Leaf of the Day: Busy Bees, Big Paintings and Blog Interview

Me and the bees have been very busy this weekend. I have been working on the big paintings and the bees have just been working. I think the bees are making more progress.

I have taken a few photos recently where the bees are slightly better than just a blur.

Here, approaching the Toothache Tree.

Here, with Lemon Blossom.

Here, on a Banana flower.

Here, high in the sky, with the strange Grevillia flower, which I would love to draw but all are way out of normal human reach.

Here with the Lemon Bottle Brush…where the mocking birds were also helping themselves to the nectar.

Here approaching the stunning, huge Shaving Brush Flower, which I will hopefully paint as one of my white flower series, all those stamens are a bit daunting though.

and lastly on the Sweet Almond..


A big thank you to Karrita at mymothersgardens.blogspot.com who was also busy getting my images onto blogger. She was kind enough to ask for a short online interview for her interesting series “Artists in the Garden”, which you can read here.
I was delighted to oblige.

I have been wrestling all weekend with the big tree pattern paintings which have taken on lives of their own (as paintings often do). They are not really as I had planned and were not as simple as I had hoped. The twisting live oak branches are just about finished and the lone pine three quarters finished. Just before I had to stop for the night I added some lightning. The paintings really reflect my experiences of my time here, what I have noticed and what makes an impression on me. The summer storms are spectacular and something I will always remember. Although the paintings are not finished I put them on the wall to get away from them both physically and mentally for a while, but with only a week to go to the exhibition and much to do, they may just stay there.

Two Trees

Leaf of the Day: Two big trees, First Stages

I decided yesterday that I have not really made enough drawings or paintings which celebrate the trees at the Gardens. I have drawn the leaves and pods but seldom really addressed the grander aspects. For the bigger subject, I feel that a bigger canvas, well larger than a 9 inch square sketch book, is required, so with two spare 3ft x 2ft canvases, I spent the weekend planning two tree paintings.
I have gone back to look at my sketches and two particular trees stand out, the huge live oaks, particularly the one which overhangs the path to the White Garden and the solitary pine which grows near the South Woods Pavilion. The main preoccupation in the live oak sketches, which go back to last April, seems to be the twisting branches and with the little pine tree it was the silhouette, at one time set against a stormy sky. So, after much deliberation about possible colour, orientation and composition, I have decided on two very simple paintings which focus on the patterns of the branch structures, and looking up rather than looking down which is what I am normally doing.

Live Oak Sketches

The Live Oak near the path to the White Garden

Lone Pine Sketches

So today I am as far as this, below (not a brilliant snap), two canvases at the initial stages. I generally like this stage .. it always hold promise. The low flying aircraft with the paint drip in the first one will be a bird eventually ! The problem with posting work on the the blog is that there is no real sense of image size. The sketches look disproportionately huge and the big paintings very small but these below are 3ft x 2ft..

Leaf of the Day: Southern Live Oak and What is a Leaf?

After all the fanciful myth and superstition of the last couple of days it is time for some facts. I have now been looking at leaves for almost 6 months, admittedly in a rather haphazard way, just picking up bits of information and understanding here and there. Having been a side line observer before, I am now constantly amazed by the diversity, beauty and structure of my backroom boys, so what is a leaf and what does it do? I have been trying to get things clear in my head so may as well post it all too.

What is a leaf.
In botany a leaf is an above-ground plant organ specialized for photosynthesis. For this purpose, a leaf is typically flat (laminar) and thin, to expose the cells containing chloroplast to light over a broad area, and to allow light to penetrate fully into the tissues. Leaves are also the sites in most plants where transpiration and guttation ( moisture loss) take place. Leaves can store food and water and are modified in some plants for other purposes. The comparable structures of ferns are normally referred to as fronds.
A typical leaf has a broad, expanded blade (lamina), attached to the stem by a stalk like petiole. Veins transport materials to and from the leaf tissues, radiating from the petiole through the blade. They are arranged in a netlike pattern in dicot leaves and are parallel in monocot leaves.In conifers, evergreen needles, which are a type of leaf, persist for two or three years.

There seem to be many different types of bract to me and often they look like part of the flower.
A bract is a modified or specialized leaf. They are often reduced in size relative to foliage leaves, or of a different color or texture, or both. Some bracts are brightly colored and serve the function of attracting pollinators and an excellent example of this occurs in the poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima), dogwoods and bougainvillea.

A spathe is a large bract that forms a sheath to enclose the flower cluster of certain plants such as palms and arums. In many arums, the spathe is petal-like, attracting pollinators to the flowers which arranged on a type of spike called a spadix.

