Leaf of the Day: Florida Anise and a glimpse of Audubon

Today I spent a couple of hours at Leu Gardens making a colour note sketch of the Gazebo to follow on from the tonal sketch I did yesterday. I laboriously mixed the greens as accurately as I could which means stopping and starting, looking and mixing, trying the colour out and then putting it in the right place. It took me an hour and a half. The result is not a good painting at all but a record of some accurate greens in approximately accurate places. It’s a good exercise for mixing greens but you would probably not want to paint a ” picture ” exactly like this. I will return tomorrow to try one more, slightly bigger study and then post the results tomorrow.

The woodpecker was high up in the adjoining tree again, the noise is incredible. I found out its pecking speed is 20 times a second and to prevent it scrambling its brains it has a specially reinforced skull with cross bracing bones. I am not sure exactly which woodpecker this is as it was too high to see properly, but it was tiny and black and white so maybe its the downy woodpecker. Here is a lovely Audubon engraving. I have not yet written about wonderful wonderful Audubon yet. It was love at first sight when I saw his work many years ago. I started buying art books as soon as I had my first job and remember agonising about buying a lovely Country Life book of his work in the early 1970´s. I bought it of course. Now here in Florida the works are even more resonant as I am seeing the same birds in the same locations. There is so much I want to say about Audubon that it will have to be quite a few posts.

My leaf for today is from the beautiful Florida Anise. illicium floridanum
This is from the same family as the the spice, star anise. ilicium verum but this one is not edible at all and can be poisonous if eaten in quantities.
You can see why I liked the leaf. In fact there are several variegated types at the gardens. The leaves are very attractive, evergreen and when crushed, they emit the characteristic aniseed smell.

Here is my photo of one of the little flowers which have a strange appearance, like small spidery stars and are often hidden amongst the leaves, but the oddest thing is that apparently they smell of live fish..( I am not quite sure what that smells like.) I now have to go and find it tomorrow.

Yes I have, just briefly, returned to the coloured pencils.. it seemed a shame not to put some colour into this study..


Florida Anise

Leaf of the Day: Coral Honeysuckle.. Last Rites

Well the plant survived quite well in the salad drawer of the fridge, the open flower held out until 10.am, then slowly detached itself from the base, slid down the stamens and flopped onto the table. The leaves curled more as the day went on and as it got hotter so the crayons got softer and stickier, the lines got thicker and my temper got shorter, but I did manage to get it all done. Here is it immortalised, glued onto the paper with coloured wax. I am just hoping it won’t now stick to the scanner and have to be scraped off with a palette knife.
It has been an interesting experiment. Any observed drawing has to be a good exercise whatever the outcome but I feel now that I might do a coloured pencil drawing more in my own style just for fun.
There are many very good coloured pencil artists and societies dedicated to the medium. My personal preference is for artists who explore the inherent quality of the “pencilness” of them, of line and shading combined. I like to be able to see the mark, the handwriting if you, like of an artist, which is where I might very well be at odds with the stringency of the botanical art course. The obliteration of the mark of the artist seems quite the thing to strive for at the moment in botanical work which I feel is a shame. It is something I will want to discuss with the tutors on the course.
I personally feel that to see the brush work or pencil work adds so much to the “life” of a painting or drawing, accuracy and detail need not suffer.
It also takes much more skill to develop a style in mark making and paint handling than to slavishly copy a photograph. Sadly, copying skills are so often admired and perceived as the height of artistic achievement by the public. I am always sorry when a beautiful pencil or charcoal drawing is left unnoticed in a gallery when, yet another, tedious, photoreal still life is oohed and ahhed over. I am also very fond of monochrome work, pen and ink was where I started. Like black and white photographs there is a focus on the beauty of line, tone and shape without the distraction of colour ..some black and white artists to follow in next posts I think.

Meanwhile here is a lovely coloured pencil artist, whose work is more after my own heart, Katherine Tyrrell. I should have found her blog sooner as she has some very good advice for Coloured pencil users. Do visit her super art blog with lots of information about coloured pencil and art of all sorts http://makingamark.blogspot.com/
I love the textured shading and the beautiful colours, see more of her prints etc here


Coral Honeysuckle

Leaf of the Day: Mexican Petunia and White Ibis

Today I worked in the morning to get the drawing done and then in the afternoon went to the lake for a break. In the heat of the early afternoon there was not much bird activity, just one funny little ibis. It must be a young one as it was rather scruffy with mottled grey brown neck feathers and not yet completely terrified of humans, as it was quite happy to potter about on the shore line with me close by, allowing me to do a small sketch.

