Leaf of the day: False Aralia and Fake Lizard, Big Leaf Sketches

I have spent today playing with one of the big leaf sketches.
I do now know that the leaf is from Dizygotheca elegantissima or Aralia elegantissima, commonly known as False Aralia. One description fits it well.
The False Aralia leaf is divided into 10 or so slender jagged leaflets that are arranged like fingers of a hand. As the leaves mature, their colors turn into blackish green or dark grey-green, they become broader in size, and they become coarser in texture. “

Here are the first 3 stages

I sketched the lizard in but have now changed its colour so many times that it does not resemble a real lizard at all but that’s fine by me. This is not a lizard portrait.
I have not found anywhere in the house that I can take a good photograph of larger work. The light is terrible, so the colours are very dull here and the light is reflecting off the surface, but it shows a bit of progress. I am going to try for a better photograph tomorrow.

Acrylic on Canvas, 2ft x 3ft.

I have roughed in the drawings on the paper behind the leaf now, I may call it ” The Critic”
It may never reach “finished painting” stage but I plan to have 4 of these larger sketches/studies for the show. There will be a companion piece to this one as well as two (I hope) of the Live Oak branches developed from some earlier sketches…but time is getting a bit short.

Lizard of the Day: well, Three of Them Actually..

I have resisted the almost irresistible urge to continue “improving” K2. I have put it out of sight and returned to thinking about the Leu exhibition. I now have 4 weeks.. Hmm. I want to do some more work on the big leaf painting and have been thinking about adding a lizard.
So today I trawled through my lizard photos. There are many, mostly blurry brown shapes on leaves but some good enough to make some prelim sketches. This is one reasonable photo and it is the lizard’s favourite spot at Leu Gardens, posing on the plant labels.

The lizards here are one of my constant joys. I love their attitude, their fearlessness and the mad communal dash they make across the pavement in front of you. What I can’t quite understand is why, when they are already safe in the grass on the road side of the pavement they rush across your path to the other side, instead of staying put…but they do. Cycling is sometimes like doing a lizard slalom course and sometimes they just stop in mid flight which is equally unnerving. By the pool they skitter around, constantly bobbing their heads up and down to check out what is occurring and challenging our presence. We have had to rescue the odd one or two from drowning.


Brown Anole, Leu Gardens

The ones I see most often, both here and at Leu, are the Brown Anoles, Anolis sagrei, who arrived in Florida in about 1880 from the Caribbean Islands and made themselves very much at home. A bit too much it seems as they have been busy displacing some of the natives. They are described as runners and jumpers and are easily identified by the dewlap of bright skin under their chins which they inflate and deflate in territorial and mating displays.
Todd Campbell’s web page The Brown Anole, from the Institute for Biological Invasions, “Invader of the Month”, tells us more.. here
Less obvious to the casual observer is their expanded toe-pads which, like those of gecko lizards, help anoles cling to even the smoothest of surfaces, and the extent of which varies with their degree of arboreality.


Also from the site is this photo and accompanying quote about the lovely elegant green Anoles, Anolis carolinensis which have become less common here. I do see them occasionally but they are far outnumbered by the brown.
I do have a photo of a green Anole but couldn’t resist number 47 here.

photo Todd Campbell
From Campbell, T. S. 2000. The brown anole, Anolis sagrei. Institute for Biological Invasions Invader of the Month.

They are of a most glorious green, and very tame.They resort to the walls of houses in the summer season,and stand gazing on a man, without any concern or fear.”- J. Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (1709)”

These beautiful and endearing lizards are native to the south east USA and have the ability to change colour from this brilliant green to darker and duller shades of brown. This colour change occurs for camouflage reasons or when unwell.
“Stress in an anole can be identified by several symptoms. These symptoms include a constant shade of brown and a persistent black semi-circle behind their eyes and chronic lethargy.”
Wiki ( here)
(Oh dear.. I think there may be more lizard ancestry in me than I care to contemplate)

…and Striped.

Another really beautiful lizard I have seen (and for once took a reasonable photograph) is the Five-lined Skink, Eumeces fasciatus. That tail is the most gorgeous sky blue and indicates that this is a young lizard.

Skink, Leu Gardens

But why do they lose their tails? I see so many tail-less lizards, or lizards with little short, just regenerating tails. But then I have also seen some ferocious lizard brawls which, come the summer months, spill out onto the gentile suburban sidewalks of Winter Park regardless of passers by. It seems this has something to do with it and escaping from predators too.

Losing your tail is called “caudal autotomy”and is not something you would do lightly, not even as a lizard, as your tail is needed for balance and indicates your social status. But to escape being eaten, your tail is better than your life. There is a weak point in the tail bones which easily breaks, shedding the tail which, in a macabre way can go on twitching so diverting the predator.

To prevent catastrophic bleeding, the blood vessels constrict and the trauma stimulates the cells of the spinal cartilage to regenerate, so that a new “fake” tail is grown but only as cartilage, not bone. This new tail will never be as colourful, strong or as long as the old one, social status no doubt plummeting from young and desirable, and to seasoned warrior, but it is better than nothing.

The sketches are possibles for addition to the big leaf painting.. I have made sure they all have good long strong tails.