Scale leaf : a reduced leaf, often dry, non-photosynthetic, and protective, e.g. surrounding a dormant bud, a budscale.

Scales can refer to a number of things. Typically, they refer to the small opaque but generally not green structures that cover the terminal buds during the winter…and piano practice.

Scale-like leaves are very small and green. They may be overlapping and clothe the twig of plants like junipers, and cedars.

Modified stem leaves and spiny leaves.
Spines are leaves too…Cactus Spines are highly modified, non-photosynthetic leaves. Most Cacti produce minute photosynthetic leaves which are ephemeral and contribute virtually nothing to the overall photosynthesis of the plant. The cactus stem performs virtually all of the photosynthesis for the plant.
Cacti leaves or Pads are really modified stems and are referred to as cladodes.

I drew a cladode before when I was looking at butchers broom. Cladodes too are flattened stems. In the Ruscus hypoglossum the real leaves are around the little flower that appears to be growing out of a leaf!

Slender, twining modified leaf or stem used for clinging to objects for support. (Grape, Cucumber, Passionflower, Grape Ivy)
The tendrils of a piece of climbing Bauhinia I drew endearingly twined themselves around the handle of the cup I had put it in. This action is called circumnutation and was coined by Darwin in his work “On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants”

There are more, Catapylls, seem to be “The early leaf forms of a plant or shoot, as cotyledons, bud-scales, rhizom-scales, etc. I am not clear what a Phylloclade is yet.

I wish there was one really good book I could buy which would explain with diagrams and examples. I guess there is, but time to look is limited and it’s the sort of book you need to see before buying. Instead I am building up a small library of images of the different plant structures so that I can really get the hang of it… you will be relieved to know I won’t be posting them all…

For my leaf today, as I am having a bit of basic revision, I am revisiting my first leaf ..the Southern Live Oak, the first drawing I tentatively made in January. This tree is so important to Orlando and adds grace and leafy beauty to the lakeside streets. There is a huge oak tree close to the Art Museum, its branches elegantly resting on the ground decorated with dancing little Resurrection ferns.

I have been to Leu today and seen some really exciting things but on the way out this little sprig of leaves landed at my feet. I have drawn it, in its chewed and nibbled state. I don’t think there is one really perfect leaf there. I like it that way, just as it is.

Southern Live Oak

Leaf of the Day: Gouty Galls and Leonardo’s Ink

A couple of days ago I was talking to Pedro about the lovely bluey black Iron Gall Ink which I had with me that day. It is made by Blots “carefully blended to a medieval recipe” which I am sure still involves oak galls and I am very interested in these odd but curiously attractive little objects.
Iron Gall ink was the most important ink in written history. Leonardo’s notes, Bach’s compositions, Rembrandt and Van Gogh’s drawings, the USA Constitution and the Dead Sea Scrolls were all recorded in iron gall ink. The particular property which made it invaluable was its permanence, the earlier carbon-based ink could be easily rubbed off parchments, but iron gall ink reacts with collagen in the parchment and so etches itself into the surface.
This was very useful for important documents which needed to be tamper proof but it fell out of use when paper became a more available. It has a nasty habit of destroying paper and some old manuscripts have to be “read” through the holes left where the ink has eaten its way though the paper completely.
To make the ink, oak galls are crushed to obtain gallotannic acid. This is then mixed with water and iron sulphate and then when gum arabic is added as a suspension agent, you have iron gall ink.

Here are two beautiful Leonardo botanical studies.

Later that day Pedro returned with some wonderful galls he had seen on the live oak here. I had drawn some oak galls last year in Spain which I found growing on the cork oaks in Andalucia. The cork oak galls are round like little sputniks or old fashioned bombs and I think are mealy oak galls, but this one from the live oak is a stem gall and rejoices in the evocative name “gouty” gall

Galls have names as odd as their looks. There are, jumping, wool sower, gouty, horned, and rolly poly galls and and more, and their formation is as intriguing as their names. They are the “work” of single tiny dedicated wasps whose lava produce plant growth-regulating chemicals which react with the plant tissue to stimulate tissue growth of the plant. The resulting galls can be all shapes and sizes, and provide food and shelter for the developing young grub.
The whole subject of galls is fascinating and there is another complicated relationship with other insects who attach themselves to the wasp lava and benefit from the shelter of the gall..Maybe that is why the one I drew today has other holes. I have some more research to do and some more drawings to make this time in iron gall ink of course. I just managed this one today which is like little waving alien.

I had another half day at Leu today and did couple more colour studies along with chatting to an ornithologist about the woodpeckers and watching the lizards and listening to the cardinals and more nice time wasting. I have not had time to photograph the sketches but that is my job for tomorrow.


Oak Galls, Gouty and Mealy

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