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

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Leaf of the day: More Crown Flower Sketches and Study

Today more sketches of the Crown Flower, trying to concentrate while I listen with growing dismay to the swine flu reports. I am trying to be optimistic as in a week's time I am due to fly home to the UK for a long visit...most of May. I am so looking forward to it, so I am just thinking positive.

I was looking in more detail at the flower head and the leaves. The structure of the flower is so odd. There are 5 sepals only seen from the underneath of the flower, then 5 petals which do at least look like petals. Then the central "crown" part which consists of 5 stamens, the buttress like structures, which are joined with the filaments to form a structure called a "gynostegium", a fusion of the male and female parts of the flower.
This superb photo of a White Crown Flower by G D Carr from the Hawaii Education dept here shows the top of the crown, where you can see 5 little black points.



These I think are called the glands and if you can get a scalpel in at this point you might be able to extract the "pollinia". These are the structures which hold the pollen, not loose pollen as we usually imagine, but flat waxy pollen drops, in pairs, attached to the gland.

Here is the scan I took yesterday after I had found the pollinia. It is tiny, just 2mm long, but scanning it at high res did give me a reasonable result.


Crown Flower Pollinia

Somehow... and I am still not entirely clear how this works with this particular flower, an insect has to attach one of these to its leg and transport it to another flower.

If you are interested in milkweeds, there is a stunning web page by Brian Johnston with wonderful macro/micro photos and a clear explanation of the intricate process of the pollination of the Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca here. The milkweed structures are all basically similar but I think I might email him to ask if he can explain exactly how it works with this particular flower... How does the insect (probably one of the red milkweed bugs) get these particular pollen sacks on its leg???. I had to work quite hard to get the thing out, but then, as we say in Lincolnshire, I probably wasn't holding my mouth right.. :)
_________________________________________________________

More Crown Flower Sketches








Sunday, 26 April 2009

Leaf of the Day: Crown Flower, First Sketches

There is no getting away from the fact that I am late with this next submission, but yesterday I did get 25 illustrations sent off to the book designer. But now I have to get down to it and with no procrastination time left I decided to make a study of the Crown Flower, Calotropis gigantea, or Giant Milkweed. It's a strange season here, I remember well from last year how things are between flowering and seeding and, while I didn't want to repeat myself, this curious plant has enough of a challenge to keep me interested. I drew its intriguing flower here last year. It is an odd one and so rigid in its structure as to be quite unflower like.

Because this assignment has to include some dissection I have spent most of the day cutting up a couple of flowers and trying to see the complicated pollination structures. Surprisingly I did find the TINY pollinarium, just 2 mm long, and put it on the scanner to enlarge it. The whole pollination process is very complicated .. more tomorrow.
Today just sketchbook work, thoughts about layout and some colour notes.
______________________________________________________________

Giant Milkweed Sketches






Friday, 24 April 2009

Leaf of the Day:Champaka pod and about Drawing.

On my second visit to Leu this week I was still trying to find inspiration for the next assignment, the botanical study, but keeping me on the straight and narrow when I get to the gardens is just hopeless. I looked at many things, walked for miles and looked again at the soapberry and the tea camellia and am considering the crown flower again, but there are no flowers on the tea at the moment and the soapberry flowers are the tiniest things you can imagine.

So I came to no conclusion but did find these odd little immature Champaca pods. Long ago Pedro gave me an old gnarled spent seed case from this beautiful tree, since when I have been patiently waiting for a new one... for over a year. I think I now know why I can't find a mature one ..it's squirrels.. It has to be the squirrels again, they eat all the pods of the other magnolias too. I can never find one with all those lovely red seeds.

I wrote about the glorious scented Champacas last year here and the beautiful big Michaelia alba near the avenue of Camphor trees has just started blooming. The scent is sheer heaven ! I brought one of the little flowers back with me and its perfume has filled the room.
The pods are actually from the Michaelia champaca, the original "Joy Perfume" tree and develop from the cone shaped central receptacle of the flower. This photograph is from the excellent Wayne's Word site here and shows the flower and the mature seed pod.



If only I could find one. I think I may ask Pedro to put a bag over one for me while it matures. I am sure I read this advice somewhere, given to someone also trying to find an intact un-squirreled magnolia pod.

These are curious things, green with white spots at the moment. The mature ones will blacken and then split. I cut one large pod open and inside were 6 seeds snugly wedged up against each other, completely filling the cavity, again, beautifully designed. As I took them apart, there were the fine white strings that attach the seeds to the case, just like the magnolia.

