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

Monday, 31 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Three Colour Seeds

I have spent all day sorting out colours and laboriously painting samples of my watercolour paints which are a motley bunch in every way. It takes hours. Having done that I consulted the afore mentioned excellent site for all things watercolour http://www.handprint.com/ to check on the names of the colours and the pigments in order to eliminate once and for all some very bad and fugitive pigments.. so its goodbye alizarin crimson, and aureolin, and a few that are so old they don't list any pigments on the labels at all. Does in matter? Well yes, if you are selling originals it is important that the colours don't fade, it doesn't really add to your artistic mystery to have your works slowly disappearing from the walls. Also for really accurate colour mixing or for some experimental colour mixing, to avoid mud it is absolutely necessary to know how pigments work with each other. The Handprint site is a mine of information and you will find ideas for different colour palettes and all the technical information your heart could desire. Here is a photo of my progress so far.
















I was also thinking about some coloured pencil and have a couple of small seeds on my desk, however having gone to all the trouble of getting the paints out I decided to try one of the exercises for colour mixing using just 3 colours. We just get so lazy and use premixed pigments for convenience. So here are 4 different little seed painting. The first one is the (almost)natural colours and the other 3 below are playing with different colour ways.. still just with the 3 colours red blue and yellow.
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Three Colour Seeds





Sunday, 30 March 2008

Leaves and Pears

Just 4 experiments from last weeks course. They are about colour, about handling wet paint and about light. None are entirely successful but were very useful exercises. The pears were our first exercise and pears are very much Sue's fruit. She has painted them everywhich way to demonstrate many different colour combinations textures and approaches. My images are on different papers and I just wish I could have got two good pears on one piece. To the russet coloured leaves I added some pastel as I had really overworked the watercolour but I quite liked the colours working together.
This coming week I am going to devote myself to colour experiments and I guess I will have to continue a bit with the coloured pencil...







Saturday, 29 March 2008

Leaf of the day: Endive and Less Endive..eat your model.

Endive is such a pleasing smooth sleek shape. It is amazingly from the daisy family. However, this Belgian endive is forced in a complicated way and is a shoot from the root and a long way from its relative, the pretty wild chicory which does have a blue daisy-like flower. Excellent with soft cheese, thyme and olives and nuts.

These little paintings, I think the first watercolours on this blog, were done after a couple of days with Sue Archer. I have always found dark coloured backgrounds in watercolour very tricky and although these are small paintings, 8 x 4" and 6 x 2.5", they represents a modest breakthrough for me.

In the room at La Quinta hotel in Sarasota you have a fridge and a microwave so in the evening I would go back and assemble some food and also try to digest some of what Sue had told us. The endive, with additions was Tuesday and Wednesday's dinner.. ..eating your models is to be recommended as it avoids critical comparisons.
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Belgian Endive














Friday, 28 March 2008

Learning from the Experts:Two Watercolour Tutors

You can read all the books and spend years at college but sometimes a few days with the right person and a door will be unlocked ...hopefully. There have been just two tutors who have really helped my watercolour practice.

Sue Archer
I have nothing but good things to say about Sue Archer's course this week in Sarasota. She is such a good tutor. My head is now completely full of ideas and information. Her course is so well structured and no matter how good an artist you are, you would learn something, revise something, look at your own work in a different way and, as in my case, return to the much needed discipline of planning a piece of work.
Her large scale, deceptively simple images are full of luminous colour, elegant design and careful composition and on the course she explains every aspect of how this is achieved. ..trying to do it is another matter.
Visit her website http://www.archerville.com/ which she shares with her photographer husband and see this beautiful painting amongst many others.









