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.

Leaf of the Day: Busy Bees, Big Paintings and Blog Interview

Me and the bees have been very busy this weekend. I have been working on the big paintings and the bees have just been working. I think the bees are making more progress.

I have taken a few photos recently where the bees are slightly better than just a blur.

Here, approaching the Toothache Tree.

Here, with Lemon Blossom.

Here, on a Banana flower.

Here, high in the sky, with the strange Grevillia flower, which I would love to draw but all are way out of normal human reach.

Here with the Lemon Bottle Brush…where the mocking birds were also helping themselves to the nectar.

Here approaching the stunning, huge Shaving Brush Flower, which I will hopefully paint as one of my white flower series, all those stamens are a bit daunting though.

and lastly on the Sweet Almond..


A big thank you to Karrita at mymothersgardens.blogspot.com who was also busy getting my images onto blogger. She was kind enough to ask for a short online interview for her interesting series “Artists in the Garden”, which you can read here.
I was delighted to oblige.

I have been wrestling all weekend with the big tree pattern paintings which have taken on lives of their own (as paintings often do). They are not really as I had planned and were not as simple as I had hoped. The twisting live oak branches are just about finished and the lone pine three quarters finished. Just before I had to stop for the night I added some lightning. The paintings really reflect my experiences of my time here, what I have noticed and what makes an impression on me. The summer storms are spectacular and something I will always remember. Although the paintings are not finished I put them on the wall to get away from them both physically and mentally for a while, but with only a week to go to the exhibition and much to do, they may just stay there.

Two Trees

Leaf of the day: False Aralia and Fake Lizard, Big Leaf Sketches

I have spent today playing with one of the big leaf sketches.
I do now know that the leaf is from Dizygotheca elegantissima or Aralia elegantissima, commonly known as False Aralia. One description fits it well.
The False Aralia leaf is divided into 10 or so slender jagged leaflets that are arranged like fingers of a hand. As the leaves mature, their colors turn into blackish green or dark grey-green, they become broader in size, and they become coarser in texture. “

Here are the first 3 stages

I sketched the lizard in but have now changed its colour so many times that it does not resemble a real lizard at all but that’s fine by me. This is not a lizard portrait.
I have not found anywhere in the house that I can take a good photograph of larger work. The light is terrible, so the colours are very dull here and the light is reflecting off the surface, but it shows a bit of progress. I am going to try for a better photograph tomorrow.

Acrylic on Canvas, 2ft x 3ft.

I have roughed in the drawings on the paper behind the leaf now, I may call it ” The Critic”
It may never reach “finished painting” stage but I plan to have 4 of these larger sketches/studies for the show. There will be a companion piece to this one as well as two (I hope) of the Live Oak branches developed from some earlier sketches…but time is getting a bit short.

Leaf of the Day: Big Leaf #1 a Bit of Progress, Big Leaf #2 a Start

I have worked all day to get some more paint on these canvases. It’s a good 18 months since I worked on either a large scale or in acrylics and I am trying to brush up on my rusty techniques, and get re-aquainted with bigger brushes and having to stand back, rather than working with my nose 3 inches from the painting surface. I tend to forget how very “plasticy” acrylics are, how horribly quickly they dry on everything they touch ( a mixed blessing) and how much paint I need to cover the larger surface. These are not expensive acrylics though, just student grade which is fine for now for working out these ideas. There is always the possibility of working over in oils later.
I am not at all sure how these will turn out at all, but it’s good to have a change.

Leaf number two is the beautiful twisted Snakewood Tree leaf which I had already sketched and made a detail study of here. I think it may be easier to work on at a larger scale as I found the small detailed study very tedious. This leaf has the huge advantage of already being dried up and has not changed since I last drew it, so I can take my time. The other one has been in and out of the fridge for the last few days and is on its last legs now, but I am not so worried about the absolutely correct details in these big paintings, more the spirit of the thing.

Big Leaf #1 Stage 3, acrylic on canvas 2 x 3 ft.

Big Leaf #2, Snakewood tree leaf, Stage 1, acrylic on canvas 2 x 3 ft.

Leaf of the Day: Beginning Big Leaf #1

I have only 6 weeks to go before I have to put up the exhibition at Leu and, as I habitually do, I make a chart of the time I have left, put it up on the wall and then forget about it. It’s just a little ritual which reassures me that, because I have made a chart, I have things under control. This is self delusion of the first order of course but is comforting. Deadline angst will kick in by about week 5.