___________________________________________

Champaca Pods







Nature Blog Network and Drawing

I also want to thank N8 at Nature Blog Network for his inclusion of Pencil and Leaf in his "Sketch Pad" round up of Artist's Blogs here . To be mentioned alongside these excellent nature artists is an honour.. especially as Leonardo is in the same article.
I often wonder what other people see in drawing. I am very passionate about drawing. I perceive its value extending far beyond just graphite on paper, but I just wanted to include N8's observation because it seems very relevant.

"I have a real appreciation for the pen or pencil or paint to paper abilities of others, and there’s just something about a really nice illustration that says something a photo doesn’t. That’s not to say the skill set necessary in taking a fine photo isn’t impressive but it’s more subtle and sometimes feels more accessible to the amateur photog. In comparison, we’re all aware of the time needed to make a top-notch illustration, the care, the skill, the complete internalization of the subject. It seems more distant, and therefore, more impressive.

It is true that to in order to draw something in detail you really do have to study it. Often, just looking at something properly, from every angle and trying to understand how it is put together can take a good hour.
Sometimes, after spending a whole day on one very small pencil drawing (or even worse spending a whole day and throwing it away), I look at the fabulous colour photographs and astonishing Photoshop tricks of others and wonder why I am doing this. Your kind comments on the blog and this perceptive insight from N8 keep me going.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Leaf of the Day: A Beautiful Abutilon

How very pretty and dainty is the lovely old fashioned "Parlour Maple", the Flowering Maple, the Abutilon striatum. At Leu Gardens there is one little unnamed tree growing in the shade by the path to the lake. The little bell shaped flowers hang like folded butterfly wings, they catch the morning sun and glow a brilliant orange, their deep red veins like the leading of tiny glass lampshades...so it's not surprising it is sometimes called a Japanese Lantern flower .
For over a year I have been meaning to do some drawings, always prompted by seeing them on one of the first paths I take, lit by an early morning sun, but then always getting sidetracked. However today I had a tiny sketch book and watercolours and jotted it down. It's interesting how much better this is for me than a photograph .. more of that later.



This delicate little tree which is native to Brazil is not related to the Maple at all but belongs to the Mallow family along with cotton, hibiscus and the rose of Sharon etc. The misnomer of Maple arises from the similarity of the leaf shape,
Abutilon striatum arrived in Europe and North America early in the 19th Century where it soon became a darling of the parlour, companion I am sure to the redoubtable aspidistra. I remember trying to grow one in England many years ago. I remember especially because it had mottled leaves, the result, it seems, of the Abutilon Mosaic Virus. This virus was introduced into London from the West Indies in 1898 by the garden suppliers Veitch and Sons. They had discovered a seedling with mottled yellowed leaves and quickly bred an ornamental variety which soon became a fashionable must-have plant for the dresser.


Flowers are popular subjects for stamps. This stamp is from Albania from the web site "Herbier Philatélique" by Pierre Guertin, a Philatelic Herbarium here.. very neat.

It seems such a shame that this pretty little tree has fallen out of favour. The flowers are a perfect shape, and quite exquisite with thick ribbed red veins on the orangy yellow petals and the little tassel of stamens. I should make a finer watercolour study one day.

__________________________________________

Abutilon striatum, The Parlour Maple






Wednesday, 22 April 2009

....also some blog-recycling Art Biz, with Alyson B Stanfield

If you are in the art business in any way there is a blog which is really useful. Alyson B Stanfield's excellent "Art Biz Blog" here. I have been a subscriber now for about 2 years and read it when I can. It's packed with great suggestions, tips, incentives, podcasts, courses and encouragement to coax that shy retiring artist out of its shell and into the uncertain internet world. I was so delighted with the enthusiasm for the format of my exhibition ( i.e. having the text too) that I wrote and asked if her readers might be interested. She asked me to make a guest post and today it is up there. I am delighted and I really like the "recycling" header!
It's definitely recycling for my regular readers who have already followed the words and the work but here it is.

"Recycle those blog posts into art exhibit labels"

Thank you so much Alyson and already, judging by the comments, I think a few artists have found it helpful.....

Leaf of the Day: Squirrels and Tabebuia Pods

Here the relentlessness of growth never stops. When one thing is dormant another is bursting into life. Not to have those regular quiet, dormant times of northern regions sometimes seems exhausting. So, despite it being early in the year and to both my delight and frustration, there are lots of seed pods around. I can't possibly keep up with them all. In a confusion of life cycles there are trees with flowers but no leaves, trees with new leaves but without flowers and then trees with flowers, leaves and fruit all at the same time.

The golden trumpet tree Handroanthus chrysotricha whose beautiful flowers were with us for only a few days, is one which gets to shows off its flowers before the distraction of leaves. The overwhelming yellow of this tree set against a clear blue Florida sky is breathtaking.



