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

Friday, 29 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Crown of Thorns

This is a very strange little plant. I saw it growing close by, in the border under the bauhini tree. Initially I had no idea what it was and kept this small piece here in the studio for about a week in water. It is so pretty and I am hoping to propagate it despite the thorns.
The drawing is in pen and ink and comes with a few sketches I had made on the side of the page. (..a bit like showing your workings in the old maths exams). The main drawing is done with a fine felt tip pen, the sketches on the side with dip pen and brown ink which I still prefer for its more expressive line.
Crown of thorns is a succulent, belonging to the Euphorbiacea or spurge family which also includes the poincettia, casava and the hevea rubber plant. (there is the most fascinating short article here about rubber.) Its Latin name is euphorbia milii.
Euphorbias appear to be named after Euphorbus a Greek physician to the interesting King Juba II (approx 50 BC to 19 AD) of Numidia a region of north Africa now Algeria. The "milli" after Baron Milius, who introduced the species to France in 1821.
As you can imagine it was thought to have been the plant used for the "crown of thorns" worn by Christ which may be, in part, because of its pliable stems but there are other contenders for that role.
The latex from the spurge family is toxic and can cause dermatitis, have stupifying effects if ingested, and as the name spurge implies, has been used as a purgative in medicine. It is just another delightfully dangerous addition to my growing list of poisonous plants .. the garden is a hazardous place and my enemies had best beware my newly acquired knowledge!
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Crown of Thorns


Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Leaf of the Day:Trees and Rooks

I have three small sketches today. One is a drawing of the rooks in the village which I did quickly from the car when coming back from Lincoln 4th Feb. Its just felt tip pen in my sketch book with a bit of smudgy wash. The second one is the rook from the top of the Weeping Ash(See previous drawing) which I drew from the dining room window. This one is with a dip pen and ink on a piece of paper from a watercolour "experiment" that I had chopped up. It's brown ink ..I think French Sepia. ( I always try to rescue something from failures.. I have lots of bits of failures! ) The bird was somewhat wind ruffled, but I think it looks a bit more like a blackbird in my drawing.
The last one is a tree experiment done mostly with a razor blade.. a neat trick I learnt on Nicholas' course. Its interesting to see how the three different techniques work.
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Trees and Rooks






Monday, 25 February 2008

Back to Posting and New Projects

I am now back from two weeks in UK, an week´s excellent art course in Sarasota, a weekend in Fort Myers and have just finished and posted my first submission for the course I am working towards. I am getting back to the blog and I have quite a few drawings to post from the last 3 weeks and will be posting them retrospectively. Some are already there but I still have some catching up to do.

I have two new projects on the go as well!.... one I have already spoken about here in the post for Feb 7th which is to get the Lincolnshire Country Food book republished and the next is to develop a website/blog which will be all about my grandparents during the few years they spent in India and Kenya in the 1920's. I never knew my grandfather but he and my grandmother wrote wonderful letters back to Mum when she was a little girl staying with relatives in Montrose in Scotland. I am sure the web is awash with letters and photographs from India and Kenya in the 1920´s but these are a bit different because my grandfather was an engineer working for John Fowler of Leeds and took steam ploughs out to help develop the local agriculture. I have many old and faded negatives to print up and sort out, as well as the letters to transcribe, so I will be busy. I am hoping that someone will find them on the web and either fill in some missing gaps of the family history … or decide that they are a wonderful subject for a film and buy the film rights… hmmm.. I see flying pigs ..but you never know.

