Three “Thank You’s”

I have had three very nice things happen just recently and I just want to say thanks!


Thank you Bees in Art!
Firstly to Andrew at “Bees in Art” who kindly invited me to join them. My bees now have a page there! I am so very pleased and honoured to be added to such a brilliant group of artists and even on the same line as Arthur Rackham. At the moment only the prints are available there but as I have more time I hope to be able to add some originals… so “Thank you!” Bees in Art.


Thank you SAA Bursary Award!

On Saturday I spent the day in London and attended the SAA, the Society for All Artists exhibition “It’s All About Art” which was full of aspiring artists watching and participating in demos from some very accomplished artists.
I particularly like the SAA because of their all inclusive and non precious attitude to art.

They exist to “inform, encourage and inspire” artists of all ages and all abilities. It was great to see so many people trying different styles media and approaches.
I was there to receive a small but very welcome bursary to go towards art materials for my fledgling “Bee Inspired” art/ nature workshops… which I will be offering soon, more of that to come. Thank you all at SAA for your support for the project.

Book's cover

Thank you “Pitahayas in Art” And finally an unexpected and non bee thank you to Adolfo Rodríguez Canto
from the Universidad Autonoma Chapingo in Mexico.

Adolfo is putting together a very specialist book on the strange and beautiful Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya, or more accurately the Pitahaya in Art! “Las Pitahayas en Las Artes Plasticas”.
He had asked to include my dragon fruit sketches, from those wonderful early days of my Pencil and Leaf Blog when I was discovering so much of the world of tropical and subtropical flora in Orlando.
I couldn’t be more delighted.
They will be amongst ceramics and paintings drawing and sculptures all celebrating this “maravillosa planta mesoamericana!”
Otra vez Adolfo, Me siento honrado de tener las pinturas incluido en su libro!
Mil gracias!’ Y otra vez las pitahayas… Half a pitahaya…

and this glorious, magenta and green fruit in a colour sketch..

See the Dragon Fruit Posts here from back in 2008, where I explored my newly rediscovered fruit…something I first ate in a hostel in Nicaragua, not then knowing what on earth it was!

Frida Kahlo’s painting is beautiful.

Leaf of the Day: Damp and Ergot and the Dragon Fruit again

Today there has been a chink in the clouds and a glimpse of sun, but not for long. One of the problems with all this rain is that everything in the apartment feels damp, the sugar, the biscuits, the bed linen and in particular my drawing papers. If you have ever tried to write with a pencil on damp paper you will know how frustrating it is and to try to do a detailed drawing is very difficult. The pencil either digs in hard, making a nasty indented line or slides over the now spongy surface. It loses the resistance you need to give a nice crisp line and you have to go up a couple of grades to a softer pencil which makes detail on a small scale almost impossible.
Post Fay, we are also having local warnings about the dangers of household mould from the receding flood waters. Moulds are very interesting and can be good or bad and I was reminded of the dangerous and intriguing fungus, Ergot.

Ergot is a fungus that grows on grain crops and is decidedly dangerous. The effects of eating the fungus in bread or flour made from infected grains can be fatal.

When rye, which it particularly attacks, started to be grown more widely in Medieval Europe, epidemics of ” ergotism” broke out with horrible results. Arms and legs would feel to be on fire, convulsions and terrifying visions ensued, sores developed and in the worst cases where the nerves were destroyed, gangrene would set in and the disease became known first as the Holy Fire.. a punishment for God for some ill deed or other, but later as St Anthony’s Fire.

There is a very interesting article here about “Ergot in Rye” and its dire consequences, especially regarding the persecuting of witches, (as in the Salem witches ) as it is thought that their convulsive witch-like behaviour may have been brought on by ergot poisoning.

Matthias Grünewald’s great 16th-century Isenheim Altarpiece was commissioned by Antonite monks for the hospital chapel of their monastery in Isenheim. Here the monks cared for patients suffering from this terrible disease, the altarpiece both acknowledges and comforts the suffering. It is a magnificent work .

In 1670 a French physician, Dr. Thuillier, through observation, some clever deductions and looking at the records of outbreaks, put forward a theory that the little cockspurs in rye could be to blame, but with no conclusive evidence could not persuade farmers it was their rye crops which were the cause of all the deaths. It was not until 1853 that Louis Tulasne, an early mycologist and illustrator, examining the life cycle of ergot concluded that it was the fungus growing on the inconspicuous flower of the Rye which was the possible culprit rather than the rye itself.