The flowers are gone now but just over a week ago when I went to the Gardens I stood under one of the many "Tabebuia's" as they are known here, admiring these very nice furry pods which seem to have appeared from nowhere, instantaneously and in profusion.. amazing.



However I also realised I was being was showered with seeds and bits of debris because above my head 3 squirrels were busy methodically stripping the tree of its fruit. I watched as they grabbed the pods and then daintily nibbled all the flesh from the pod leaving ribbons of the outer skin and discarding the seeds. They were voracious and determined. Yesterday I went back and only ribbons of the stripped pods remain but the ground is carpeted with the silvery seeds.





I did save one pod because the little, flat, winged seeds are so attractive, but today I only have time for a quick pod sketch and a study of 3 seeds which are looking a bit like strange owls.
For the next submission we are required to make a proper botanical study and I am supposed to be using a magnifying glass for a bit of dissection and being more methodical about recording accurately what size things are drawn. The seeds are drawn at 3 x their original size so are a massive 2.75" long, but I neglected to write that on the drawing..Hmm well it has been a long week.
______________________________________________________

Golden Trumpet Seed Pod and Seeds




Monday, 20 April 2009

Almost Back to the Blog

Phew.. I have really put some hours in over the last week, barely surfacing to glance wistfully at the sun outside. I will post more about the illustration work later but now I have to get back to botanicals too, as the next course submission is almost overdue.
I am working in pen and ink this week, so today just a pen and ink sketch of a beautiful twisted dwarf poinciana, Poinciana pucherrima pod for a bit of practice.
And "thank yous"are also due to all who sent and are sending me emails re buying work and to Mary at the Orlando Sentinel for a super write up in the paper and on their website here

______________________________________________

Dwarf Poinciana Pod


Saturday, 11 April 2009

Happy Easter and Blog Break.


I have been so busy that Easter has just come out of nowhere. With the exhibition up and running, posting here will be sporadic for a while. No, I am not lounging around in the sun unfortunately, but doing some illustration work. A book I illustrated some 20 years ago is to be republished in a smaller format and needs some illustrations to be re done; a curious job, to be copying my own work! There will not be a leaf in sight so the work doesn't really fit in this blog but if the author permits I will publish progress. I will hopefully be continuing leafy, pod-type posting twice a week here, with more Leu finds or other images and stories

Also with a year of sketches and drawings piling up it is time to make room for more so I will be offering some work for sale. Therefore, my faithful blog readers, if you find you can't live without a strangely beautiful little pencil drawing of a seed pod or two let me know....special rates apply for faithful readers! I am about to get more organised but at the moment my selling strategies are haphazard.. i.e. if you have seen something on the blog you have liked let me know and if it I still have it and it is in a saleable form I can let you know price size etc.

Meanwhile Happy Easter to you all and many many thanks for all your kind comments and good wishes for the exhibition, which so far is going very well!

I am having a couple of days off!
______________________________________________

Spring Tree and Bird


Thursday, 9 April 2009

Exhibition Images

Today I managed to get to the Gardens for a lovely relaxing walk in the sun and to take some photos of the exhibition in situ. There have already been so many really enthusiastic comments and the staff are saying they have never had an exhibition quite like this, (which can be taken in two ways I know, but I am thinking positive today!). The most encouraging aspect is that people are really stopping to read the blog posts which are printed out underneath each picture and that is the difference between a normal art exhibition and this blog exhibition. What they will make of some of the stories I just don't know.
I met most of the gardeners today who were delighted to have been immortalised in print. Well without them none of this would have been possible and I have managed to mention Pedro, Susan, Joel, Tony and Eric, who in particular have helped me so much. They, and the plants, are really the stars of the show.

My snaps are not brilliant but do give an idea of how we laid it out with the images and their corresponding texts underneath, as here with some of the pod drawings.



I cut down the blog posts considerably which perhaps was not as necessary as I had thought but didn't want to give people text overload.
The space is not very well lit and the first five photos are taken in a narrow entrance hall.



The first three groups are the Leu House drawing and intro, my favourite Soapberry, and the Yaupon Holly. (the text about the black tea drink is, I now realise, appropriately opposite the restrooms..:)









The hall then opens out into a larger space which gives the bigger pictures some breathing space too.








In addition I wanted to show some of the pods etc. so there is a small display in a glass case containing my models.




This whole area is not a dedicated exhibition space and is used for many different functions, so an "opening" was not possible and prices cannot be shown on the work. Instead there is a price list with the main desk and I have links to one with text only, and one with images, at the top of the blog too. I am delighted with how it looks and for the great help given to me by Paul Wenzel who really did all the hard work of measuring and hanging. It was a long job with 49 pictures and 43 text plates to hang. A big thank you also to director Robert Bowden for granting me the opportunity to show my work at the lovely Leu Gardens.
*****PDF price list with images is available HERE.