Usually the ibis operate in small gangs, marching across lawns at regimental speed stabbing their beaks into the grass and muttering as they go. They are very comical. However this one was alone and hung around long enough for a quick drawing. Normally they are band box smart with red bills and red legs and glossy white coats.

When I see them I am always reminded of some old applique tapestries we used to have, depicting Egyptian gods. Thoth the ibis-headed god was definitely one of them. The Sacred ibis of Egypt is different from this little American White ibis. It has a more sinister apperance with a featherless black head and neck. Thoth was the god of wisdom and writing I seem to remember that he was supposed to have won us 5 extra days in the year in a gambling game with the moon.

I am hoping to find the American lotus flower soon so I can compose a hybrid “amerigyptian” homage painting to this ancient culture.

Hybrids can pose problems of course. My drawing today is a dangerous cross border invader. The Mexican Petunia ( ruellia) is classed a Category I invasive species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. It is unwelcome for its tendency to “alter native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives”… just like the Brits on the Costa del Sol.
This innocent looking purple pink flower is seen in gardens and park borders all over Winter Park. Again it is a delicate flower that has to be drawn quickly before it shrivels up. I am now seeing the similarity in these one day wonders as they are from the same family, the acanthaceae, as was the Sky Flower.
Confusingly it is not the same family as the much loved hanging basket and window box petunia that we know in the UK. They are from the solanaceae family which include tobacco, potatoes,and tomaotoes.

Mexican Petunia

Leaf of the Day: Loquat Fruit

There are two loquat trees, eriobotrya japonica. (‘nispero’ in Spanish) growing locally here and I had not realised that the fruits were edible, because no one around here seems to collect them. But I do remember seeing dishes “with nisperos” on some menus in Spain. They are absolutely delicious.
Loquats and Kumquats are not related but share a similarity in their names because the Cantonese word kwêt, means an orange and both fruit are somewhat like small oranges. Peter Thunberg had seen Loquats in Japan in 1776 ( I wrote a little about this very interesting botanist here in the Sky Flower post) and plants were taken from Canton, China, to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England, in 1787.

Here are two beautiful images of loquats to celebrate their Oriental origin.
This one, Loquat and Mountain Bird a Chinese silk painting, Chinese Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279)

This one a Japanese woodblock print, by Shodo Kawarazaki 1889-1973

Loquats taste something like a cross between an apricot, plum, and pineapple with a delicate flavor. They are used in cooking quite extensively and have a high pectin content so are often made into jams and jellies and preserves.
Prepare a delicious loquat sauce to pour over pan fried pork tenderloin with strawberries, loquats, and Madeira wine. Delicious!

Mine here do not look particularly appetising I know. It is a little bit past the best time for loquats but I wanted to draw these two just as they were, one split open and one whole.

Loquat Fruit

Leaf of the Day: Ruskin & the Liberty of Leaves (and the Croton again).

I do like leaves, probably more so than flowers. They are the sort of backroom boys of the plant world, working hard to keep the whole thing going and so often overlooked for the glory-taking showy flowers. And I have always liked drawing trees. This quote from the artist and critic John Ruskin encourages me to keep going.
“If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world. “
He, like me, didn’t like formula painting, but felt that “the artist must ultimately focus on the characteristic of individuals,” and must “show the individual character and liberty of the separate leaves, clouds, or rocks” Individuality being more essential than formula.
(It is something I mentioned before in the Norman Rockwell post re Bruegel’s beautiful trees.)
So, artists!.. liberate your leaves…

How many times I have seen a ” How to Do it Book ” with a formula for painting leaves so every tree looks the same. They are excellent guides for starting out and when I was young my Walter T Foster book on “How to draw Horses” was always with me, but we should aim to go on from there and really look at what we are attempting to portray. This morning Amazon kindly sent me an email telling me that because I had bought a book on botanical painting I would no doubt be keen to purchase a ” how to paint trees” book. It assures me that “No drawing skills are required. The outlines of five paintings (plus one bonus picture) are provided to pull out from the centre of the book.”
Oh dear ..someone at Amazon has seen my blog and is offering, perhaps much needed, help.