Life is Just A...
29 x 41"


Sue Rubira
I had seen Sue Archer's work on the internet and so had some idea of what her work was like but my first door opener was a completely lucky chance.
Sue was the tutor on a last minute decision holiday to Portugal some years ago now. With this Sue I discovered how to work with 'wet' transparent watercolour, having been very much a controlled dry brush painter. After a day of making mud, I gradually understood how to leave white paper for whites and how, ideally, to keep colours clean!..I still have my first tentative watercolours from that holiday.
Her work is very different from Sue Archer's, her portraits are breathtaking in their handling, viewpoint and scale. She was the second prize winner in the prestigious Singer Friedlander watercolour competition in 2006 with this large 72cm wide x 91cm painting of her brother Geoff. This is from the Sunday Times September 3, 2006:
“I need to paint people who interest me in some way, otherwise it’s difficult to begin to understand them. This one’s of my brother, Geoff. I obviously know him very well and to that helps with the painting no end.” “I prefer to paint on a large scale, larger than life, and I like using very large brushes.” Find her work and step by step for some paintings here http://www.suerubira.co.uk/











Geoff 2006
21 x 30"



I continue with my leaves....

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Synchronicity in Sarasota and Fangs & Flippers

Day two in Sarasota and the course is going very well. We are learning so much about colour and the chemical constituents of paint which in the past I have never really got to grips with. Sue is an excellent teacher and sets a cracking pace. I may be able to post a couple of photographs later this week.

Back at the hotel I have my two books ( Jung and Bartram) and Internet access. I tuned into BBC Radio 4 and lo and behold Book of the Week is readings from :
"The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of Obsession" By Andrea Wulf,
Her book 'traces the history of the gardening revolution of the 18th century, led by a group of explorers, botanists, collectors, and plant dealers:
Philip Miller, head gardener of the Chelsea Physic Garden and the author of The Gardeners' Dictionary
Peter Collinson, collector and merchant, who together with American farmer John Bartram ( father of William) brought American plants to England
Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who classified the natural world and invented a standardized botanical nomenclature
Daniel Solander, who joined Joseph Banks on Captain Cook’s Endeavour.
Joseph Banks, who exchanged his life as a rich gentlemen for that of an explorer, becoming in turn one of the most influential men in Georgian England. '

All these wonderful people I have been reading about... How very nice.
Jung coined the word syncronicity to describe what he called "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events." ..well it's certainly a coincidence.

William Bartram illustrated his writings with delightful drawings ..here is one, nature red in fang and flipper. A lotus pod and unfortunate frog from "Travels and other Writings" William Bartram.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Easter Calamondin Orange

It's Easter already and I hear from my father in the UK they are expecting snow. Dan the avuncular weather man here has promised us a fair weekend.
I am going to Sarasota this week to do some watercolour painting and to visit the Marie Selby Gardens there, so may not be posting any drawing here for a few days.

I have some reading matter to take with me...one is William Bartram's "Travels and Other Writings". I quote from the fly leaf;
'Artist, writer, botanist, gardener, naturalist, intrepid wilderness explorer, and self styled philosophical pilgrim'.
Son of the renowned botanist, John Bartram, William travelled extensively in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida from 1773 to 1776 and wrote about all that he saw and heard, presenting a " moving detailed vision of man living in harmony with nature".
I shall be pondering this as we make the monotonous 2 hour drive to Sarasota tomorrow on highways lined with identical concrete malls and fast food outlets.. but I am looking forward to seeing the comical pelicans again in Sarasota Bay.

My other book is Jung's "Memories Dreams and Reflections" My interest is more to do with my research into Africa in the 1920's for my other blog My Darling Popsy than analytical psychology. He records in this book the journey to Africa during which he crystallised many of his most important ideas on psychology. My grandfather, being on the same ship to Mombassa and then, I have discovered, working in the areas that Jung travelled to, will have seen many of the same things. It will be very intereting and I may learn something about my psyche as well!
I hope to be able to add a couple of "Popsy" posts this week.

This is the tiny Calamondin orange. I added a seasonal egg and a blueberry really to show how tiny they are. They are very tart but if you eat the whole thing the sweetness of rind compensates for the bitterness of the flesh. It's almost true..but I think that Pedro's recipe to use the juice mixed with soy sauce as a marinade is probably a better idea.

