Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Venus Flytrap For My Windowsill Collection

Sketchbook page: My Windowsill Collection, 10" x 8".

One of my habits (which my husband finds charmingly eccentric, so much so that he now joins me in this eccentricity) is to collect curious odds and ends on my nature walks--objects such as dried seed pods, twigs, mushrooms, a tiny bird's nest, a shed snakeskin--for future study and perhaps sketching. These objects are displayed on my studio windowsill (and his office), making for some interesting conversation pieces, and some find their way into my paintings before they disintegrate.

A few weeks ago, while it was snowing and outside temperatures were in the single digits, I sat down with my sketchbook to try out ways to render one of my favorite little treasures: a skeletonized daylily seedpod. Every year I find dozens of these from my Stella d'Oro daylilies and collect the best ones; the lacy veins are just beautiful!

My first try in watercolor didn't work quite the way I had hoped, so I switched to colored pencils to try again. That version proved more successful, so I moved onto one of the mushrooms that had dried and become mummified on the windowsill.

I have several of these dried mushrooms of various sizes, the spores under the caps of these all have settled into very unusual patterns as they dried. I'm not sure this drawing of the small mushroom quite communicates. The geometric spore patterns are seen in the larger mushroom on the right, a more satisfying rendering. The colors all reflect the neutral tones of the season.

Venus Flytrap (Dionea muscipula) colored pencil sketch, 4" x 5"

About a week ago while I was shopping at our local Lowe's I saw these tiny Venus Flytrap plants on sale, and on a whim, I bought one. My plant is very small, its rosette no larger than three and a half inches across. As a child, when I first heard about the Venus Flytrap, I had imagined--as many folks who have never seen one in real life and only know of it from horror movies--that it would be the size of a pineapple plant (growing up in the tropics I was familiar with this plant)--large enough to lure a small mammal into one of its traps. In reality, the plant is quite small, ants and spiders are its primary food source; flies or perhaps a small frog are about as large an animal as it can manage. Still, its fascinating carnivorous habit and the curious triggering mechanism of its traps has given the plant a strange mythical appeal ever since it was discovered in Colonial times. 

I saw and photographed quite a few Venus Flytrap plants on a botanical excursion to North Carolina's bogs a few years back. Those plants were lush and well-nourished, with rosettes some five to six inches across, and many were in bloom. The flowers are white with delicate green veining, and the top of the stalk is held well above the level of the leaves, so as not to trap its pollinators. 

Venus Flytrap flower

Venus Flytrap (Dionea muscipula) from North Carolina

Venus Flytraps are known to be difficult to grow, and I don't expect mine to last very long--I'm keeping in in a saucer filled with distilled water, since our water is so alkaline. But I'm hoping to get a painting of the Venus Flytrap done before my live model succumbs.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Pages from My Journal

Crocus developing buds, Feb. 3

This winter I've been forcing some crocus bulbs, and decided to record their development in my new art journal. On Feb. 3 I started sketching the elongating buds with colored pencils.

Crocus flower bud.

Two days later, I drew the same bulb (again in colored pencil) as the flower bud began to show.

Crocus flower bud opens.

A few days later, I again drew the same bulb, this time combining colored pencils with watercolor pencils, blending with water.

Crocus flower is open, new bud emerges.

A couple of days later, I again recorded the progress of the crocus bulb when the flower was open and a second bud was emerging, using the same colored pencils/watercolor pencils combination. I will continue to record the development of this crocus bulb and see where it leads...perhaps a small painting documenting the entire cycle of growth?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Portends of Spring

Forcing Crocuses Indoors.

Recently the famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil, came out of his burrow at sunrise and "didn't see his shadow" (huh? It was sunny in Virginia, one state away), portending that winter is about over. Considering the low temperatures were in the single digits all last week, I'm a bit skeptical about that, although in the afternoon temperatures rose to the upper forties and snow was melting.

But I can't deny that this morning as I was waking up, I heard a cardinal's call--it was 21 degrees outside. The cardinals are getting ready to nest--nothing unusual about that, cardinals normally nest about this time of the year and their eggs hatch some three weeks later.

Narcissus shoots emerging.

Better indicators of impending spring may be some of the plants in my yard: I noticed that the buds on my flowering quince were beginning to swell, and that the witch-hazels were in bloom.

Witch-hazel flowers (Hamamelis virginiana)