plants ever since, and painted a number of portraits of other family members such as the Yellow and Red Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys), and the elusive Fragrant Pinesap (Monotropsis odorata) which I've documented in this blog. These members of the Ericacea family (they are relatives of heaths and rhododendrons) live in deep shade, have no chlorophyll to produce their own food, and must draw their sustenance from mycorrhyzal fungi that colonize other trees' roots. 

A few years later, after another very wet spring, we returned to the Rachel Carson tract and found another extraordinary flush of blooms, even lusher than the first one.  By this time I had acquired my first digital camera, and was able to take lots of photos of these flowers. In addition to newer photos, I still use that first set in my artwork, and this painting was done from those.

Wanting to incorporate some of the new techniques I learned at John Pastoriza Pinol's Brookside Gardens workshop, I put masking fluid over the lines after transferring the drawing to the watercolor paper, and laid down very pale washes of the three primary colors.

Step 1: color washes over masked line work

When that was thoroughly dry, it was time to remove the mask, soften the edges of the lines and then gradually build up color. At first glance Indian Pipe appears to be ghostly white, but the color is actually more subtle: the stems have hints of flesh coloring, particularly at the curved neck, and as the stalks age, dark spots emerge here and there where drying or insects have nicked the edges of the filmy scales.

Step 2: building up the color

As with my previous Monotropa paintings, I decided to include some of the dried leaves and debris on the forest floor to give the plants a base, and to allow the pale stems to stand out better.

Step 3: defining the shapes with deeper color

It was hard to decide how much of the forest floor to include, and how far up to extend the background, whether to include some of the green leaves behind. I hope the final painting strikes the right balance.

Step 4: adding a suggestion of green leaves

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Carolina Silverbell Tree

Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina), watercolor, 18" x 14."

The first post of 2019 is my finished painting of the Carolina Silverbell Tree (Halesia carolina). The painting was actually finished in early fall of last year, when the seed pods began to ripen. It was then that I was able to finally finish painting the last pod on the lower left, but I was busy with so many other things that I had forgotten to post it. The painting now shows the complete sequence from the flowers and emerging leaves of early spring, through the development and final ripening of the seed pods in the fall.

I'm hoping that a few of the seeds will turn out to be viable and germinate this coming spring. It would be wonderful to have a few seedlings of this lovely and unusual native tree to share with family and friends. Happy New Year!