This will be my last coloured pencil drawing for March...I say with some relief...
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Calamondin Orange


Saturday, 22 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Killarney Trees and a Little Blue Heron

At least once a week I try to go and sketch outside and the weather is lovely at the moment so this afternoon I went to the lake to do a larger sketch of a clump of trees by the shore. I love working in charcoal, it is responsive and messy, a real welcome change from the waxy hard coloured pencils. This is 20 x 25 inches, charcoal and white chalk on a warm grey Ingres paper. I´m not very keen on Ingres paper and started working on the textured side by mistake which I like even less because of its mechanical looking surface but it was nice to work on a larger scale today.

I had the usual accompaniment of critics, jeering from the trees around me, mostly grackles which I wrote about before, perching sometimes just a foot way, all glossy and smart. When not screeching they have a disconcerting "uh oh" noise like some insufferable know-all's " I wouldn't do that" comment, looking over your shoulder just as you are about to make a huge mistake. They sat by me, above me and below me squawking, "I wouldn't put that mark there if I were you", noises for about an hour. A pair of mallards was pottering about in the water at the foot of the trees, so happy and so sweet together.

The little ghostly blue heron was also silently patrolling up and down, quietly stalking its prey of dragonflies and little fish. Also known as the 'levee walker' it is the Italian greyhound of the bird world, delicate and fragile with twig thin legs, looking as though it has been carefully crafted from the finest and softest dusty blue suede. When you sit for long enough the birds come very close and I was able to do some more sketches of the heron.
This little bird is not so difficult to draw from life as it moves quite slowly and hesitantly and covers the same patch of floating marsh grass, up and down, delicately picking up its huge feet and gently placing them down again, almost walking on the water.
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Trees by Lake Killarney






Friday, 21 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Sky Flower and Snakes

As if little pieces of a deep blue summer sky had fallen to earth, that is how the beautiful Sky Flower gets its name. The blues range from deep violet to the pale blue of a spring morning sky, its throat a pale creamy yellow. This lovely twining vine is also known as the 'Bengal clock flower' from its habit of twisting clockwise around any available support.

This is the thunbergia grandiflora, one of the acanthus family. It was named by the great Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carl Linneaus for Carl Peter Thunberg who was one of Linneaus' last pupils. These 18th Century scientists made extraordinary journeys, travelling round the world in search of new and exotic plant species usually connected with medical studies. Thunberg trained as a medical doctor and part of the training, naturally, was botany as plants would be the main raw materials of his medicines. In August 1775 he travelled as a ship's doctor to Japan where he lived and worked as a surgeon on at a Dutch trading post on a tiny island in the Bay of Nagasaki. He was seldom allowed to leave the island but through exchanging ideas and knowledge with Japanese doctors he eventually managed to get permission to make a trip to Edo ( Tokyo) which resulted in the first recorded survey of Japanese flora. Reading about any of the lives of these great explorers is humbling.

This is my second attempt to draw this flower. It is so delicate that it is easily crushed and dies very quickly when picked. It grows in a hedge by Leu Gardens and I had taken a little piece yesterday but, consigned to my back pack and a 40 minute bike ride in 87 degrees, the flower on the stem had completely shrivelled up by the time I arrived home. Luckily there was also a bud, which today unfolded obligingly but just a quickly withered.

It is a problem, trying to get delicate specimens back to the house in good condition. When I was young, my sister and I would go out collecting flowers to be lovingly pressed and named. I remember advice, (no doubt from "Girl" magazine or one of my favourite books "Rambles with Uncle Nat "), to paint a cocoa tin black which would provide a cool and rigid container. This we duly did, and attached string for easy transportation. I somehow think that serious botanists may have moved on.

I have tried to save one or two of the leaves I have drawn by drying them. I am not generally a fan of dried flowers ..they conjure up visions of cheap and dismal bed and breakfast establishments which always seemed to have a grey dusty dried flower arrangement in the lobby, usually artfully and visibly glued to a log or bedecked with a faded ribbon ...but I love to find a single little pressed flower in an old book, some treasured keepsake. My leaves are now tucked away in the few books I have here.

I have now seen two snakes at Leu Gardens.