Just a note for my faithful readers. If you are a subscriber you will sometimes get the uncorrected, unedited version as I have to publish before I can really see how the layout has worked... (and my spelling is very bad anyway).. I do normally get things fixed in time ..but let me know if I have anything completely wrong.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: West Indian Mahogany

I found this pod in Sarasota's harbour-front car park while attending the course there. We had had some heavy rain and strong winds the previous day and a few of these strange pods were scattered around under the trees. I had never seen these before and was completely fascinated by their structure. Most were split open with their winged seeds spilling out onto the ground but I located a couple which were fairly intact and took them back to the hotel.
Overnight they began to dry out and open up so I dampened them down a bit, wrapped them up tightly and hoped they would survive until I got back to Orlando the following week. One of the hazards of picking things up from the ground is that they may have the odd unwanted passenger and sure enough a little earwig shot out and disappeared under the couch in the room. I really didn't fancy spending the night with a earwig so found it fairly quickly, thankfully without having to dismantle the whole room, and popped it out of the window. I will have to remember to shake things in future!

The pods did survive but as I was making this quite detailed drawing, a week later, this particular pod began to open up alarmingly quickly and by the end of the day, was quite different, one section having fallen away completely and the seeds beginning to come away.
The mechanism of the pod is amazing. It opens up from the stem end and splits into three, then a sort of inner lining begins to buckle and pushes the outer casings farther and farther out. As this happens the winged papery seeds, which have been beautifully and compactly arranged around a central core (itself attached to the stem), begin to open out too and fall away. Quite beautiful.
The leaves are pretty too..pinnate with pairs of delicate sickle shaped leaflets. At the end of the leaf there seems to be no terminal leaflet which must be quite unusual, unless I have an odd sample. The correct term is "paripinnately compound"
I include today some sketches of the pod in its closed and open stages which I made as it opened up.














This is the mahogany tree, swietenia mahogani which was used by Chippendale and Hepplewhite in the mid-1700's and was the original mahogany shipped back to Europe at the beginning of the 16th century. Today mahogany used for furniture is from a bigger tree, the Honduras mahogany swietenia macrophylla.

This drawing is the last for stage one of the course. From March
there will be more colour !
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West Indian Mahogany


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Azalea

What would I do without the Mall borders? This is from the other nearby Mall. I like to vary my leaf and flower forays. It would be deemed somewhat dubious to be seen too often hanging around the Mall not only with a pair scissors.. but, worse and more suspect, without any shopping. They love to shop here.!
This little azalea is the second piece for part one of the course. It's pencil, but shaded with hatching rather than continuous tone.
The azaleas are in full bloom everywhere now. I should get back to Leu Gardens and Kraft Gardens very soon, both were promising beautiful spring shows.
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Azalea.


Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Tradescantia and Creeper.

The first piece for the course is a very pale outline drawing, deliberately so I hasten to add, as a precursor for watercolour painting. It was almost impossible to scan and avoid some dark shading from the paper and it does look a bit insipid here. It is from the Mall borders near Albertsons. The gardeners were weeding and thinning so this was resued from the heap of cuttings. I shudder to think what they think I am doing.. It came with this little creeper affectionately clinging on so I decided to draw both. I liked the delicate creeper against the big strong shape of the tradescantia. These tradescantia are huge Florida types..and the most gorgeous purple. This is another that will appear soon in colour.
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Tradescantia, Purple Heart


Leaf of the Day: The Banyan and Goldenrod in Fort Myers

I have recently encountered 2 amazing banyan trees. One at The Landings in Sarasota and the next one farther south at Fort Myers where Chris and I were having a weekend break. The majestic and stately banyan in Fort Myers is part of the Ford Edison estate which we visited yesterday.

This particular tree was given to Edison by Henry Firestone in 1925 as a 4 foot sapling when he, Edison and Henry Ford were pursuing the possibilities of a domestic source of rubber at the laboratory in Fort Myers. It was said to have been taken from the Great Banyan in the Shibpur Botanical garden near Calcutta the largest Banyan in the world.
The history and growing habits of the banyan (Ficus bengalensis) are completely fascinating and it is a botanical wonder. The tree starts life as an epiphyte, settling on the branch or bark crevice of another tree. It gradually takes over from its host by producing aerial roots and, once established, auxiliary roots sprout from the branches like long strands of spaghetti. The tree must somehow sense the need for more support and these become supportive trunks necessary to prop up its massive spreading horizontal limbs and so it spreads, on and on .. "walking" its way across huge areas of ground.

