"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Leaf of the Day: Resolve, Review and Desert Rose Seedlings.

It's the end of September, a grey, dull and drizzling day, the world economy is collapsing and its autumn. Autumn is not my favourite season. At least here, the dreary UK signs of autumn, fleeing swallows, dying plants and darkening evenings are not so obvious and, as it cools, we are opening up the blinds and windows and doors. I have cleaned the apartment from top to toe today and I am making a couple of new resolutions.

Today also marks 9 months of drawing and writing about plants and life here in Florida.
My back-to-basics art plan for this year was always to just draw and observe, and not worry too much about a finished piece of work and this will continue, but I have to plan for an possible exhibition next year so I need to push things on a bit.
So I am resolving to work outside at least one day a week...and spend less time on the computer!!.. I have been planning to get back outside and that chance encounter with the two artists last week at Leu was the deciding factor. That and the experiences of the beautiful landscape of the West still vivid in my mind, and some very interesting reading I have been doing since I returned.
One is a large glossy book called " The Painted Sketch", American Impressions from Nature 1830 - 1880" by Eleanor Jones Harvey. It only covers a very narrow time span and deals solely with American painters but charts the rise of the acceptance of the artist's sketches as "desirable and marketable works of art in their own right" and explains the role of the sketch for these artists and their public. They were an intrepid bunch going into unknown territories complete with oils paints, boundless enthusiam and a huge air of adventure.
"Armed with their sketch boxes, leading artists traveled to remote locations in North and South America and Europe to search out exotic landscape subjects. The public came to equate their adventurous spirits and fortitude with the American character, which gave added popularity to their small field sketches of natural wonders.
Fredrick Church's small works, in particular, are wonderful. Here are three of them.


Clouds over Olana... 8"x12"..


Study for under Niagra...11"x 17"


Off Iceberg, Newfoundland... 4" x 11"


Thomas Cole's sketching box... 17" x 13" x 2.5 "

I love these sketches. I love to see the brushstrokes, the handwriting if you like of the individual artist and the confidence of the work. It's often difficult for non painters to really appreciate the mastery and virtuosity of these works. So many people still equate "a good painting" with
photorealism. The value of these works and the works of plein air painters today is that they record things in situ and for me, there is an honesty about a painting made in this way. It's not too hard, if you learn a few skills, to copy a photo at home ...working outside is a different matter. Talking about one of Church's sketches from an Ecuador trip in 1857 the writer notes that it,
"bears all of the hallmarks of plein air execution, notably bugs and dirt trapped in the paint, fingerprints from handling the wet sketch in the field and distressed edges from rough treatment in transit" ... Fantastic.. a few bugs can often improve a sketch.

Deciding what to paint or draw is the first problem? What will I do? There are not really many remote and uncharted areas of Orlando to explore. Well something small and simple to start with, maybe just a charcoal. It doesn't really matter what the medium is ... it's just getting out there to do it, that matters.

Desert Rose Seedlings and Pod
Following on from yesterday I thought I should perhaps record the (hopeful) progress of my Desert Rose seedlings.
I had written about Desert Rose and drawn a small branch here
The big pod I had first collected had split and opened before I could draw it, but I did take this photo.



Each side of the 2 arms of the pod split and opened up and the fluffy seeds flew off round the room. I had rounded them up and then had rather abandoned them to an inelegant old tinfoil pastry tin lined with damp kitchen roll. That was the day before we went away, two and a half weeks ago now. They grew, are still growing and I hope I can keep them growing, green fingers firmly crossed..
Here are the seedlings and the empty pod plus a seed. ...

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Desert Rose Seedlings, Seed and Pod




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