Leaf of the Day: The Hibiscus.. hour, by hour, by hour…

Well it is Saturday, the day I have to get the Hibiscus finished. For my own interest I am going to see just how long it takes. I am a morning person and if it were a project I was looking forward to I would normally start at about 7.00. Today I eventually begin work at 9.00am after many delays. So here was my starting point from yesterday, a slight sketch drawing on the submission sheet with some tentative colour.

9.00am ready to go.

I have to cover up all the other flower heads or else I am bound to get greasy marks, tea stains, paint splashes etc, all over them. I took my one good flower out of the fridge and decided the only way to tackle this was to take the individual petals off. I will be guided by the shapes from yesterday’s sketch. As my initial drawing was of a different flower some things have changed but I should be able to make sense of it all. I am scanning as I go which again is time consuming but a welcome break.

11.00 am .. now I have a bit more colour and some more shading and have rubbed out the pencil.. well as much of it as I can.

I started again at 11.30 ..ish.
I realised I had to paint the stamens next, very quickly, as they are visibly shrivelling and there are lots of them.. but once you understand one and how they radiate out from the thickened stem it’s not too bad. Also I have to decide how to tackle the petals at the back and I am considering leaving them a bit paler so they appear further back. They are, in reality, a muddle.

2.00 pm. I do have breaks to have a coffee and to look, consider and plan.. I hope one more hour will be enough. From an artistic point of view and my own preference, I would probably leave it here. I like a slightly unfinished look where you can see some of the workings of a piece, but this is a botanical painting, and to be judged as such, so I probably need to push it a bit further for accuracy.

2.00 pm

3.00 The hibiscus and I are at an almost finished state but I need a break from it, as all I can see are the awful bits at the moment. It’s important to go away at this point ..very.
However a trip to Kmart to wait in an interminable queue for a pint of milk does not help. Sometimes I despair about the human race.

When I got back I decided there needed to be another small flower head on the sheet and painted that, a small purple something which I have yet to identify. Then looked over the hibiscus again tightened up a few things…I am not sure that was wise..and called it a day ..for today.. it may be finished…..it is 5.00.. phew.


Japanese Lantern Hibiscus

Leaf of the Day: Slow Progress, a Schizophrenic Hibiscus and some thoughts about Drawing

It’s Friday, early evening, and I have sidled back to the computer for a while to put off tackling the most difficult flower I have chosen, the Lantern Hibiscus. I left it until last hoping to build up some skill during the week. Where to start? I don’t know. I look at this frilly, pretty thing with a mixture of admiration and despair. How can I do it justice?

I went down to Leu this morning to get another blossom as the first one withered away before I could make a really good study of it. Even though I have permission, I really don’t like to pick the flowers but there are lots of these trees scattered about the gardens and they are in full bloom. I have seen them before but this time I look at the name tag Hibiscus schizopetalus.
I had to giggle, a hibiscus with petals that don’t know if they are coming and going, just how I feel right now. It was probably named after the first unfortunate botanist who was given the unenviable task of drawing it, no doubt developing a severe personality disorder in the process. Of course the name refers to its deeply split and divided petals which twist and turn so bewitchingly… where do I start?

Thoughts about Drawing.
For non artists it will be hard to imagine the time involved in drawing anything from life, but if you have ever tried to draw with any degree of accuracy at all, and I am not talking about copying a photograph, you will know how difficult it is and how long it takes.
I was talking to a friend in the garden today, and I found myself trying to justify why, after 5 days I have painted only one flower head per day. It is a very slow process, but I tell myself it is partly because this is a new art form for me and am learning. Each step I take has to be carefully considered, cups of tea have to be made and pencils sharpened and put in order. Palettes and brushes have to be cleaned and paints have to be chosen and the rituals of “starting a new piece ” have to be observed. Of course they mostly involve doing anything at all to avoid starting the work. Also, because I am learning and I am doing this in isolation, books of instruction also have to be consulted. You know, those books which make it look so easy,.. gosh! ..after just two pages you can have made a painting which will win you a gold medal at the RHS.
The reality is very different I assure you.

However doing all this has taken me right back to an old first love, drawing. It is a terribly undervalued form of art. It’s not flashy or bright, it doesn’t maybe go with the sofa or the colour scheme, (sadly you don’t see that many lovingly framed and valued drawings on living room walls), but a drawing can be something of consummate beauty, sheer virtuosity and sensitivity. Most of all it is the result of close and intelligent observation and to me as an artist that’s where its value lies, slow, careful, thoughtful and analytical observation. If you don’t have an understanding of how something works you won’t (whatever your drawing style) be able to draw it with sensitivity or, if it is required, accuracy.

