Shine and Bloom

Yesterday at my Barnsdale class we looked at some techniques for painting the shine on berries.  The hedgerows have been laden with them this year. Hips and haws, the brilliantly glossy red berries of black bryony and dusty blue sloes. I made a couple of small samples of hips for the class, along with some colour swatches.


I had picked lots of odds and ends for the class and today I decided to make a study of two sloes before they died.  They are so attractive on their lichen covered twig, with the one little shrivelled fruit  on the far end.

bg sloe

Sloes on lichen covered twig  watercolour on Arches HP. image 8” x4”

And a few more !

A  small gallery of some more shiny, glossy, sheeny, bloomy, fruity things from the early days of this Pencil and Leaf blog. I
am slowly trying to get a website together and have been sorting out old images. It’s nice to see them again.
They are memories of steamy happy days at Leu Gardens in Orlando.  I would sometimes refuel for the cycle ride home with a few hand picked snacks. A caffeine hit from Yupon Holly leaves, vitamin C from Surinam cherries, and acerolas, delicious loquats and guavas, fresh carambolas and the curiously textured cocoplum.

acerolas  2 red grapesbalsam 2 balsam apple bw balsam pear 1 bay bean colour  buddhashandetc  clerodendron blue seedpod cocoplum2asian eggplant cycadfinal copysurinam cherrycoral beanfin cherry sketch gardenia pod2easter orange finished fruit   loquat mission figs2 mosiac fig fruit  passion fruit persimmon  ramb col  ochna pom smallblackberry 2

And two more recent drawings of the wild plums at Grafham

wild damson bd      wild damsons col bg

Another couple of berries tomorrow.

Leaf of the Day: The Choice of Fruit

I decided to go down to the Gardens on this freezing cold morning just to think about fruit, if nothing else. I have been fretting about what to paint for this piece. There are only 5 days left before it has to be in the post. There is a supermarket full of fruit just down the road and I seem to have almost one of everything, lined up and staring at me from the kitchen table. For some reason the supermarket fruit, however beautiful and exotic, does not make me want to paint it. Their ranks of orderliness and perfection, however pleasing to the designer in me, feel impersonal. Something is missing.
We had some stormy weather at the weekend and walking around the orchard at Leu, seeing the fallen oranges and lemons, I realised I was really longing for some windfalls or overblown fruit to paint or something I have picked or had some connection with; big Bramley apples, bruised but still worthy of a pie, or a pomegranate split by nature not the knife with the seeds tumbling out. Neither of those are readily available to me but I do have a connection with all the trees at Leu and so my decision was suddenly more easy. Forget the exotic supermarket crowd-pleasers and just paint what I find in the garden today.
I am not sure how much of the emotion contained in paintings communicates to others. I suppose it depends how sympathetic your audience is to your own sensibilities, but there is a great case for the artist, or writer, to depict what they know well and have some emotional feeling for. Somehow that genuine feeling seems to communicate. I wonder if that is why I have such a problem with “realistic” works that are painted from photographs. They can be superficially very beautiful but often the sense of being engaged with the object or place is missing.
My affection for these fruits from Leu will not, unfortunately, guarantee a beautiful painting but it will, at least, be more of pleasure to do.

So, my decision made, I brought back a motley collection of “fruit” possibilities and spent the rest of the afternoon playing around with them for composition ideas. I collected a couple of satsumas, a little stripy orangequat, some small fallen starfruit, some acorns, a couple of pignut hickories, a lemon, some Barbados cherries, a couple of coco plums and even a sprig of yaupon holly berries.
They are an odd mixture and after much rearranging I decided to keep it simple and go with just the satsuma, the stripy unripe orangequat, and two varieties of the Barbados cherry.
Technique wise it’s all about achieving texture. I have shiny berries, the matt inside of the orange peel, the pitted surface of the peel itself and leaves which will no doubt be dried out by tomorrow. I am very unsure how to tackle the inside skin of the orange. I have looked at the books but, as usual, there is no help to be had there..!

Fruit choices

Leaf of the Day: The Hairy Rambutan

The other fruit from yesterday’s Vi Mi’s outing is the rambutan, Nephelium lappaceum, meaning, loosely translated from the Malay, “hairy”. They are comical things and although spiky, the spikes are soft and pliable. They do look more like little sea creatures than fruit.
They are similar to the Longan and the Lychee in that there is a central opalescent fruit. The taste is again, sweet and quite bland. You are supposed to nibble the white flesh from the central seed which looks like an almond. These can be roasted but are supposed to be poisonous raw.