A little green snake, I think the Rough Green Snake, yesterday and my first snake sighting was the beautiful big Southern Black Racer which, true to its name, zipped across the path in front of me. Neither of these snakes are venomous but they do still stop you in your tracks.
Luckily Orlando has a snake removal service should you find one cosying up in the bathroom.
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Sky Flower


Thursday, 20 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Pretty Coleus or Flame Nettle

Looking like a nettle leaf, a member of the mint family and brilliant in a thousand different colourways this is such a charming little plant. Here it grows happily in a shady garden spot. They are so forgiving to even the worst of neglectful owners and as I remember, respond willingly to even the most ham fisted attempts at propagation. Pop a piece in a glass of water and soon you will have a new little plant.

The coleus was introduced to the UK in the mid 1800s and became the must-have plant. Brought over from Indonesia they were easy to grow and the colours were fascinating as you were never quite sure what you would get from the seeds. The colour variations are many and beautiful. Here is a lovely old print from 1880 of some popular varieties, from Coleusfinder.org here.


There is a renewed interest in coleus now and somehow its perky friendly aspect has won it some very strange variety names. I imagine that enthusiasts chat to each other in a sort of lingua-coleus.
From 'Mr Wonderful' and 'Prissy Primrose' through 'Tickle Me' 'Flirtin'skirts' 'October Wedding' 'Saucy Tart' 'Heavy Breathing' 'Dead Drunk' 'Careless Love' 'Sin' to 'Dark secret' 'Stormy Weather' 'September Divorce' and 'Brighter Day' they read like the plot of a brief modern marriage.... 'Mama Mia' !

Mine, I guess, would be "Sloppy Painter", I think I am going to order one today.

If you have an interest see the amazing variety here at Glasshouse Works There are 282 colourways recorded.
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Coleus, Flame Nettle


Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Tea Leaf and Seed Pod

A small, new, tea leaf and a seed pod, just splitting open to reveal a fat round seed inside. A drawing for Pedro who took me to see the tea plants at Leu Gardens the other day. I have to admit I didn't really know what a tea plant looked like, despite years of seeing the PG tips lady picking tea on the box, and I had no idea it was one of the camellia family, camellia sinensis. Shame on me, the amount of tea I drink. This leaf is new and bright green with a reddish stem and smooth edges whereas the older leaves are slightly toothed and much darker green.
This pod has two seed chambers where others have three. I will be making a few more drawings as they are delightful shapes. The young leaves (top 2 and the bud) are harvested, rolled and fermented (oxidised) before they find their way to the teapot as black tea. Green tea is made with unfermented leaves. Amazing! The regular supermarket tea is not very good here. It's very weak and each bag is individually wrapped with an annoying tag, but at least we have not had it served to us with salt water yet.

This funny little drawing started as I was trying to balance the pod and leaf on the top of a couple of pieces of paper torn out of a sketchbook which were propped up on my drawing board. I thought they looked nice just as they were so that's how I drew them.
I have just had a memory of tea chests, weren't they wonderful?
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Tea leaf and Seed Pod


Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Florida Orange

Here I am in Florida and only today I realised that orange blossom is the State flower. I could be forgiven because it's not so easy to find an orange tree locally but there are some obvious clues.
We live in Orange County, Orange Avenue is three blocks away and the notorious OBT, Orange Blossom Trail, parts of which are synonymous with extreme low life, runs north-south through Orlando.

Oranges were brought by the Spanish to "La Florida" and became established in the wild, where the early American naturalist, John Bartram, in his journal entry in 1766, writes of them growing growing on the banks of Salt Springs, their wonderful refreshing fruit and delicate perfume.
However the citrus industry really began to take off in the 19th century and by 1880 oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes were being shipped and sent by rail to New York and Philadelphia.

However, just as earlier this year, Florida is subject to terrible frosts and in 1894 and 1899, the satsuma orange trees were virtually wiped out. The last great freeze was in 1980s when vast acres of citrus groves were destroyed, many owned by Tropicana. The unreliability of the climate has discouraged any major regeneration and who needs oranges when you have Disney?