John Ruskin Tree study 1847

John Ruskin Ferns on a rock 1875

These beautiful studies and more from the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University

I always try to consider my leaves as individuals and today I return to an individual croton leaf from the ubiquitous Curly Croton plant which I had drawn before in January here. They are valued for their beautiful leaves, come in amazing colours and have different degrees of curliness. This is a relatively plain one as some of the others are brilliant reds and oranges but it does have a full twist to the leaf.
I have decided to start the final coloured pencil pieces for the course so that I can move on to watercolour. We have to do 4 images so I am factoring in some disaster time. It has been interesting but I have come to the conclusion I am temperamentally unsuited to using coloured pencils this way!


Curly Croton 2

Leaf of the Day : A Gummy Unfinished Begonia Leaf

The trials of the natural history artist 2..problems with the weather, materials and mosquitos.
If I am ever tempted to complain about the discomfort and the difficulty of working in a hot climate I always try to think of two great lady pioneers of Botanical Illustration, Margaret Mee and Marianne North who both took their art materials out into the jungle to record rare species, braving disease, violence and sweltering temperatures. Today however, my comparably very trivial problems have been enough to make me want to throw the coloured pencils in the bin, head straight for the airport and and book a ticket to ( I hear ) snowy England.
The humidity and torrential rain have made the paper damp. The high temperatures have wilted my model and made the already quite waxy coloured pencils gummy and soft, so drawing with them has become like applying a candle to a hotplate. My attempts to draw the fine delicate fringe to this little begonia leaf has tried my patience to the very limit. I have given up.
To add to all this I have 11 mosquito bites, 5 of them on my hands.. Why?? Why are there mosquitoes? Why do they bite your fingers when there are nice big accommodatingly smooth and unwrinkled bit to attack. What is the point of the bites itching so badly that you want to tear the flesh from your bones with your teeth? …
However, thankfully, I did get to the library today which was a more soothing experience.

Some early accounts of Florida ..good and bad.
There I found a book about an early intrepid Florida explorer and recorder, Jacques Le Moyne, who in 1562 arrived in Florida with a French expedition and recorded the lives of the Native Americans. The French were driven out of Florida by the Spanish and Le Moyne was one of the few to escape alive. The survivors eventually landed in Britain where Le Moyne remained. I will return to him when I have read more.
But I also came across this early song about Florida. The first on record written in English, it appears in a manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library dated 1584. Had the Anon author, I wonder, whiled away a couple of hours in an ale house with Le Moyne hearing about bizarre and improbable practices from this foreign land, such as smoking dried leaves?.. a notion almost absurd as yesterdays sloth. (Tobacco doesn’t arrive in England until 2 years after this poem , but Le Moyne had already recorded its “medicinal use” in his notes.)

“As I walked toward St Pauls
I met a friend of myne
Who took me by the hand and sayde “come drynk a pynt of wyne,
Wher you shall here
Such news I fere,
As you abrode will compel.
With hy!

Have you not hard of Floryda
A countree far by west?
Where savage pepell planted are,
By nature and be hest
Who in the mold find glysterynge gold
And yt for tryfels sell
With hy!

Ye , all along the water side
Wher yt doth eb and flowe
Are turkeyse found and wher also
Do perles in oysters grow;
And on the land do cedars stand
Whose bewty do excel
With hy!

Wunnot a wallet do well? ”
( a wallet would be useful!)

Almost 200 years later, in 1770, Oliver Goldsmith has a more disconcerting tale to tell prospective settlers who may have felt compelled to try the fair land of La Florida. This is from The Deserted Village.

Through torrid tracts with fainting steps they go,
Where wild Atlantic murmurs to their woe.
Far different there from all that charmed before,
The various terrors of that horrid shore;
Those blazing suns that dart a downward ray
And fiercely shed intolerable day;
Those matted woods where birds forget to sing,
But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;
Those poisonous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,
Where the dark scorpion gathers death around;
Where at each step the stranger fears to wake
The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake;
Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,
And savage men more murderous still than they;
While oft in whirls the mad tornado flies,
Mingling the ravaged landscape with the skies.

Today I am definitely with Goldsmith!