In an HGTV article on the Banyan, Bob McGuire explains the effects of the tree!!!
"Bob McGuire, chief arborist at the Thomas Edison Estate, counts the prop roots of the Edison banyan and finds there are 323.
"Visitors touch the roots and they talk to them," McGuire says. "People are awestruck by the tree. You can tell by their faces. And you know, we still are too. I'm still in awe of it every day."

There are many other interesting plants and trees to see at the estate set on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.







W. Stoker, D. Redman after James Forbes., 1811





A few words from Milton:
"The fig-tree at this day to Indians known
In Malabar or Deccan, spreads her arms,
Branching so broad and long, that on the ground
The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
About the mother tree, a pillar’d shade,
High over-arched and echoing walks between."
Milton "Paradise Lost"


The tree was found not to be able to produce rubber in Florida however and Edison then turned his incredible mind and boundless energy to finding another source. He discovered the lovely autumn flowering Goldenrod was capable of producing rubber and there is a huge dried specimen in the laboratory at the museum which Edison had bred for commercial rubber production.
There is a short informative article about him here. and the link to the Museum site in Fort Myers is here
The lab visit alone is worth the price of entry.
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The Banyan








Saturday, 16 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Experimental Grasses

Some very nonspecific grass this time just to try out a couple of techniques from the course. This is done in liquid acrylics but using a wet in wet technique. Much of it, good and bad, is accidental. The scan has picked up the texture of the watercolour paper too much and has made it more grainy than it is in real life. Even with the amount of freedom these techniques give you, you need quite a bit of pre-planning.I am looking forward to more experiments on a larger scale.
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Experimental Grass


Thursday, 14 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Sea Grape 2

Sea Grape 2 is an experimental image from the course I am attending here in lovely Sarasota. On Nicholas Simmons excellent course "Watercolour on the Edge" we are experimenting with techniques that explore the waterproof qualities of liquid acrylics, allowing layering and washing out. The possibilities are fabulous, but as with many painting techniques, you need to understand how paint, paper and drying times work together. Happy or unhappy accidents have to be taken on the chin as there is definitely no softening of these edges when the paint is dry. It is not for the faint hearted and needs a big stack of good quality paper to really experiment.

Nicholas has an enormous amount of information to share and the course is really enjoyable.. It could not be much farther away from the discipline of botanical painting but that was its attraction for me.
Visit his site at Nicholas Simmons.com and see the lovley Fresh Sushi which won the top prize in the 2007 National Watercolor Society Exhibition.
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Sea Grape 2


Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Sea Grape

A big round leaf from the sea grape 'coccoloba uvifera' growing on the shore line at Sarasota. I am attending an art course here and will post more about it soon. I walk by the sea every morning and watch the wonderful pelicans.

The red veins of this leaf are beautiful and the young leaves are a bright reddy orange. The plant is used in the West Indies to produce a red dye. The fruits although not grapes as such, are edible but have a large central stone more like an olive. They are used to make jellies, jams and wine.
On the little British Virgin Island Anagada they make brandy and wine. There is an interesting short piece about Anagada here. Patience must be a key virtue of the Anagadians as they have to let the brandy infuse for two or three years!
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Sea Grape




Still leafless in Linconshire: Weeping Ash & Two Rooks

Sitting sketching in the dining room, I had a good view of the other magnificent weeping tree in our Lincolnshire garden. This weeping ash has been the same as long as I can remember and we moved to this garden thirty two years ago. In the summer this beautiful old tree makes an almost perfect enclosed circle with its leafy branches, a secret den of shade, dark and cool inside. In the spring when the light can get to the ground under the bare branches, aconites and snowdrops push up between the ivy and fallen twigs. We always watch the tree for its first leaves.
" Ash before oak, we shall have a soak.
Oak before ash we shall have a splash"..
Thankfully the black buds of the ash are normally the last to appear. When I went home last year in May it was just getting its first leaves. Weather lore is another fascinating subject which I will no doubt return to and the superstitions about trees are legion. A couple of rooks kept returning to caw in the branches. I am very fond of rooks.