Here is a saucy American slightly Disney version of Nell Gwynne.

poster images from art.com

Another reminder of the great old orange days is of course the famous train, (and fiddle tune)"The Orange Blossom Special" bringing city dwellers of New York down to the sun kissed shores of Florida. Inaugurated in 1925 I can only imagine how wonderful it must have been to leave the cold city streets of New York to travel in style to the sun.

Well talk about her ramblin'
She's the fastest train on the line
Well talk about her travellin'
She's the fastest train on the line
She's the Orange Blossom Special
Rollin' down the seaboard line3.

Well, I'm going down to Florida
Get some sand in my shoes
Or maybe California
Get some sand in my shoes
I'll ride the Orange Blossom Special
And lose those New York blues

I found this great image and further links to Florida history here http://www.spacecoastweb.org/blog/florida/history/



On this day of financial gloom take a second to smile as you watch these kids playing this great blue grass anthem. Check out little Katie giving it her all, "Go Katie"





or a classic bit of Johnny Cash






A footnote on American trains.. don't you just love them? We live near the railway track and hear and feel the long slow Amtrack train as rumbles and hoots its way along the Winter Park loop. We can hear the constant rise and fall of its plaintive whistle for a good half hour warning people away from the largely unprotected track. To us Brits brought up on old American movies of pioneering rail travel, the particular clanging sound of the crossing gates and the mournful whistle evoke ideas of freedom, of wide open spaces, of hobos flipping the freight cars and great railroad songs with those lonesom' harmonica solos.
We love the train. Our neighbours think we are strange.

In this drawing I have tried some burnishing where the colour is smoothed down. It's an interesting technique and blends the colours more but makes the surface very slippery and difficult to work over. The drawing could be more finished but at the moment I don't want to spend more than one day on a drawing unless its something special. I still consider all this experimental. I persevere.
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Orange Blossom


Monday, 17 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Spotty Dumb Cane

This pretty spotty leaf is a very small one from a much bigger plant, which I am sure is a diffenbachia, growing in a shady side road here.
The diffenbachia is a well known houseplant in the UK and another to be treated with some respect. It's called the "dumb cane" with good reason as the plant contains tiny, needle sharp, calcium oxalate crystals. These puncture the cells and release a protein called asparagine, which causes severe inflammation of soft tissues. Chewing on the leaves makes the tongue swell and can restrict both speech and breathing. A guide I read here advises that you should "dissuade your rabbits, canaries, dogs and cats from snacking on the leaves."

Its medical uses are, as you can imagine, interesting.
The German pharmacologist G Madeus in 1938 writing about some if its unusual applications had found that Amazon Indians used it, not only as an ingredient for poison arrows, but also to sterilize their enemies. In parts of the Caribbean it used to be thought that chewing a leaf was an effective temporary contraceptive. I can only assume that your lover would be struck dumb as well.... "whispering sweet nothings" would become more truth than romantic foreplay, some ladies possibly finding it an added attraction to be spared the verbal encouragement.

In light of this alarming information I think that, in addition to the treasured pets, you need to dissuade your man from snacking on this plant lest he be rendered both speechless and useless. (There must be a joke in there somewhere..)

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Dumb Cane


Sunday, 16 March 2008

Norman Rockwell and Winter Park Art

On Thursday I went to see the Norman Rockwell Exhibition here at the Orlando Museum.



You would have to be the worst of cynics and have a heart of stone not to be moved by some of his paintings. The beautifully observed scenes of ordinary life are both funny and tender. Rockwell has his critics but he himself was happy to be an illustrator and "a teller of stories".
This is the first time I have seen the original paintings, their size, their excellence in execution. The sheer virtuosity of some of his brushwork is breathtaking, working sometimes in thick impasto, sometimes in pale glazes where the strong underdrawing can be seen quite plainly and also forms the basic structure of the finished painting.
A large section of the exhibition is devoted to the work "Southern Justice" which depicts the deaths of 3 Civil Rights workers who were killed for their efforts to register African American voters.



