Crotons revisited

Yesterday I went to Leu Gardens to look for crotons.
I need to re-acquaint myself with these fascinating plants for a commissioned painting for my good friend Jeff. The severely cold weather we had over the winter certainly damaged some of the plants quite badly and I read that Orlando is about as far north as outdoor crotons like to be.
In the sheltered areas they had survived quite well and there were enough for me to find some interesting leaves.

I am ambivalent about crotons.They are strange plants.
Sometimes they just look too much of a muddle of colours for me but, as I wrote before, the individual leaves are wonderful.
Their variety of shape and colour are seemingly endless. Anyway more about crotons later, but for now just some prelim sketches.

One lovely curling leaf from “Mammy”or “Mamey” and three little “Mother and Daughter” leaves which I could not resist. They are from a plant at Leu which seems to be completely schizophrenic, having so many different leaf shapes and colours that it can’t seem to decide quite what it is ..

croton pencil

croton colour sketches

I have looked at crotons a few times now .. my other croton posts are here..

Leaf of the Day: The Simply Beautiful Fringe Tree and 3 More Crotons

I made a brief visit to the gardens today. The weather was beautiful, there were 4 weddings (hopefully, no funeral) and a camera club outing, so Leu Gardens was buzzing. There are some lovely things coming into bloom which I had missed last year, some very pretty cherry trees and the gorgeous American Fringe Tree, Chionanthus Virginicus.

It is also known by other picturesque names, Old Man’s Beard, or Grancy Gray Beard. It’s so dainty and had a light scent which reminded me very much of cow parsley.

Donald Culross Peattie in “Trees of Eastern and Central North America” describes it in his best lyrical prose.

“Only a little tree at its best… the Fringe tree is as gracile and feminine seeming as any that grows beside the rushing stream or climbs the warm slopes of the Blue Ridge under the shelter of sturdier growths. Close relative of the useful and mighty Ashes, kin to the fruitful Olive, the Fringe tree is the little sister of the family. If it is of no economic importance it contributes to the higher things of life (ahh.. how lovely) It is a raving beauty when in mid- spring it is loaded from top to bottom with the airiest, most ethereal yet showy flowers boasted by any member of our northern sylva. “

I thought how nice it was to be reminded that we do need some things in life that just make us feel happy, without actually being essential to our survival. William Morris’ suggestion to have only things around us that are beautiful or useful is a good rule. Ideas of use and beauty however do vary!
I would love to paint this pretty tree sometime, but today I was looking for some more colourful croton leaves, this time Pinnochio, Zanzibar, and Mammey.


Three More Crotons

Leaf of the Day: A Bimbo comes between Eleanor and Franklin

After that long post yesterday (somewhat excessive displacement behaviour to avoid the K confrontation), this is mercifully short. I have spent the morning framing a few pictures and decided I wanted a few more colour studies. So today to get away from the very tight botanical stuff I decided to paint some fun colourful crotons. I intend to do 3 more just to show the variety of colour and pattern. I now realise I will have quite a few crotons to show, which is ironic as I really didn’t much care for them initially but their relentlessly cheerful colours, tolerance of adverse conditions and general good nature win you over in the end, you just have to give in. There are people like that too. I have thought that Julie Andrews might be one of them.
The croton names are many and delightful but, confusingly, each variety may have as many as 7 names. For my next three I will be able to choose from Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Paintbrush, Sloppy Painter or Norman Rockwell. Unwittingly I put Bimbo in between the Roosevelt’s, just for the sake of design. But at Leu Gardens this is not the case, Eleanor and Franklin are planted side by side, which, knowing a little about their relationship, is not a position I am sure Eleanor would necessarily approve of.