Poems from ‘Florida in Poetry’ by Jane Anderson Jones & Maurice J. O’Sullivan


Leaf of the Day: Peacock Iris and an Upsidedown Sloth

The trials of the natural history artist ..the problem with models.
I chose this pretty iris to draw today as I needed to try a more delicate flower with the coloured pencils. It is dietes bicolor, the peacock iris or Spanish iris.
If I had been doing this drawing for myself and without the botanical painting course in mind I would have put in a dark background to set off the pretty delicate colours and to show the flower as we would normally see it. I was in two minds whether or not to put one in. There are certain conventions or purist schools of thought that would not include any background and there is a distinction between Botanical Art and Botanical illustration. Botanical Illustration is more scientific and is usually for the purpose of identification of a species. Botanical Art allows for more personal interpretation whilst still keeping to the principles of accuracy and detail.
I have spent quite a few hours this week thinking about all this and looking hard at the work of contemporary botanical artists. I do see back grounds now. I may add one to this piece later.
Sadly I wont be able to use the same flower as it has now defiantly curled up its petals into a tight fist and is about to drop off its stem. One day that’s all I had. I am getting very tempted to use photographs. I am going to write about this in another post because its an interesting discussion for artists and for buyers of art.

Identification of species pre camera, of course would rely on seeing the actual object or someone making a drawing from it or sometimes working blind from just a verbal description.
There is an exhibition at the Queens Gallery in Buckingham Palace London “Amazing Rare Things” created in collaboration with David Attenborough. It is an exhibition of Natural History drawings which date from the late fifteenth century to the early eighteenth century, “a period when European knowledge of the world’s flora and fauna was transformed by voyages of discovery to Africa, Asia and the Americas. Through painstaking examination and description, Leonardo da Vinci, the collector Cassiano dal Pozzo, Wenceslaus Hollar, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby hoped to comprehend the natural riches of an ever-expanding world. “
DO go to the website ( above) to see the work even if you can’t get to the exhibition..(and there is a book too.)

David Attenborough describes beautifully the dilemma which must have faced the pre-camera artist here in relation to dal Pozzo’s Sloth. Dal Pozzo commissioned artists to draw for him, probably from specimens and skins, so have a kind thought for the artist confronted with the skin of a 3 toed sloth. He did his best and gave us a fiercesome beast with sharp teeth teetering along on its tip toes. How was he to know this strange creature spent its life suspended from a tree branch.. what an absurd notion!

Collection of
Cassiano dal Pozzo
Artist unknown 1626

But it’s lovely, isn’t it .. just for the very fact of its careful and earnest inaccuracy. The exhibition continues until September, its on my list.

Peacock Iris

Leaf of the Day: Easter Calamondin Orange

It’s Easter already and I hear from my father in the UK they are expecting snow. Dan the avuncular weather man here has promised us a fair weekend.
I am going to Sarasota this week to do some watercolour painting and to visit the Marie Selby Gardens there, so may not be posting any drawing here for a few days.

I have some reading matter to take with me…one is William Bartram’s “Travels and Other Writings”. I quote from the fly leaf;
‘Artist, writer, botanist, gardener, naturalist, intrepid wilderness explorer, and self styled philosophical pilgrim’.
Son of the renowned botanist, John Bartram, William travelled extensively in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida from 1773 to 1776 and wrote about all that he saw and heard, presenting a ” moving detailed vision of man living in harmony with nature”.
I shall be pondering this as we make the monotonous 2 hour drive to Sarasota tomorrow on highways lined with identical concrete malls and fast food outlets.. but I am looking forward to seeing the comical pelicans again in Sarasota Bay.

My other book is Jung’s “Memories Dreams and Reflections” My interest is more to do with my research into Africa in the 1920’s for my other blog My Darling Popsy than analytical psychology. He records in this book the journey to Africa during which he crystallised many of his most important ideas on psychology. My grandfather, being on the same ship to Mombassa and then, I have discovered, working in the areas that Jung travelled to, will have seen many of the same things. It will be very intereting and I may learn something about my psyche as well!
I hope to be able to add a couple of “Popsy” posts this week.

This is the tiny Calamondin orange. I added a seasonal egg and a blueberry really to show how tiny they are. They are very tart but if you eat the whole thing the sweetness of rind compensates for the bitterness of the flesh. It’s almost true..but I think that Pedro’s recipe to use the juice mixed with soy sauce as a marinade is probably a better idea.

