Leaf of the Day: Red Leaf

Today I cycled to Kraft Gardens for a couple of hours in order to find a leaf to start the coloured pencil work with. I actually have a veritable nature table here, full of leaves. It’s a perfect example of my normal displacement behaviour which I wrote about here. Finding something thoroughly absorbing and apparently vital to do rather than start the difficult task ahead must be well known to many.
Kraft gardens was delightful and I did find this leaf. I made some sketches, which I will post tomorrow, and managed to fritter away a bit more time, putting off the evil hour of the coloured pencil work. I have been avoiding starting this project for days as coloured pencil is new to me apart from colouring in roughs or adding a bit of pzazz to a watercolour. I did have a few fruitless hours playing with them, in an aimless way, and making a colour chart (more excellent displacement behaviour). The most daunting task was sharpening them all and then, when I did finally sit down to do this drawing, I seemed to be working with an ever increasing fistful of them, dropping them on the floor and generally getting in a temper with them. Some are waxier than others and some grittier leaving little black specks on the paper here and there.

It has been very frustrating but it is mainly, of course, because I don’t yet understand how to use them well, which paper to use and if the ones I have bought are the right ones for this fine work etc etc. I just have to experiment. This first attempt is on a very smooth cartridge with the Prismacolor set.
There are some things I quite like about them but I am used to paint which I can apply thinly to achieve pale tones. Here you have to use pale coloured pencils and you really have to think hard about which colours you are going to use. It is, I suppose, a very good discipline for me.
I am reluctant to post this today but I did say it would be the good and the bad. I do like some of the colours and I always say to my students if only half an inch of a painting is successful then it hasn’t been a waste of time. I am now going to have a large gin and tonic…

Red Leaf

Why a Blog

Well, its that new-leaf-turning time of the year and I have decided to write this blog for quite a few reasons.

First and foremost… I decided to go back to some basics in art and take a botanical painting course with “the Society of Botanical Artists“. However I share with many the terrible creative “displacement behaviour problem” and so to discipline myself to produce some work, at least 2 days before the deadline, I am going to try to post a couple of images or more a week. The actual assignments for the course are only due bi- monthly and the lure of wandering the aisles of the local mall ( pronounced maul or mawl) in an attempt to put off the confrontation with paper and pencils is so strong that I may have to tie my leg to the desk. I can’t now remember the writer who had to do this to keep himself on track, but I sympathise… who was it?

Secondly… I am here in a new country and after 2 months have had some interesting experiences, have made some fascinating discoveries and have endless questions to ask. I will post a few of these online to help me remember what has happened and perhaps to get some answers to the questions. Unfortunately I cannot take a job here as the alleged “special relationship” between the USA and UK does not seem to extend to me doing anything useful positive and paid here… so I have to keep busy

Thirdly… It will be a sort of digital sketchbook too. I´m not very good at keeping sketchbooks as I have a haphazard grasshopper style of work which means I have odd thoughts scribbled on bits of paper. How I long to have those beautiful volumes of exquisite sketches that some artists have. I have faced up to many a lovely pristine sketch book with nothing but good intentions only to fail miserably by page three when the note or drawing I have done goes horribly wrong. I then have to either cut it out, or take the page out.. and that just leads to more dilemmas. …do I take out the whole page (and its connecting partner )..does that make the book look thinner or lopsided and.. worst of all …will anyone notice this deception and see and understand that I have made something less than perfect! ..etc etc.
Those who also have problems with perfection will understand.

Why this Course
Here in Florida, uprooted and missing the countryside of Europe it seemed the perfect thing to do. Engage with the local flora and fauna. I have always been in awe of the work of botanical and natural history painters, as much for their intrepid travels as for their work. Recording and rendering the natural world is a real challenge of skill and observation. It is also an honest and genuine art form with a purpose.
You may say why bother, as we have wonderful photographic techiques which can reveal more than the keenest human eye. But photography is instant and drawing in detail is slow and it is the luxury of going back to this slow and careful observation of what surrounds me that really appeals. In its slowness lies its pleasure. While you are drawing, ideas will emerge, connections will be made and the pure beauty of shape, line and tone will become apparent again. Already after only 4 days I have more notes in the “great-ideas which-may-never-see-the-light-of-day ” file. True! Most of them never will but it gives me some comfort to know they are there.

This painting course takes you back to the beginning of drawing again, careful observed drawing, then onto line, tone and colour. All the while keeping that disciplined approach, and the pace is slow too. I am so pleased to be part of it and this study will do nothing but enhance whatever other artistic things I am involved with. I also like to be part of something bigger and to have expert advice from some of the best botanical painters in the world will be wonderful. I admit I am daunted by their skills of observation, their design sense and sheer artistic virtuosity ..I have a lot to learn, but as learning is my drug of choice it wont be too arduous.