Leaf of the Day: 4 Coloured Leaves and Notes

It’s that day.. that Friday 13th day, when sensible people stay at home and artists don’t pick up a paintbrush before noon.. but I have things to do and have braved bad luck… It is interesting that in Spain it was Tuesday 13th that was considered unlucky and I am still not sure why these dates in particular are so much maligned. Christan belief certainly regards it as unlucky, to do, in the main with the day of the crucifixion and, some say, with that first naughty apple-eating escapade in Garden of Eden which supposedly occurred on Friday 13th. However the Egyptians thought it was a lucky number so today I am with the Egyptians.

It would, however, be convenient if I could just blame all my artistic problems on various inauspicious dates but I know it really has more to do with my skills or lack of them. Since Monday I have been working very hard on the watercolour leaves for the course.
So far I get one done a day. I am trying to be disciplined and make a colour note sketch first, which is, I admit very helpful.. or would be if I could then stick to those colours. I have had problems with all of them..there are 4 more to go.

The two main problems are my lighting set up and, I think, the paper I am working on which is Arches HP.
The lighting is a nightmare. Rooms in these apartments here in Florida tend to be darker, dark is cool! I chose the lightest room to work in and it has a strong side light during daylight hours which can all change in an instant if it is cloudy (often). My model is propped, clipped, taped and balanced on various supports and stuck in wet oasis to get it into the right position to work from, but when the light changes it could be a different plant. The basil was a particular problem. I decided to get an extra lamp with a daylight bulb to get a constant directional light but that conflicts with the light over my drawing board and is a completely different colour from real daylight. The leaf or whatever it is I am drawing completely changes its colour and shadows, so I am still pondering this problem.
As to paper, one of the eternal questions of watercolourists is “which paper??”, they are all so different, and a surface and weight that works for a small subject and fine detail is then difficult to work with on large bold subject. Every artist seems to work on something different. I am a big fan of Arches for loose watercolour, but I am finding this surface somewhat spongy. It may be because I work back into the paper too soon before allowing the paint to dry properly, (impatience is another failing of mine) because I am finding problems keeping sharp edges and have worked over too much in some areas trying to achieve them.

I know I should have practiced working in such fine detail on different papers before wading in to the final assignment piece, but it is the nature of this particular beast to be a deadline worker. I pay for this of course by making mistakes but on the other hand there is a rush of adrenaline which sharpens up the senses and galvanises me into action.

Here are the leaves so far with their colour note sketches. I will be looking at lighting again tomorrow. Some leaves I redrew, as the initial drawings were not quite what I wanted or the leaves had died, (as the basil did!). The ginger leaf was the only one I had, so I needed to work quickly and, bless it, it did manage to stay alive for a couple of day… in the fridge, out of the fridge, in the fridge, out of the fridge…. at the moment there are more plants in there than food.


4 Coloured Leaves

Leaf of the Day: Bromeliads

Sooner or later I had to tackle this group of plants. From big and beautiful, to tiny and intricate, bromeliads are everywhere in Florida. I could probably devote the rest of my life to drawing them.
There are over 3000 species in the group, and they are as diverse as the strange hanging Spanish moss which drapes itself over just about everything here, to the big bold patterned leaves of the ‘tank’ bromeliads.

This stunning image is one of many from Ecuador Images.net

Bromeliads are mostly epiphytes, ie plants which grow attached to another plant. The word is derived from the Greek, epi (upon) and phyton (plant). These plants do not take their nutrient from the host but use it as a support, using their roots only to anchor themselves, their energy derived from from photosynthesis and their moisture obtained from the air.

The tank bromeliads in particular have an extra food collecting mechanism. At the centre of many of these bromeliads the leaves join together to form watertight ‘tanks’ (properly know as phytotelma) which gather water (up to 20 litres in some larger species) and litter from falling leaves and general forest debris. These neat receptacles absorb the captured rainwater and nutrients from decomposed litter and also form a housing unit for a bizarre community of aquatic and other creatures, such as salamanders, frogs and spiders. The waste products of all these creatures, along with the bodies some of their victims and no doubt the odd drowning fatality decomposes to feed the plant. These bromeliads are not really thought of as carnivorous as they don’t actively seek their prey but, rather, are opportunistic and thrifty, making the very best use of what nature throws their way.
There is however one species which is somewhat more designed to ‘catch’ its food. It lives high up in the rainforest canopy and has specially adapted powdery leaves which reflect the sun’s UV rays making it almost invisible to insects who blunder into the leaves, fall into the strategically positioned tank and are unable to climb out due to a wax coating on the leaf bases.

This very good cross section illustration is from the University of Florida’s site all about bromeliads here . You can see the water trapped in the phytotelma and the little community of wild life, frog, spider and slug.

In Jamaica there is a specially adapted tiny crab (Metopaulias depressus)which has left its low altitude home to live the high life up in the forest canopy in the tanks of the bromleiads, normally Aechmea
paniculigera. Its whole life cycle is conducted there and there is a symbiotic relationship between the plant and crab as the mother crab tidies up its watery leaf home, removing debris therefore improving the oxygen in the water and adding empty snail shells to improve the Ph balance. Quite astonishing.

I am only just beginning to learn about this huge and fascinating family of plants. The leaf I drew today is, I think, from one of the Aechmea bromeliads. They characteristically have spiny edges to their leaves some of which embedded themselves in my fingers.
This leaf is, by bromeliad standards quite modest in its pattern. I am limited to size as I have to paint 8 leaves on one A3 sheet. Some of the more boldly patterned ones are much bigger and will have to wait till later. This will be quite enough of a challenge to paint as it is… you will see the results in about a week. I made some preliminary sketches before the more detailed drawing, just to get the feel of the twist in the leaf which shows off the pattern on the back nicely.

Bromeliad Leaf