It’s a fascinating story with connections to ancient Greek rituals and hallucinogenic ceremonies from 400 BC..and of course is infamous as one of the original ingredients of LSD.

Moulds, and fungi can, of course, be very beautiful as this bread mould

This beautiful image from the Wellcome Trust here
“Bread mould
The fruiting body of bread mould. As the mould grows, it propagates itself by forming spores that are released into the environment and grow into new mould colonies.Colour-enhanced scanning electron micrograph by
Liz Hirst.”

Of course some moulds and fungi are harmful some are not, after all, if we didn’t have some edible moulds, we would be without the gorgeous blue cheeses.

Today having given up with the damp drawing paper I did get round to doing a study of the dragon fruit.. great magenta’s and pinks. It is quite a little monster isn’t it!


Dragon Fruit

Leaf of the Day: Dragon Fruit

It’s Monday and you may think that, as I have been head down and working hard, the approach of Hurricane Fay has passed me by. No indeed! We have the weather channel to hand and are laying in supplies. I bought a useful torch and some water today so I can keep on painting.
However I spent most of this morning packing up the assignment which was double wrapped and protected with extra layers of foamcore for its perilous journey to the UK and is now posted. Joy..

Meanwhile through all the angst of last week, the good dragon fruit have been sitting quietly in the fridge. It’s ten days now and they seem very little changed. They are odd things and, most interesting to me, they are the fruit of a cactus, Hylocereus undatus.

Photo from plantogram here

This strange and beautiful plant originates from Central America where it is also known also known as pithaya or pitahaya. It is referred to as a vining cactus which will twist its way through trees and over fences and can reach 20ft in length. It is this twisting green body which then sports these scaly red “heads” that gives the dragon fruit its name. It really does remind me of the beautiful ink paintings of the dragons appearing from mist in the old Japanese screens. I was so delighted to find this image from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts here .

Doan (Yamada Yorikiyo), Japanese Dragon, ink on paper, around 1560.
It must be one of my favourite dragon paintings. Somewhere I still have an old photocopy of this image, from at least 25 years ago when I was researching Japanese dragons and legends.

The cactus has huge and beautiful white flowers which can be over a foot in length but it is another night blooming species so unless you are an insomniac you are not likely to see one.

Developing fruit and flower from tradewindsfruit website here. They have some wonderful fruits.

The plant seems to be happy growing over fences or as trees in commercial orchards and also it looks very nice in pot!
I have cut one in half and not found it that exciting to eat. The one I have is the white pulp variety with millions of tiny black seeds.. the more beautiful one which I had in Nicaragua had flesh of a stunning dark magenta.

William Chow has written a book about dragon fruit and has a website here with some wonderful photos..this one really shows the plants in their full glory.

And this delightful photograph of a whole bundle of dragons is from
I love here

You really do want there to be a legend about the dragon fruit don’t you? But it seems the only one, something to do with eating the dragon’s fire, was made up by some creative marketing people to enhance the fruit’s appeal. But I guess all legends have to start somewhere.

Frida Kahlo’s has painted dragon is her painting “Pitahayas“.
Superficially it is a still life, but typically of Kahlo, there is an uneasy element in the shape of a little skeleton sitting on the adjacent rock holding a scythe. It is a surreal image and reminds me of the English artist Tristram Hillier, whose classic 1950’s illustrations for the old Shell guide books have the same disturbing feeling.

Frida Kahlo, Still Life: , 1938, oil on aluminum, 10 x 14 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

I quote from the Madison Museums description of the painting.