Franklin Roosevelt, Bimbo and Eleanor Roosevelt

Leaf of the Day: Mother and Daughter Croton

I have spent most of the day working on my other blog which I may post tomorrow, but as a bit of light relief today I just had to draw these wonderfully strange leaves.
I stumbled upon them down in the jungly bits of Leu. They are from the bizarre Mother and Daughter Croton, I think the variety is Codiaeum Appendiculatum. You can see why it has this name, with the nodding small leaf sprouting from the top of the bigger leaf joined by the slender stalk. Where they join, is a slight funnel shape which is quite beautiful. You really need to hold one in your hand to appreciate it. The one I have painted is an almost black-green with deep red on the underside of the leaves, the young leaves are bright green. I am so taken with these I will probably draw them again.
It was only because I was looking at something else that I noticed this croton whose leaves, like so many other crotons and fancy leaved plants, really need to be seen in isolation and away from the muddle of the whole plant. I initially didn’t like crotons much but I am coming to admire them more and more. Their sheer variety is stunning. The previous posts re: crotons are here

The croton is so named because the seed looks like a tick and there have been a few insecty things around this week. One is the discovery of a new sort of aphid which was bought, preserved in amber, on Ebay for 20 pounds.

Another is a short piece on BBC Radio 4′ Great Lives about the extraordinarily talented Robert Hooke, whose Micrographia I have mentioned before here.
The introduction has David Attenborough reading Hooke’s description of a flea.
” the flea is adorned with a curiously polished suite of sable armor, neatly jointed.”
What a marvellous description. I think nowadays we have lost much of beauty of descriptive language just for the sake of brevity. It’s a shame.

Robert Hooke’s engraving of the Flea from Micrographia, from Stanford University here

You can listen via the BBC website here if you are interested. “Micrographia” was so important as it was the first book devoted entirely to the new science of microscopic observation, illustrated with Hooke’s own beautifully executed engravings. Can you imagine the impact of such a work in 1665?


Mother and Daughter Croton

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: …yet another Curly Croton

You may have gathered from other drawings that I like things that curl and have a bit of a twist to them. I wanted to paint one of these little ornamental corkscrew croton leaves so here is the preliminary drawing. I have already mentioned crotons, the Codeium family and and initially I must admit I found the large flat-leaved ones somewhat ugly but I have made three previous drawings here and, if you love pattern and colour , you have to love crotons. Here are a couple of very nice old black and white catalogue pages from which show off the variety of patterns. You can see why I am beginning to warm to them.

I will get round to some paintings of them soon as they really need to be seen in all their colourful glory. This one is a modest green with yellow edges and spots.

Corkscrew Croton

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: Curly Croton

My second croton. (the earlier one is here.) This one I like better. Its not quite the corkscrew variety which twists the whole way up the stem but this one does have one full turn. To my mind the individual leaves are more attractive than the plant as a whole. Their beautiful shapes can get lost in all that exuberant colour…but then the colours and patterns are wonderful too.

The colour of this one is extraordinary. A red background with dark green patches bordered in a yellowy green. The back of the leaf is deep magenta. It’s very beautiful. I will certainly return to these when I start working in colour. They are also known as Joseph’s Coat and are definitely the Jackson Pollock of the plant world.
I have read that the name Croton comes from the Greek word “tick”, because of the similarities of the seeds to dog ticks.. to be honest lots of seeds look like ticks to me! Its Latin name is Codiaeum Variegatum and it is part of the extensive Euphorbiaceam family apparently over 2000 varieties. I blanch at the prospect of all those leaves from just one genus. Some more information about them, if you are interested, is here from Waynes Word .
This one came from the shrubby borders of Park Avenue where I saw the squirrel yesterday. The council have kindly labeled some of the lovely trees which are planted at the roadside. .. but not the shrubs.

I had been to the Creadle School of Art today for my second ceramics class. I love working in clay but there is so much to learn. I´m on week two of the lumpen ashtray. I wont be sharing the results with you just yet.


The Curly Croton

Leaf of the Day: Croton

Hmmm the croton! I have yet to fall in love with these. I found this lying on the path outside the apartment. The Big Ugly Freeze has done some damage and quite a few plants are looking sad. I am not sure if this just fell off or blew off as we have also had some Big Ugly Winds too, but no plant vandalism was involved in its aquisition. Its main attraction of the croton I think is the colour which of course you cannot see here.. (later will come colour) but this will give you an idea. Daves Garden crotons are splendid in colour and variety.

It poses an interesting problem for b/w drawing because the tonal values of the red and green parts are very similar in tone so making to difficult to render. I didnt do much as you can see .. these are big leaves and on Saturdays I have other things to do but it was interesting to see the markings and actually look at them properly. The patterns throw up endless possibilites for designers.

The Croton