I will be updating exhibition progress from time to time.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

My Thirty Five Dollar Garden.

An exhibition of images and writings from the blog Pencil and Leaf.


7th April to 23rd of June

A showcase of 50 images and texts from my many fascinating discoveries at the gardens.


Venue: Harry P Leu Botanical Garden
1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando, Florida USA 32803
407-246-2620


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Leaf of the Day: View from the Provision Tree

I have spent all day framing, re framing, mount cutting, finger cutting, stringing, assembling, re touching, varnishing, labelling, price listing and all the other last minute panicky things that go along with an exhibition. I also wanted one more sketch as I realised I had nothing at all of the lovely old Leu House.

This sketch is the view of the House from the Provision Tree. This wonderful tree is tucked away at the side of the lawn which sweeps down from the old Leu House towards the lake. Ever since I found it, months ago now, I go back to see if it is doing anything. It isn't. It does have nice plain leaves but I know it will, at some time, have wonderful flowers followed by equally wonderful fruit .. but I will have to wait ..it's frustrating.

The view up to the Old House is framed by oaks and one tall palm. These lower lawns are a lovely tranquil place where few people venture. I look back up at the house and wonder about the families who lived there, those who enjoyed the beautiful views to the lake, watched the squirrels and the lizards; heard the woodpeckers, the red cardinals, the jays and the mockingbirds; saw the sun go down from the balcony accompanied by the rustling of leaves and the swaying of wind blown Spanish moss.



Tomorrow is exhibition hanging day.. I hope to have some photos.
________________________________________________

View of Leu House from the Provision Tree


Monday, 6 April 2009

Leaf of the day: Two Big Leaf Paintings ..almost done

I have to stop work on the two big leaf paintings now. I would like to carry on and can never say when things are really finished. Sometimes you just stop, or run out of steam or ideas or time. I have definitely run out of time.

But one of my blog readers asked me the other day why/how these paintings came about and I realised that in the past posts I had not really said anything about the ideas behind them.
It is probably obvious that I very much admire leaves, the unsung heroes of the plant world, and wanted to make a couple of bigger images of leaves for the show and also to have a break from small watercolours and close work.

When I was sketching out the ideas, Mark Catesby's work was fresh in my mind and in some ways these are a small tribute to him. His simple way of combining elements without too much regard for scale or perspective appealed to me. Also he painted what he found interesting, what he liked and what he had seen together on a particular day or in a particular location. That simple and honest way of working was my jumping off point.

The Aralia leaf image occurred more by accident than design as I had randomly put the leaf on the sheet of paper at that I had sketched on and I had been looking at lizards that day, so the the two seemed to work together. I like paintings that include other paintings or drawings. It's an interesting angle on reality.



The dried Snakewood Tree leaves are just magnificent on their own and in some ways I could have left it solo, but I do like a narrative and so this picture now links a few things that I felt worked together and have a reason for being together. The first snake I saw here was one of the beautiful black racers and it seems fitting to have a snake with a snakewood tree leaf. The favourite soapberries rather abstracted here were on my desk when I was looking for something else to add to the painting. I have been backwards and forwards with this painting.. I tidied it all up got rid of all the brush strokes and it lost its sparkle so spent most of today trying to "rough it up" again
I like this painting. People who don't like snakes won't. People who like something more than a landscape might.



I have always liked paintings or images which combine seemingly unconnected elements or objects. They create a mystery and a tension and a story which can be interpreted in different ways according to the ideas and experiences of the viewer. It would be interesting to ask people how they would interpret these two paintings.



I do wish I had a huge airy studio and had been able to tackle something 6 ft x 4 ft, maybe next time.

Ant Contributes

Ant has been helping. He is the most curious creature. Wherever I am working, he appears. If I am on the computer he is clambering over the keyboard or the screen, if I am painting or drawing at the desk he is running around the paper or the brushes. Today he has been living very dangerously, climbing in and out of my acrylics palette and yesterday he made it to the big oak painting, from which I had to remove him before like a little fly in amber, he was glued forever to the canvas in a layer of varnish, giving "caught on canvas" a more sinister meaning. I guess it's the movement that attracts him. He has never stung me so I don't think it's territorial protection. somehow I don't think ants are capable of affection, but I could be wrong. Hmm .. who knows but it's nice to have my tiny little companion frolicking about. I really should immortalise him in a drawing or painting somehow.



Ant on the oak branch painting.