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Back from Nola and Painting the Croton

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Sunday 22 August 2010

Back from Nola and Painting the Croton

We are reluctantly back from a fabulous few days in New Orleans where we stayed with some good friends at the fun Creole Gardens B&B. We saw art, history, architecture old and new, terrible destruction and rising hope.  We heard great music and fascinating,  sometimes heartbreaking, stories everywhere we went.  We ate po’boys, massive muffulettas, andouille and boudin sausage, gumbo, and crawfish and covered ourselves in white icing sugar from the very excellent beignets from Cafe du Monde. We met wonderful people, visited the excellent Insectarium ( nice bugs !!), criss crossed the great Mississippi on the ferry and travelled the clattering streetcar, whose routes we explored from top to bottom and all things in between. We walked till we could walk no more, just to fall into a bar, drink plenty of hurricanes and fall into bed. Despite Katrina’s long shadow and the oil, it’s a great, unique city of laughter, spirit and optimism.  We will be back.


Meanwhile back at the drawing board I have been working on my lovely Croton leaf commission for some 3 weeks now and after a few days away from it (always a good thing) have added the final tweaks. I don’t blog about commissions until my clients know what they are getting.. It would rather spoil the surprise if they were treated to a blow by blow account! But this is now finished, approved and will be on its way tomorrow.   My client and I share an admiration for these leaves, their twists and turns and colour variations are seemingly endless. 


Just a few of my sample leaves from Leu Gardens.. they do have lots of crotons!

Back in July I started looking at various crotons and sketching and making colour studies before embarking on this large piece. It is a larger than life single leaf on full sheet watercolour so approx 25 inches high, which requires a a bolder approach and bigger brushes, just a bit different from 2 inch bees! 

First drawings

Drawing croton leaves is wonderful practice for getting the flow and shape of leaves

leaf sketch sm 2 leaf sketch sm 1  croton pencil_2

 More colour studies

croton studies sm

Colour trials in sketchbook and on different papers. There is a problem with painting green and red leaves because if you are not careful, especially with watercolour you get mud. Red and green are complementaries and will neutralise each other.. not really what you want!

col trials1sm

Larger scale trials

On to working on some larger versions, to get the colours and patterns sorted out and again try some different surfaces. Yes I am a messy worker!

I did start one full size painting on a rougher paper (See below) but decided against it. It just wasn’t working well for what I wanted.  It was on Arches cold pressed.. nice for some things but not quite right for this occasion, but it helped sort out some shapes and was a good trial for the colours.

The Final Piece…(as much as anything is ever final!)

I decided to work on full sheet Arches 140 lb, unstretched.  It’s a light weight paper but as I am not going to be working very wet  it won’t be a problem.. I work on the “wrong” side which I prefer to the “right” side.


I started at the top.. hoping and praying to keep everything clean! Its my biggest worry and most likely accident

I do cover up the pristine white paper as best I can. I should really cut a mask out of paper… but sometimes life is just too short! 

Next stage the greens and the pattern on the lower leaf and darkening of shadows etc.


Below I am almost there.. this is the stage  I left it, just over a week ago. This is the danger zone for me as I really really want to go on fiddling around which can be fatal. You can over-do everything and knock all the life out of a painting so easily.

So after a week away from it I just worked on a few areas of highlight and shadow.. I am sending it tomorrow and can hopefully keep it clean !!

Isolated from the plant these leaves have great presence and it will be an imposing piece when framed up, to a size,  I guess, of about 3.5 to 4 foot.

It has been with me for 3 weeks now and  I am thinking I may just do another one!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Beautiful Monument to Nature's Monumental Beauty!

22 August 2010 at 20:20  
Blogger Jill said...

It is always fascinating to follow an artist's creative journey, thank you for this insight into yours.

22 August 2010 at 22:02  
Anonymous greenman said...

Just wonderful!
I'll never look to a Croton leaf the same way again.

22 August 2010 at 23:13  
Blogger Ngaio said...

Who would have thought that just one leaf would look so beautiful - you are so clever Val, I do admire your skill . . . . .

23 August 2010 at 10:53  
Blogger sharp green pencil said...

Thank you so much all . I have been so busy recently that I have not been able to reply to may comments. But hopefully this week will be a bit quieter..

Anon: thankyou! They are quite spectacular in isolation. I was thinking a series of really big oils would be fantastic.

Jill: you are so kind. I am never quite sure whether to show my works in progress..I wonder if its rather boring! watching paint dry. :)

Greenman:.. I am glad! they are wonderful plants.. and I will get round to that bee orchid one day!

Ngaio: Thank you. It was quite hard work and always takes some nerve to tackle that gleaming white paper!

24 August 2010 at 12:14  
Anonymous b. briccola said...

love these croton watercolors. DO a large one-- their stunning.
I like seeing leaves in your work again as I work with leaves in Florida too!

27 August 2010 at 20:25  

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