Leaf of the day: The Snakewood Tree

It seems this is the worst day of the year for low spirits, the euphoria of Christmas and New Year is over and for some, the unwelcome return to work, school, routine etc. I however am glad it is all over and I look forward to spring, which is my favourite time of year. In tribute I spent some time today spring cleaning my computer, in between reading about Joseph Stella and Charles Burchfield and thinking about some big leaves to draw. I am totally engrossed in the books. Burchfield’s story is particularly interesting. His diary entries are so poignant revealing his struggle, both to survive as an artist, and to cope with his own melancholy nature. More soon.
I have had some Snakewood Tree leaves here for a few weeks now and they are just gorgeous. If there is a Snakewood Tree nearby, you would probably see the pale curled fallen leaves before noticing the tree itself. This one is Cecropia peltata. The palmate leaves are big, the one I have here on the desk is 25 inches from top to toe, with 11 leaflets which curl up into fantastic ribbed shapes as they dry. Their outer surface turns pale grey/brown while the inside of the leaf remains a chocolate brown.

They also have these wonderful prop roots which give the impression that the tree is poised to move, just when your back is turned.

As trees they are interesting, useful and, I think, beautiful. They are used medicinally for all manner of complaints, the young shoots can be eaten and the handsome leaves sometime used as sandpaper…but no time for more research today.

I had been looking at these leaves for the last few days, not feeling quite up to the challenge. Drawing or painting them in detail is not a quick job. I made a couple of small sketches to encourage myself. One problem is to find just one angle that lends itself to a 2 dimensional piece. When you have one in your hand you endlessly turn it around to trace the twists and turns. Some are so contorted that they lose their leaf like characteristics and appear like the sloughed skin of a strange reptile. I will want to keep the leafiness of it.
There is also a sketch of the roots I made at the Gardens last week.
Roots, trunks and bark texture, are some of the “bigger”subjects I want to explore now. The variety of pattern and textures are infinite. Quite how I will do this I am not sure. Probably a combination of working from life and from photographs. I hope to go sketching tomorrow at Leu to look at these roots again.


Snakewood Tree Sketches