We see Rockwell's methods of working from his own staged photographs but also the original inspiration for the composition, the 1962 Pulitzer-winning photograph by Hector Rondon, "Aid from the Padre" showing a priest holding a soldier during the left wing uprising in Venezuela.




The painting was done for Look magazine in 1963 but interestingly they decided to accompany the article with an earlier possibly more atmospheric rough sketch.



Working for Look gave Rockwell more chance to address the problems that were current in America, particularly civil rights, which also prompted one of his most striking pictures, that of Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by US marshalls.



Follow this link to a short interesting blog posting by DB Dowd "Welcome to the Neighbourhood, Race Rockwell and New Hampshire" which discusses Rockwell and his anti racist stand in the light of the current elections here.

Now, living here in the American South, I view these images with a sharpened perception. I watch from the sidelines what goes on, and what is said, with some deepening dismay. Divides seem as deep and prejudice now finds new fuel in anti Hispanic feeling.

In contrast I also went to the Winter Park Spring art show today. A huge outdoor show of over 200 artists. It seems unfair to have a master of painting showing just down the road and I saw very little which I felt was of any value. Some very good technicians, in both oils and watercolour but predictable traditional images, flowers, palmy swampy Florida landscapes, fruit and still life (and the odd awful nude..) I heard one very nice lady contemplating a nice painting of a nice bowl of flowers on a nice cloth saying. " ..oh I do like art I can understand". It was indeed a very nice painting with a nice $7500 price tag.
How far has Kandinsky's vision of abstraction, now almost 100 years ago, really got us I wonder?.. but if you want to make a living as an artist you have to sell what people want to buy ..it's a difficult situation. The commercial artist does what he or she is asked for but sometimes can produce exceptional work of great importance and Rockwell is a prime example. If you don't want to be a "commercial" artist you need a private income.
There was quite a lot of formula painting too, each piece nicely done with some good slick tricks of the trade. Learn a few of these and you can churn the pictures out quicker than a sweat shop in Taiwan. (Top in my pet hates are formula painting and the grotesque semi pornographic nudes masquerading as a "celebration" of the female form. They are beloved of the tacky galleries on the Costa del Sol, destined, no doubt, to adorn the walls of some sleazy expat petty criminal in Marbella.)

However there wasnt too much of that in Winter Park, follow this link to see the work for yourself, 49th Winter Park Sidewalk show. Some of the ceramics are stunning.

One lovely quote from the Rockwell exhibition is very relevant here. He once said to his son.
" Do you know why Breugel was able to paint such beautiful trees? Because he painted each one as an individual."

We artists should all take note of that.

The Harvesters

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Kmart Pansy

Today my first coloured flower. A pretty pansy from Kmart after the exotic, if a bit gruesome, carrion cactus.
How can you not be completely charmed by these delicate and exquisitely coloured flowers. Their serious little nodding faces giving them their name and meaning, from the French "pensee", thought. We take them for granted in some ways because they are common and fairly hardy. There are a few struggling for survival in a nearby apartment block garden and I really want to rush out one night with a trowel and gather them all up for some TLC.

Modern pansies are related to the little blue violas which had been cultivated in Greece since the 4th Century B.C, mainly for medicinal purposes. The pansy, as we know it, was developed by Admiral Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson on the Gambier estate at Iver, Buckinghamshire in the 1800s. They crossed various violas gradually encouraging more pleasing patterns and larger blooms. The familiar blotch that gives the pansy much of its character was chance seedling which was developed into the variety Medora in 1839.
A darling of the Victorians, the pansy was celebrated in poetry, literature and the "Language of Flowers". Giving a bunch of flowers would became a minefield of innuendo and be heavy with significance. I am sure that many a budding romance must have been stopped dead in its tracks by the inclusion of an inappropriate flower.

Of course flowers were metaphors for the human condition well before the Victorian era. The significance of Shakespeare's references to flowers would have been easily understood by his audience.
Here is the wild pansy in Ophelia's famous "garland" speech from Hamlet:

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember.
And there is pansies, that's for thoughts,
There's fennel for you, and columbines.
There's rue for you, and here's some for me;
we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays.
O, you must wear your rue with a difference.
There's a daisy.
I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died;
they say he made a good end."

