Leaf of the Day: Cedar Key Cedar and Sharp Green Pencils..again.

Sunday evening and we have returned, sun burnt and completely exhausted from 3 days on the Gulf coast. We dodged most of the rain, encountered some enormous sponges, learnt about scalloping, ate fabulous fish, saw some very interesting plants, met some very nice people, communed with some ancient spirits and our last day at Cedar Key was just heavenly. I will be retro posting blog entries with a few relevant details but we saw and did so much it would take me a week just to write it up.

Cedar Key Sunday morning

It’s funny how things come around though. At the very start of the blog I wrote about my favorite pencils, Faber Castell my lovely, elegant, sharp, racing green pencils, here and when I go away there is usually one somewhere in my bag with a small sketchbook. While in Cedar Key we took the excellent Captain Doug’s tour to see the outlying islands and some of the wonderful bird life. The boat trip took us to nearby Atsena Otie Key which was the site of the original town, called Cedar Key after the red cedar tree a type of juniper, which grew on the island. Captain Doug explained that the community was once much larger than the current 900 inhabitants, a thriving town and home in fact to one of Faber’s timber mills. I felt I should have jumped up brandishing the pencil I had in my bag but I didn’t.
In 1849, J. Eberhard Faber came to America looking for wood suitable for the booming pencil factory which his brother was running in Germany. This he found in abundance on Florida’s Gulf shores between the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers so he bought both land and timber, floated logs to the Keys, and initially shipped logs over to the factory in Germany.

Planning to expand his pencil empire into America, in 1858 Faber built a slat mill on Atsena Otie and started shipping wooden slats to the newly opened Faber pencil factory in New York. The Eagle Pencil Company followed with their own mill in 1876. Helped by the newly developed first railroad which ran across from Cedar Key to the Atlantic coast the little town became an important port but on September 29, 1896 a powerful hurricane and a 10 foot tidal wave crossed the island, destroying the mills and almost all of the town. A year later the remaining inhabitants left, Atsena Otie was abandoned and a new community built up where Cedar Key is today.
On a short walk just outside the town along the disused railway line we found one of the cedars along with many other, well labeled, native plants. (Very useful for this blog.) The Seminole name for this particular red cedar (Juniperis silicicola) is atcina which gave the island Atsena Otie its name. The red cedar has beautiful aromatic wood which as well as pencils was used for making chests and wardrobes as moths dislike the smell. Juniper oil is distilled from the wood, twigs and leaves and its pretty dusty blue cones are known as berries and the European junipers cones are used to flavour gin.

One of the constantly watchful pelicans

Early morning at Cedar Key from the hotel room, opposite is Coconuts Bar and the fishing deck…very handy.

Cedar Key is just so beautiful with many natural places to explore and when your feet hurt and the bites are itching what could be better than chilling out on the fishing deck at Coconuts with a cool beer listening to some zydeco and watching the pelicans, the magnificent frigate birds, the little terns wheeling overhead. We did all that and we will do it all again soon I am sure…and we saw dolphins too.
More about Cedar Key from their website here

I did a quick drawing of a tiny piece of the cedar and thought it would be appropriate to add a photo of the pencils, the drawing and the model. The sprig is tiny and the drawing is enlarged x 3.


Red Cedar Sprig

Leaf of the Day: On Durer’s “Turf” and the problem of Greens

Today I returned to sorting out my paints and thinking about the colour “green” for the next part of the course. Just one quick glance from the window shows so many different greens, from the olive/yellow of the palms right the way through to bluey greens of the hollies and everything else in between. At the moment many trees have new bright leaves, some brilliantly yellow-green and glowing against the blue Florida sky. It is very true that the light of a place has a huge effect on your perception of bright colours. You know how that colourful Caribbean throw you bring back from a holiday looked just lovely in its natural habitat, but now may somehow appear garish against the softer colours of a British climate.

Albrecht Durer. “A Piece of Turf” 1503

I went back to look at the the colours of one of my very favourite paintings, which to my mind is amongst the best of “botanical” paintings and one which still shapes my thinking about about the subject. Painted so long ago in 1503, Durer is considered to be one of the earliest watercolour painters. In this image it wouldn’t be Durer’s intention to paint botanic specimens for the sake of identification but to make a study of something he found interesting and beautiful. It’s a curious image in some ways. Unlike most contemporary botanical work the flowers and grasses with all their imperfections are presented intermingling in a natural way and have a relationship to each other, but then, like conventional botanical work it is set against a plain background. I am given the feeling this piece of land belongs to something else, has left a gap in a field, like a missing piece in a jigsaw.
It is a little slice of reality, without the plants being obviously arranged into a “design”, although I am sure Durer made many compositional and tonal decisions in the execution of this lovely painting.

In my original application to the course I remember writing that I particularly like work that gives a sense of place to the plants.. the artspeak word would be “context”.
Durer also gives each plant its identity (I have spoken of this before) rather than an averaged out version which smoothes out the wrinkles and takes away the character. While I can admire the execution of a beautiful individual unblemished specimen in celebration of the height of perfection of a species, for me, a more interesting piece is something that demonstrates that we do not see plants in isolation, but relating to earth, the interaction of animals and insects and the play of light. I suppose, being an illustrator I like the story!.

Thinking about colour, I also wondered about Durer´s paint. He would have had little choice of green pigments. There were very few natural green pigments and the bright strong greens, like gorgeous viridian, the much loved Pre Raphaelite green, are relatively recent. Green is a notoriously difficult colour for artists because most greens need to be mixed either by you or a paint manufacturer. However, with the continuing development of artist’s paints we do now have more choices for brilliant and lightfast colours. We need them!.. the colours of the natural world are often vibrant beyond belief!

So, green is to be my focus for the next few weeks and I am very happy about that. My own starting point was to draw some leaves from the little euonymus bush. which have an endless variety of pattern and shape. I painted them with the yellows I have and overlayed them with different blues and then ready mixed greens.. not very methodical or scientific but its a start.


Euonymus Leaves

First Leaf of the Day: The Live Oak

My very first leaf of the day and it had to be the leaf of the splendid live oak tree. At the moment we are living in Winter Park a suburb of Orlando and there are live oaks in abundance. Huge and beautiful trees cast a dappled shade on the sidewalks and some star in the elegant gardens in this district . Why “live”? …because they stay green for almost all of the year. They are so different from the English oak. The leaves are tougher and some are almost like holly. It is a really magnificent tree and my first sight of Spanish moss hanging from its branches in the leafy side streets of Winter Park will always remain with me. Some interesting facts about the live oak are here from the Winter Park Live Oak Fund. There are two small live oaks outside our apartment where squirrels chase and chatter and generally squirrel about.
The leaves are very small,the longest only 2.5 inches. One would not have seemed enough! This also shows that some have prickles and some are very smooth.
The Live Oak

Sharp Green Pencils

A word about green pencils.
Artists, designers, doodlers and scribblers of over a certain age will remember the joy of the newly sharpened pencil;
the smell of cedar wood, the promise of the next masterpiece.
My favourites were always the beautiful, elegant and classic Faber-Castell 9000 series. I still have them, a whole set. They sit lovingly sharpened in their tins. I have, since those early days, moved on to the equally seductive mechanical pencils, fine and delicate in .3 .5 and.7 but still Faber-Castell.

Their website is here.
Their logo shows, of course, the pencil victorious over the lance.. pen mightier than sword etc.
If you love pencils check out this website it will lead you to many others.