Again with this drawing I misjudged the size of the tree and it is spilling off the edges of page. I have taken some photos of the twisted stems of the trunk which I hope to use for a large painting in due time.
I am still regarding these sketches as warm ups. Its just a good discipline to try to do something every day..this one is with a felt tip pen. It was a difficult job scanning it, as the paper is just slightly bigger than A4. I had to do it in 2 halves and deal with shadows on the paper, but I think it's OK for a sketch.
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Weeping Ash..with rooks!


Saturday, 9 February 2008

Leafless of the day: Weeping Beech

I am now back in Orlando very briefly before going to Sarasota tomorrow for a course, but have a few posts still to make of the winter Lincolnshire landscape where the deciduous trees show off their beautiful tracery of branches. This sketch is of the magnificent weeping beech in our old garden. The spread of this tree is immense..much more than the drawing suggests.. as you can see I ran out of room on the paper.
Its twisting branches rear up and fall again in long searching fingers with a million fine stems falling to the ground. In the summer the tumbling leaves obscure the main trunk and clothe most of the lower branches, but the tops of the branches are always visible, I used to think they were like huge bony hands holding up skirts of wind blown swaying leaves. It is very beautiful.

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Weeping Beech


Thursday, 7 February 2008

Leaves of the Day: Sloe, Elder & Watercress

Yesterday I went to see an old friend, Eileen Elder. She has researched and written articles and books about Lincolnshire customs, language and food, two of which I illustrated many years ago. "Lincolnshire Country Food" was a delightful little book packed with information about the history of Lincolnshire country people and their food and recipes.

It has long been a real favourite of mine, but sold out and has been out of print for many years. I had decided it was long overdue for a reprint and Eileen has agreed, so this is now one of my new projects. It was so good to catch up on what must be 20 years ..we could have talked for days. It reminded me yet again how much I love Lincolnshire its history and its landscape.
So "Leaves of the Day" today is just this little margin drawing from the book from 1984.. soon to be back in print one way or another!

Talking to Eileen about my illustration course she reminded me of the connection between Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire and Sir Joseph Banks the great naturalist who accompanied Cook on his Australian expedition.
With them went two artists, Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan, who both sadly died before seeing England again, but Parkinson made at least 1300 drawings on the voyage before contracting dysentery and dying at sea in 1771. What incredible lives these people had. My next trip to London will include a visit to the British museum to see his drawings.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Snowdrop

No spring garden is complete without snowdrops. Here is a sketch of three from under one of the apple trees. As I am in Tennyson country I feel I should favour his snowdrop poem.. simple and optimistic. It was written late in his life in 1889.
The Snowdrop

Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid,
Ever as of old time,
Solitary firstling,
Coming in the cold time,
Prophet of the gay time,
Prophet of the May time,
Prophet of the roses,
Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!

Alfred Lord Tenyson
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Snowdrop


Monday, 4 February 2008

Leaf of the Day: Aconite

An aconite from under the weeping ash tree. They are so pretty and dainty with their green fringe and glossy yellow petals. Locally they are known as "choirboys ", an innocent and charming image, but like the hellebore from yesterday they are poisonous. Their root is similar to Horseradish and that confusion had added a deadly zest to some roast beef in the past.
The Latin name is "Eranthis hyemalis" and together with the hellebore they are part of the ranunculus genus..buttercups.
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Winter Aconite.


Leaf of the Day: Lenten Rose

Here I am at home in Lincolnshire. Spring is just getting underway and the low sun is slanting across the garden through the bare trees. Delightful little snowdrops and aconites carpet the grass under the branches of the weeping ash and this beautiful purple Lenten Rose (helleboris orientalis) is in bloom under the old apple tree. I only had time for a quick sketch today which does not do it justice at all.