In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Oberon drops a potion of wild pansy onto the eyelids of the sleeping Titania, he asks Puck to assist.

"Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees."

Everyone should have some of these sweet flowers, and love and cherish them.
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Pansy


Friday, 14 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Carrion Cactus

Never tell people that you are interested in unusual things.. you never know what they will give you!....

I had a blissful day today. Firstly I went to the Orlando Museum of Art to see the Norman Rockwell exhibition and then on to Leu Gardens. The Rockwell was a really interesting show and I am writing a separate post about it.
As I was lingering in the citrus grove at Leu getting my fix of orange blossom scent, Pedro came by on his buggy and decided I should see some of the interesting things in the gardens. He showed me the most delicate little orange tree with tiny oranges, the calamondon, which grows in his native Philippines, the exquisitely scented osmanthus known as the tea or sweet olive, leaves with bright red veins, pretty little annuals with flowers like orchids, the star anise tree with its aniseed scented leaves, the herb arugula and of course because I am British we went to see the tea plants.
I came back with tea seeds, a piece of resurrection fern, some little calamondons, a snippet of a red crown of thorns to hopefully propagate and this lumpy piece of the carrion cactus.

photo from wikipedia










This extraordinary plant the stapelia giantea also known as the starfish cactus produces a big star shaped flower that both looks and smells like rotting meat. The flower's often red, wrinkled, and hairy surface mimics a small dead animal which, together with its smell of decomposition, attracts flies, who, hoping for a nice meal of putrefying flesh, trample around this wrinkly hairy surface collecting pollen as they go. How does a plant "know " to mimic a dead animal? Triffids really don't seem so impossible do they? The one good thing is that the flower doesn't snap shut on the visiting flies. They are left to go on their way and pollinate others.
I do hope I can get my little piece to grow. Apparently the smell of the flowers is not too bad if they are kept outside!

I had such an interesting time and Pedro is a mine of information about the plants, recipes, mythology, superstitions and philosophy.. he told me that you should not say thank you for the gift of a plant, so I just had to thank him for all his help instead.

Not much time for drawing today so a quick sketch. The structure of the plant is interesting in that the stem has 4 sides which sit at right angles to each other.
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Carrion Cactus


Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Persimmon 482 and Lotus Eating

Today I walked down to our other local supermarket Publix. It is probably the Tesco of Orlando whereas Albertsons is more the equivalent of Sainsburys. They both have excellent fruit and veg counters. I am short of time today and I saw this little persimmon or sharon fruit which I thought would be both nice to draw and good practice with yellows and oranges.

The American name 'persimmon' is adapted from the native Indian word pesimin, early settlers would learn from the Indians to leave it on the tree to ripen until well into October or it is a bitter fruit. Recipes for cooking with persimmons and making wine are many and various as are the varieties of this fruit.
The "Diaspyros lotus" , the date plum, translates loosely as "fruit of the gods", and is one of the contenders for the wonderfully dangerous lotus fruit mentioned in the Odyssey. Eating the fruit erased the memory. The desire to return home was replaced by the desire to stay in idleness and pleasure with the "lotus eaters". Odysseus had a problem persuading his men back on the boat..who could blame them.

A passage from Tennyson's strangely alluring poem "the Lotos Eaters" explains their feelings.

"Round and round the spicy downs the yellow lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll’d to starboard, roll’d to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind. "

Perhaps my occasional expat longings for home might be cured with a plate of these delicious fruit.

I spent most of the day considering my watercolours, reading up about which are transparent and making yet more colour charts. My approach to watercolours has in the past been a bit haphazard and as it is really important to keep colours clean and fresh for botanical painting its time to be more disciplined. For anything you need to know about watercolour visit http://www.handprint.com/ It's a fantastic site, full of technical information about every aspect of watercolour. I am going to put a links box for good art sites on soon.
Meanwhile the coloured pencil work continues.
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Persimmon