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