“In many respects, Kahlo’s depiction is realistic, even including two pitted rocks and round cactus to suggest the fruit’s habitat. But the artist takes liberties and makes certain decisions that give her still life its special meanings. First, these pitahayas are decomposing; the healthy yellow skin has over-ripened to a garish red-orange. The skins have burst open, and brown rot has set in. One has been sliced open to reveal what we would expect, the white flesh and black seeds. But the cuts are perfectly rounded rims. The sectioned fruits stare out with other-earthly eyes. Presiding over the fruits is a small seated skeleton who holds a scythe that identifies it as the grim reaper—death itself. This figure is a calavera. It is associated with El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Mexico’s most popular holiday that commences for two days on November 1—All Saints Day in the Catholic liturgical calendar.
Kahlo’s still life is a meditation on death. Because of its watery freshness that can provide sustenance in the most barren of terrains, the pitahaya is known as the “fruit of the shipwrecked man.” But even this most life-giving of fruits is given to decay. If realistic in certain details, this still life is magical. “

Hmmmthe fruit of the shipwrecked man” I like that. A fruit, growing in the desert. A welcome and refreshing relief for a stranded traveller in a scorched and barren land. There must be a legend in there somewhere.
What have I done? Well so far a drawing. I do have a drawing ready to paint but tomorrow I have to spend a day on my other blog so maybe Wednesday..

Dragon Fruit

Leaf of the Day: Dragon Fruit and William Joyce

Oh, the joys of Asian supermarkets!
It’s Saturday and that usually means a day off for me, away from the trials and tribulations of battling with plants and paints. I was talking to Susan, who is one of the gardeners at Leu, yesterday about about various edibles and said I had been looking for the wonderful dragon fruit. She said. “Go to the Asian supermarkets down on Colonial, and while you are there be sure to try the tamarinds.” so, still feeling uninspired after yesterday we cycled down there this morning.
If you are feeling a bit jaded as an artist I can recommend a trip to the Asian supermarkets for an olfactory and visual boost. They are crammed with strange and wonderful foodstuffs, fruit and vegetables I cannot identify, (there seemed to be huge bamboo spikes) packets of bits and pieces of dried vegetables, all kinds of pretty sweetmeats and cakes, and the smell of the place is quite indefinable. There are pretty gaudy nicknaks and some great packaging, all enough to lift the creative spirit out of the deepest slough of despond. I have come back with… joy of all joys.. 2 stunning magenta and lime green dragonfruit and a box of tamarinds. It doesn’t take must to make this girl happy!

On the way back we stopped at the art main Orlando Art Gallery which was holding an exhibition of the illustrator William Joyce who I had never come across before. The work is very well known to Americans, perhaps not so much to the UK market. He was the co-creator of the film Robots and has many books and TV series here in the USA. It was fun and the sheer quality of the artwork was stunning, the earlier paintings done in oil on paper!! (I was wondering how he managed to meet tight deadlines). His work has a decidedly retro feel owing quite a lot to Lawson Wood I thought in its design and colour. It is always so good to see illustrators original works, well any original works really, they always have a presence that you can never get from the printed page or the computer screen.
A couple of images from the Harper Collins website here,the dragon from Bently and the Egg, and The Leaf Men, which I think is going to be made into an animated film

We finished off the Asian theme to the day by finding a very good Indian Restaurant.. the sag alloo was to die for .. but then spinach is such an interesting plant, isn’t it? Catherine de Medici and Popeye thought so too, all that for another post.

Leaf of the Day : A Terbinate Fruit

I do like the strange and odd in life and this is a very strange fruit indeed. Although it looks like some bizarre composite it is real, and not just a bad drawing, I promise. I found a few of these fallen “fruit” in Leu gardens and luckily they had fallen next to their name tag. This is the fruit (and a tiny leaf) of Pereskia Grandifolia the Rose cactus. Some of the fruits which had fallen on the floor were linked together like the one I have drawn, originally this one was a chain of three.

I have yet to see the flowers in real life, but they look very pretty from the photos on the Internet. I don’t quite understand how the fruit develop in these chains and on the tree at Leu Gardens the leaves grow in an odd way too, straight out of the trunk which in turn has huge ferocious spines.
I have read that the fruits are described as “terbinate with leaflike bracts. Turbinate meaning “like a spinning top or an inverted cone” Originally from Brazil, where it is colloquially called “pray for us”, it is a cactus but with edible broad leaves that look just like regular leaves.

It’s related to other edible cacti including prickly pears and the amazingly beautiful Dragon fruit which I do hope to find here to draw.I first came across this in Nicaragua served for breakfast in Hostel Oasis in Granada. I had never seen a fruit of such a beautiful colour and only now know what it was.

Dragon fruit


Pereskia , Rose cactus