So this botanical work is very slow. Before I even pick up a pencil I spend a long time looking at the flower to be drawn. I don’t help myself here, in that I have a very low boredom threshold and hate to repeat things, so almost everything I have painted has been new to me, requiring even longer and more careful scrutiny. If I have two flowers or objects, I will take one apart to try and understand how its structure works. After this very enjoyable part of the job, the discovery part, I may make some analytical sketches before starting the work. It is generally a good idea. Some artists don’t need to, having the confidence and knowledge to start straight away and sometimes, if you are trying to make some money, you cant afford the luxury. I can do only a certain amount of preparatory work, but then I find my interest will flag and I have have nothing left for the final piece. This can be a problem with this botanical work!

Anyway, in short, this accounts for the some of the time it takes to draw even the tiniest little leaf, and that is only the preparation!

Hibiscus Prep
So this afternoon I just looked and looked at this little hibiscus flower, took the old one apart, considered what angle to draw it from, how I would tackle the forshortening and trying to make sense of the muddle of petals. I made a colour sketch and a more detailed pencil sketch and hesitantly made a light pencil sketch on the presentation page, (now containing the other finished flowers so making a mess at this point is unthinkable) and laid a light wash to try to see where I am with it. I have decided with this one to record the steps to see where I go wrong. I usually do somewhere, often not leaving it to dry properly in between coats which is so essential and another reason for the slow progress of botanical work.

Today I am posting the colour sketch and the prelim drawing. That’s all I can do today. I have a clear day tomorrow so hope to finish all and start to retro post the floating flower heads in the order I painted them. I will be very glad when this assignment is over.


Lantern Hibicus Prelims

Leaf of the Day: Begonia Seed Pod, the ASBA and the FSBA.

Part of the reason for the trip to Sarasota was to meet up with Phillip Phillips who runs the Florida Society of Botanical Artists (more info here ) who are in turn the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Botanical Artists. (More info here)
I have joined both of the societies which have wonderful artists in their membership and a huge variety of styles. Being a pod person I love this image by Dick Rauh of the Snake Root pods.. the Black Cohosh ..

I had met with Phillip before at the exhibition that the members of the Florida group had mounted in Sarasota on the theme of Native Florida Plants. The exhibition was lovely and here are 3 of Phillip’s images. How nice to see a bit of wildlife. Thinks must paint more bugs and lizards.

Centrosema or butterfly pea (native)

Butterfly – Papilio lorquinianus albertii, Swallowtail, Mt Arfak, Irian Jaya, Indonesia

Saururus cernuus – Lizard’s Tail (native)

As normal I should have paid more attention to the paintings instead of chatting but as I am out on a limb here (..oh dear, no botanical pun intended) it was so nice to talk to another botanical artist and know that others agonise about the quality of the paper and size of the brushes and other knotty problems of paint granulation and transparency etc etc. I am now looking for some more local inspiration for my drawings here at the Florida Native Plant Society. http://www.fnps.org/

As I have been away from the drawing board most of this weekend my contribution today is a very quick and modest seed pod of one of the Begonias in the garden.

Begonia Seed Pod

Leaf of the Day: Neches River Rose Mallow

After 10 days of hard work, today I took some time off to meet with a friend at Leu and have a walk and a think about my next drawings and paintings. Just as I was leaving the garden I bumped into Pedro, and Joel who takes care of the Butterfly Garden here. We were talking about the various species of climber that are draped around the garden which are so loved by the butterflies and to my great delight Pedro has now shown me a fence where there are many beautiful scrambling, climbing, clinging things, including… joy of joys…the bat leaved passion flower! Only 4 days ago I was talking about this and I hope to have a leaf later this week to draw. He has also given me a mysterious fruit which I am to put in a paper bag until ripe. I am intrigued.
Today’s drawing is a leaf that I had hoped to use for the course submission. It has been chilling in the fridge for a few days now and is the most elegant and stylish leaf from the from the Neches River Rose-mallow, Hibiscus dasycalyx.
This grows in one of the borders near the Courtyard Gazebo and is a perennial hibiscus found on the Neches River in east Texas. The leaves are beautiful and the flowers are ivory colored with deep pink to maroon throats.

photo from the University of Florida here plus article about hardy Hibiscus

Originally from warm southern China, the hibiscus was developed by the gardeners of the Chinese royal court who bred many varieties in their continual search for new and different flowers, now there are thousands. They were introduced into Europe in the 1700’s and first arrived in the USA in about about 1842. The enterprising nurserymen, the Reasoner Brothers of Oneco, Florida published the first catalogue of 25 species of hibiscus in 1887. Their huge importance in introducing new species to Florida is celebrated in a waymarker sign in Manatee County, more info and map here

The leaves of this plant are gorgeous. Its fine delicate lanceolate fingers are held at the strange angle away from the stem and it was because of this, that I decided not to include it in the page of leaves for the submission. It needs a few drawings to understand its shape and aspect. This is the first hibiscus I have drawn.


Naches River Rose Mallow