This will be my last coloured pencil drawing for March…I say with some relief…

Calamondin Orange

Leaf of the Day: Sky Flower and Snakes

As if little pieces of a deep blue summer sky had fallen to earth, that is how the beautiful Sky Flower gets its name. The blues range from deep violet to the pale blue of a spring morning sky, its throat a pale creamy yellow. This lovely twining vine is also known as the ‘Bengal clock flower’ from its habit of twisting clockwise around any available support.

This is the thunbergia grandiflora, one of the acanthus family. It was named by the great Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carl Linneaus for Carl Peter Thunberg who was one of Linneaus’ last pupils. These 18th Century scientists made extraordinary journeys, travelling round the world in search of new and exotic plant species usually connected with medical studies. Thunberg trained as a medical doctor and part of the training, naturally, was botany as plants would be the main raw materials of his medicines. In August 1775 he travelled as a ship’s doctor to Japan where he lived and worked as a surgeon on at a Dutch trading post on a tiny island in the Bay of Nagasaki. He was seldom allowed to leave the island but through exchanging ideas and knowledge with Japanese doctors he eventually managed to get permission to make a trip to Edo ( Tokyo) which resulted in the first recorded survey of Japanese flora. Reading about any of the lives of these great explorers is humbling.

This is my second attempt to draw this flower. It is so delicate that it is easily crushed and dies very quickly when picked. It grows in a hedge by Leu Gardens and I had taken a little piece yesterday but, consigned to my back pack and a 40 minute bike ride in 87 degrees, the flower on the stem had completely shrivelled up by the time I arrived home. Luckily there was also a bud, which today unfolded obligingly but just a quickly withered.

It is a problem, trying to get delicate specimens back to the house in good condition. When I was young, my sister and I would go out collecting flowers to be lovingly pressed and named. I remember advice, (no doubt from “Girl” magazine or one of my favourite books “Rambles with Uncle Nat “), to paint a cocoa tin black which would provide a cool and rigid container. This we duly did, and attached string for easy transportation. I somehow think that serious botanists may have moved on.

I have tried to save one or two of the leaves I have drawn by drying them. I am not generally a fan of dried flowers ..they conjure up visions of cheap and dismal bed and breakfast establishments which always seemed to have a grey dusty dried flower arrangement in the lobby, usually artfully and visibly glued to a log or bedecked with a faded ribbon …but I love to find a single little pressed flower in an old book, some treasured keepsake. My leaves are now tucked away in the few books I have here.

I have now seen two snakes at Leu Gardens.

A little green snake, I think the Rough Green Snake, yesterday and my first snake sighting was the beautiful big Southern Black Racer which, true to its name, zipped across the path in front of me. Neither of these snakes are venomous but they do still stop you in your tracks.
Luckily Orlando has a snake removal service should you find one cosying up in the bathroom.

Sky Flower

Leaf of the Day: Pretty Coleus or Flame Nettle

Looking like a nettle leaf, a member of the mint family and brilliant in a thousand different colourways this is such a charming little plant. Here it grows happily in a shady garden spot. They are so forgiving to even the worst of neglectful owners and as I remember, respond willingly to even the most ham fisted attempts at propagation. Pop a piece in a glass of water and soon you will have a new little plant.

The coleus was introduced to the UK in the mid 1800s and became the must-have plant. Brought over from Indonesia they were easy to grow and the colours were fascinating as you were never quite sure what you would get from the seeds. The colour variations are many and beautiful. Here is a lovely old print from 1880 of some popular varieties, from Coleusfinder.org here.

There is a renewed interest in coleus now and somehow its perky friendly aspect has won it some very strange variety names. I imagine that enthusiasts chat to each other in a sort of lingua-coleus.
From ‘Mr Wonderful’ and ‘Prissy Primrose’ through ‘Tickle Me’ ‘Flirtin’skirts’ ‘October Wedding’ ‘Saucy Tart’ ‘Heavy Breathing’ ‘Dead Drunk’ ‘Careless Love’ ‘Sin’ to ‘Dark secret’ ‘Stormy Weather’ ‘September Divorce’ and ‘Brighter Day’ they read like the plot of a brief modern marriage…. ‘Mama Mia’ !

Mine, I guess, would be “Sloppy Painter”, I think I am going to order one today.

If you have an interest see the amazing variety here at Glasshouse Works There are 282 colourways recorded.

Coleus, Flame Nettle