These are mysterious plants with dark purple flowers, called the Lenten Rose as they often bloom during the 40 days before Easter, later than their showier relative the Christmas Rose. The plant is extremely toxic, the word 'hellebore' derived from the Greek "elein” meaning to injure and “bora” meaning food. It has a deliciously bad history in medicine and since Greek times it has been employed as a poison, purgative and magic potion... even as a spell for becoming invisible. Hellebore is one of the classic poisons along with aconite, hemlock and nightshade. John Calvin, regarded it as "a good purgation for phrenticke heads."

Mysterious, deadly and beautiful... to be handled with some caution I think.

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Lenten Rose


Saturday, 2 February 2008

London Break

I arrived back home in Linconshire today after 3 days in icy but wonderful London, staying with my very good friends Dorothy and Jill. No leaves to show but I have to mention 3 excellent exhibitions.

The first one was the British Library's "Breaking the Rules - The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937" which continues until March. It is a trip into the early part of last century where Europe was in creative ferment..well some of it anyway! Read a very good review here from Time Out. What a wonderful resource the British Library is. I wish I could go and spend a week there.

The second exhibition we saw was the controversial show "From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings" at the Royal Academy . There must have been much nail biting by the organisers as, at the last minute Russia threatened to stop the exhibition "after British media reported that a number of paintings could fail to return to Russia over fears their pre-Revolution owners would make legal claims for their return."
This painting "the Bath of the Horse" by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin 1912 was particularly striking. It's well worth battling the crowds to see, and understand, the vision of some of the great Russian art collectors.

Finally on a bitter day that forecast snow we returned to St Pancras but this time just along the road to the Wellcome Foundation. We were lucky enough to arrive at the time of the guided tour of the building. It's fascinating. There are art exhibits and medical exhibits and a hypochondriac's dream library of medicine.
One interesting little fact is that Wellcome was the first to develop the tablet as a reliable measured dose of medicine. Originally called a tabloid, its name was to be taken up by the "tabloid" (compressed) press.

Currently they have an exhibition on "Sleep and Dreaming". One of the many things that I am unable to do well. Still suffering from jet lag I hoped to get some advice. I loved these sculptures by Laura Ford.
There is a good review of the exhibition appropriately from the Fortean Times (the World of Strange Phenomena!) here

The new St Pancras seems overly cluttered with shops spoiling the view of the spectacular roof. It does have a charming statue of John Betjeman and a really hideous statue of an embracing couple. I can't bring myself to put such an awful thing on the blog.
However the beautiful facade will soon be back to its original glory with its Nottingham red brick and Ancaster stone dressings. It makes me feel happy to know that Ancaster, just 5 miles from my home in Linconshire, has a part in this stunning building.
The Guardian has a funny article about its opening here

Friday, 1 February 2008

Leaf of the Day:The Maple

This is my last post of January and I am glad I managed to keep up one drawing every day. I am now in England away from the internet so unable to post with an image for about 10 days but hopefully will be doing some drawing every day... English leaves this time. I will post the results when I return.

While doing my daily drawings I have been working, bit by bit, on a more detailed study. Like many other artists I chose a maple leaf to draw. My main reason was to have something that would not wilt immediately and which I could leave and come back to over a space of about a week.
This dried leaf is one of many that have been blowing around the apartment, they are not there for long as 3 men clad in combat gear with ferocious blowers come often to round up these offending untidy leaves. They are then put in the dumpster.. dustbin to us Brits. Just one of the many words which sometimes make my conversations here completely incomprehensible to both parties. Use of the 'wrong' words in America can land you in deep and embarrassing trouble... but then you know that!
It seems a shame in some ways to reduce the yellows and oranges of this pretty leaf to greys but it was interesting to try to work out the tonal values.
I had to photograph it this time and I find that many of the subtle tones are lost, but it's not too bad.

I now have to move onto more complicated studies so posting a drawing every day will perhaps prove impossible but I am aiming for 5 a week in February... we will see !
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Maple Leaf