Here is a small excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon
“During the rambutan season, fruits are displayed in great heaps in roadside stalls called boutiques. This is the local term for small shops that sell vegetables, fruit and some of the necessities of life. At this time of year; itinerant vendors who carry their ‘shop’ on the pingo or flexible pole which is slung over one shoulder with a basket on either end, start carrying a different kind of basket. Not open baskets which display their wares, but large, egg-shaped baskets a bit wider at the bottom than at the top, woven from tender green coconut leaves. Every child knows without having to look inside that these baskets hold rambutans; and every child will run to ask the adult in the home to buy some of the fruit which is so popular.”

I spent far too long today just looking at wonderful photographs of Indonesian markets and food stalls and recipes. It just made me want to go and buy a plane ticket. (Irritatingly I have been humming “Ra Ra Rambutan” (aka Rasputin of course) all day. Boney M had a lot to answer for and those must be the worst lyrics in the world)

I occasionally like a drawing I have done and I quite liked these. The colour sketch has some design potential but is definitely not a botanical study!


Leaf of the Day: Some old Itchy and Scratchies, and the Bat-Leaved Passion Flower Fruit.

Today I needed to clarify, just for myself, exactly what a “fruit” really is. I thought the answer would be slightly more complicated, but a fruit is simply the ripened seed-bearing part of a plant. One definition said “If it’s got seeds’s a fruit”
The confusion between fruit and vegetables only really arises in the grocery store or maybe between the main course and the pudding.
For example cucumbers and green beans are really fruit, whereas rhubarb is a vegetable. Vegetables tend to be the edible, stems, leaves, and roots of the plant.

Today Chris sent me this link about a wonderful exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ” Brought to Light” about the extraordinary Microphotography in the 19th Century.

Auguste-Adolphe Bertsch, Male itch mite, ca. 1853–57

The whole article is fascinating and I would love to see the exhibition. It did of course herald the decline of the scientific illustrator.. well almost. But the article explains where photography and illustration differed.
I quote from Wired magazine here

“The idea of representing a specific living thing instead of a generalized abstraction of an organism forced scientists to let go of long-held notions about their discipline.
“Prior to the 19th century, the scientific illustrations tend to represent a type, an ideal. So if you were going to do a picture of a flower, for example, the illustrator would look at 20 flowers and then take the common features and make an ideal flower,” said Keller. “So, if that particular one happens to have a defective petal or something peculiar to it, you never really know:

Does the photograph substitute then for that type of flower in general, or does it only represent that one specimen?”
While it may have posed a challenge for scientists of the 19th century, it’s the unique nature of each photograph taken during this early period that wows us, even now.

I have to admit it’s very hard sometimes to identify plants from photographs and a good “averaged-out” illustration is often better. But it’s those odd irregularities of each individual plant leaf and flower that I personally like so much and will continue to keep painting. It’s that very “averaging- out” that I dislike about much botanical illustration although I understand the necessity for it. I am glad not to be a scientific illustrator and have to reduce things to an the anodyne. Vive la differance.

It is very interesting to compare these photographs with the wonderful illustrations of Robert Hooke’s “Micrographia”, published in 1665 based on Hooke’s own drawings of natural phenomena seen under a microscope.
I wrote a little about the extraordinarily talented Mr Hooke here.

The flea was obviously much on the minds of people then, being, I imagine a more constant daily companion in the lives of 17th and 19th century man than it is, thankfully, today .
Compare then Hooke’s monstrous flea of 1665…..

with, 200 years later, Arthur E. Durham’s Photomicrograph of a flea, 1863 or 1864, from the ” Brought to Light” exhibition. See the museum website here for more details and more revealing photographs

Are you itchy yet?

But my odd irregularity today is the fruit of the beautiful Batleaved Passion Flower. I have another, regular, grocery shop passion fruit here to draw but I like this little vine so much I decided to paint these first. I drew the leaf before here back in June. I had forgotten how beautiful they are. The fruit are tiny and turn from green with pale white spots to blue black. I do have a riper black one here but not enough time to draw it today.

Bat Winged Passion Flower Fruit