Leaf of the Day: Cold cold, very cold …frosted strawberries and smudge pots.

Yesterday was the very best excuse not to do any drawing at all. I unashamedly spent the whole day glued to the TV, watching the inauguration. It was all very uplifting and inspiring, and cheered up this freezing January week. I have not sensed such a feeling of hope since those heady days of the 1960’s.
But it’s very very cold today, so cold that we fear for Chris’ carambola, too cold to cycle far, so I am suffering somewhat from cabin fever. Reading back through the blog, last year was similar, with “The Big Ugly Freeze” in early January.
Having been brought up in rural Lincolnshire I do feel for the farmers. To be at the mercy of the weather dictates that you must develop a philosophical view of life but, after days and days of tending and nurturing, and months and months of waiting, to lose a crop is devastating. So I am always interested in how growers try to protect their crops. Here, in the aptly named Plant City they are spraying the strawberries with water which forms a protective coat on the fruit, and I was fascinated to learn about the “smudge pots” which were once used in Florida and California.

Nice old image of 1930’s smudge pots from University of California contributed by Anaheim Public Library here

They are called “choofas” in Australia by the “choo choo” noise the “pots” make while burning the fuel. Like a big version of our old horribly smoky paraffin heaters in the UK, the “smudge pots” created a thick, oily smoke and it was the smoke rather than the heat that protected the fruit.
The smudge pots do not put out enough heat to heat the orchard, however the thick smoke cloud acts to reflect infrared radiation (heat radiation) from the orchard, thus “trapping” heat between the cloud and the ground. By reducing the amount of heat lost by radiation to the night sky, the orchard cools more slowly, hopefully keeping it above the freezing point through the night.”

Fabulous image here from Life Magazine, here. The caption reads,
“Farmers sitting up all night with kerosene cans, filling lines of smudge pots.
Location: CA, US , Date taken: 1949 Photographer: Ross Madden “

These types of heaters burned oil and when the temperatures dropped to near 26 degrees, crews with torches went through the orchards lighting the heaters. It as a dirty job and hard work, the smoke would seep into nearby homes, blacken the curtains and the washing and get into your nostrils.
Another equally dirty way to protect the orchards was to burn old tyres.

Report from 1950 from the The South Coast Air Quality Management District here
You’d blow your nose, and it would be black,” said Edward Camarena, a former chemist with the Orange County Air Pollution Control District, the first air quality agency to regulate orchard heaters, popularly known as smudge pots. “I can remember getting up and going to work and seeing this ugly black haze where they had smudged most of the night,” said Jack Adame, a retired University of California, Riverside employee.

You can also read an account of the use of smudge pots in 1910 with some nice old photos, from Marty Mincers Orchard in Iowa here .
But this more recently is “Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, setting up smudge pots in Camarillo, California to protect young avocado trees” by Gus Ruelas, AP Photos here

The design of the pots seemed to vary quite a bit and there are some excellent photos to be found by looking on the web. I have spent a very happy couple of hours browsing, there are some wonderful shapes and colours .
It seems it is now “illegal” to use them in great number and perhaps the type of fuel is regulated. These days they try to combat the freezing air with wind fans and water sprinklers but I am sure some old smudge pots come out too.

Today I have been back to scribbling, reading and notemaking. I am thinking of making some larger watercolours, much looser than the botanical ones and keep coming back to the beautiful Cotton Bol, I picked two more the other day from the tree at Leu.
But I put off the evil hour of tackling the full sheet of white pristine paper which is now sitting ready on the desk, by making a small sketch of a shoebox lid into which I had dumped some bits from the nature table. It looked attractive in the sun with the long cast shadows that I like so much so I drew it just as it was…while the big white full sheet watercolour paper still sits there, still pristine.
In the shoebox lid are a couple of big turkey oak leaves, some eucalyptus leaves, some red berries from a palm of some sort, various twigs and some seed heads. There is one seed head from the crepe myrtle which I might (will probably) draw tomorrow, if I am still intimidated by the big white paper.

Shoebox Lid with Assorted Things

Leaf of the Day: Ruskin & the Liberty of Leaves (and the Croton again).

I do like leaves, probably more so than flowers. They are the sort of backroom boys of the plant world, working hard to keep the whole thing going and so often overlooked for the glory-taking showy flowers. And I have always liked drawing trees. This quote from the artist and critic John Ruskin encourages me to keep going.
“If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world. “
He, like me, didn’t like formula painting, but felt that “the artist must ultimately focus on the characteristic of individuals,” and must “show the individual character and liberty of the separate leaves, clouds, or rocks” Individuality being more essential than formula.
(It is something I mentioned before in the Norman Rockwell post re Bruegel’s beautiful trees.)
So, artists!.. liberate your leaves…

How many times I have seen a ” How to Do it Book ” with a formula for painting leaves so every tree looks the same. They are excellent guides for starting out and when I was young my Walter T Foster book on “How to draw Horses” was always with me, but we should aim to go on from there and really look at what we are attempting to portray. This morning Amazon kindly sent me an email telling me that because I had bought a book on botanical painting I would no doubt be keen to purchase a ” how to paint trees” book. It assures me that “No drawing skills are required. The outlines of five paintings (plus one bonus picture) are provided to pull out from the centre of the book.”
Oh dear ..someone at Amazon has seen my blog and is offering, perhaps much needed, help.

John Ruskin Tree study 1847

John Ruskin Ferns on a rock 1875

These beautiful studies and more from the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University

I always try to consider my leaves as individuals and today I return to an individual croton leaf from the ubiquitous Curly Croton plant which I had drawn before in January here. They are valued for their beautiful leaves, come in amazing colours and have different degrees of curliness. This is a relatively plain one as some of the others are brilliant reds and oranges but it does have a full twist to the leaf.
I have decided to start the final coloured pencil pieces for the course so that I can move on to watercolour. We have to do 4 images so I am factoring in some disaster time. It has been interesting but I have come to the conclusion I am temperamentally unsuited to using coloured pencils this way!


Curly Croton 2

Leaves and Pears

Just 4 experiments from last weeks course. They are about colour, about handling wet paint and about light. None are entirely successful but were very useful exercises. The pears were our first exercise and pears are very much Sue’s fruit. She has painted them everywhich way to demonstrate many different colour combinations textures and approaches. My images are on different papers and I just wish I could have got two good pears on one piece. To the russet coloured leaves I added some pastel as I had really overworked the watercolour but I quite liked the colours working together.
This coming week I am going to devote myself to colour experiments and I guess I will have to continue a bit with the coloured pencil…