I promised myself that I would try to get a few large pieces done for the show so today I have been planning those. I want to paint some more leaves from the garden and this is a chance to tackle some of the larger ones.
I have a beautiful big leaf in the fridge which has been there for a while. Unfortunately I am not quite sure what it is. It came from Leu but the tree has no label, which I am not going to worry about for now .

I haven’t recorded a piece of work from idea to finished piece before so it will be interesting for me to see where it goes and at what point I probably should have stopped.. .. but didn’t!
So first the some tiny quick design sketches, in a 4″x 6″ sketchbook, of some ideas I have been thinking about.

I do so wish I could keep exquisite sketchbooks. I have said before that I so admire the sketchbooks that some artists manage to keep. They are often beautifully laid out, carefully and methodically annotated, all the same size and colour, or in matching sets, becoming works of art in themselves.
Sadly I am not one of those artists, I have tried but just can’t do it. My sketch books are a mishmash of shopping lists, phone numbers, written notes, ideas, and scribbles and would not be valued by anyone except me. I write on anything to hand to work out an idea. I do try to keep all the bits and pieces though and sometimes find an idea that, at the time had nowhere to go but seems much more promising second time around.

I did manage to get the sketch book out for these prelim sketches…

I next started a pencil drawing which was supposed to be a detailed drawing but I abandoned it, because for some reason, I had decided to try the Bristol Board again .. Very Bad Decision. I really don’t like the surface at all, it’s slippery and any bit of grit from the pencils makes nasty scratchy marks. So I converted it into a sketch which is still useful and at least worked out the cast shadows that I like so much.
I also had to scale the drawing down to one third of the leaf’s size, that too was unsatisfactory, as it is partly the size of this leaf that makes it so impressive.

This small drawing made it seem nondescript, so that made me decide on a bigger canvas size too, a nice big 3ft x2ft
I bought a canvas and primed it a warm dark grey and sketched out the basic design and blocked in a bit. That’s it for the painting today.

However I needed to make a more detailed drawing of some parts of the leaf just to understand it better, especially the centre area.. so here is a drawing of a small section which will hopefully help with the painting.

Big Leaf Detail

Leaf of the Day: Pattipan Pepo

The pattipan squash, or patty pan, or flying saucer, or scallop squash, Curcubito pepo, whatever you want to call it, is a pretty and versatile thing, eat it, use it as a decoration or as a fancy container for serving other food. Here it is starring alongside Joan Taylor in the classic 1949 Harryhausen movie.

The curcubita family is extensive.. very, over 300 varieties of creeping, twining, scrambling, fruit bearing, plants. This is a squash, is edible and is a member of the gourd family but not all gourds are edible. I remember a few gourds in the UK from years ago, little stripy knobbly ornamental things but here in the USA, both the gourds themselves and gourd art are big. Gourd art ranges from the absolutely 100% dreadful and kitch to the exquisite. I am longing to have a go! The shapes alone are a designers delight…. just a little taster of joys to come. These fantastic charts come from Ozark Country Creations here.

Thereare an awful lot of sites about gourds on the Internet. “The Gourd Reserve” here is a site awash with masses of information about these strange, wonderful and useful things. There is, naturally, an American Gourd Society here ( and, joy, there is a Florida chapter) and many many books devoted to gourd art.

All this for another post, possibly tomorrow, but for now this is little Pepo squash deserves at least some passing notes.
The word “squash” is a shortened form of the word askutasquash meaning “a green thing eaten raw” from the Algonquin language. The interesting and sympathetic Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and expelled minister of the Salem Church (?) spent much of his life trying to understand the Indians customs and language, and published some of his observations in his 1643 book ” A Key into the Language of America “.
He mentions the “Askutasquash, their Vine fruit, which the English, from them, call Squashes about the bignesse of Apples of several colours, a sweet, light wholesome refreshing.”
Gourds on the other hand, called quonoasquash, were not grown for food, but dried and made into utensils and containers. You can see how useful they would be from the charts above.
These vegetables, (which are in fact a fruit, because they contain seeds, like tomoatoes) were a basic staple food for native Americans and early settler alike. Seeds, flesh, shoots, tendrils and flowers can be eaten.
Recipes abound on the Internet, but having a distinct aversion to the horrible slippery watery marrow that I was occasionally faced with as a child I haven’t really investigated many. Shame on me really as, if nothing else, these are so pretty. However after reading about them I intend to be more adventurous!.

I made a pencil and watercolour sketch, then a rough sketch in acrylics. I haven’t used acrylics for a while so it was a nice change. I think I was all watercoloured out from yesterday! I was sad not to find a couple of companions for Pepo but added a some blueberries that were languishing in the fridge.

Curcubito Pepo and 3 Blueberries.