Three Lizard Sketches

Pencil on Cartridge, 8 x10 “

Leaf of the Day: Assorted Wildlife…Otters, the Kmart Ospreys and the Wailing Limpkins

We went out cycling this morning and to my complete astonishment saw an otter basking on the shores of Lake Rowena near the Orlando Museum of Art. An otter, here in the middle of this big city, only yards from 6 lanes of traffic, unbelievable. It slipped into the lake and swam away too fast for me to photograph.
The otters here are river otters. This is one of many great photos taken by Jessie Dickson of the otters at Viera Wetlands here in Florida.. go and see more all together in one album page here.

This adorable pup is from the Tampa Bay Aquarium where they breed and rescue river otters. more here

Even after a year here I am completely enchanted by the huge variety of wildlife I find in this very urban environment, helped enormously by Orlando’s many lakes, over 2000 in about a twenty mile radius. If I go to the lake here I will see ospreys, ducks, anhingas, moorhens, coots, various herons, terns, grackles, egrets big and small, and platoons of strutting ibis. We live next door to a dreary concrete Mall but the ospreys have a nest on one of the big floodlights in the Kmart car park. It is not advisable to park underneath this light unless you want your car covered with twigs, droppings or bits of rotting fish, tidy housekeepers they are not.

We have a chattering belted kingfisher which every night flies around the apartments. It’s big and very noisy. I see the alligators, turtles and snakes at Leu. Out in the suburbs, where we first stayed, there was a bobcat trotting along a forested scrubland trail at dusk, as well as huge sandhill cranes who barely move as you pass. There are the ever present circling turkey buzzards, hawks, big serious owls and the ponderous wood storks. There are colourful woodpeckers, we saw one of the big red crested pileated woodpeckers today, brilliant red cardinals and sweet little mocking birds. Frogs, toads and more. All this and I am not even looking for wildlife.
A few weeks ago we went to Myakka wildlife reserve and saw, as a well as a bald eagle reliving an osprey of its catch,and the obligatory alligators, the strange little Limpkin. Aramus guarauna. My less than perfect photo does at least show how well camouflaged it is.

It is so called because of its awkward gait and is also known as the Crying bird because of its distinctive call, a piecing wild sounding scream or wail which it makes especially at night. The noise was so disturbing that the early Florida pioneers “mistook the call of the Limpkin for the haunting wails of tortured souls in the night time swamps”. It has also described as,”a hoarse rattling cry like the gasp of person being strangled, like “little boys lost in the swamps forever;” or ” an unearthly shriek” with the “quality of unutterable sadness.” Many tales and legends arose from this eerie sound and in parts of the Amazon they believe that a crescendo of limpkin calls foretells that rising river levels have reached their height.
Its eldritch shriek has also been immortalised in the soundtracks of old Tarzan movies and more recently in Harry Potter. Cornell’s Macaulay Library provided the voice of the Winged Hippogriff, read more here and listen to a great recording of its call made in Florida in 1956 here. I understand it is very annoying to have Limpkins nearby if you are a light sleeper.

Audubon’s Limpkin is wonderfully evocative…I still think he is the best by far.


This is the Pencil & Leaf sloth of sloth, signifying a day off drawing.

Leaf of the Day: Bald Cypress Knees and Lizards at Kraft Gardens

Eerily beautiful and tranquil, the huge primeval, moss draped, pines of Kraft Gardens dominate this narrow strip of land on the banks of Lake Maitland here in Winter Park. It’s a strange place situated in a very wealthy suburb where great mansions and estates, many built in the 1920s, jostle for prime waterfront locations and moorings, so it is one of the few places that the lake shore is accessible to us mere mortals. There is a strange austere exedra too, built by the shore, where you can sit and while away an hour or two with a book. It has the lovely inscription “Pause Friend And Let Beauty Refresh The Spirit” carved in fine Roman capitals .

Nobody much will bother you but remember you are not alone here. Far from it. Should you feel a prickling of the hairs on the back of your neck it is because you are being closely watched by the many many creatures who live or pass through this little haven. Squirrels, hundreds of lizards, anhingas, ducks, herons, egrets, woodpeckers and ospreys will have seen you and be monitoring your every move. Initially you see nothing but gradually you become aware of rustlings, chatterings and dartings and, sensing something approaching, look out of the corner of your eye to catch a glimpse of a white egret or two strolling amongst the trees or squirrels playing. Every footfall scatters lizards by the dozen.
Yesterday, because it is nesting season, the great trees were alive with building activity, affectionate chirpings, squabbles and flappings. There must have been 20 egrets, some flying backwards and forwards with huge twigs, 12 very noisy anhginas, and 2 great grey herons. An osprey glided in from the lake with a big fish in its talons and perched high on a pine tree eating its prey. On the lake a pair of gorgeous mandarin ducks, so handsome and glossy, pottered about in the reeds making plaintive cheeps. They very conveniently perched on a raised nest box for a while so I was able to sketch them.

So today I am posting some photos and sketches from Kraft Gardens. I was fascinated by the “knees “of the Bald Cypress (taxodium distichum) which grow along the water line, they are the most extraordinary shapes. The Bald Cypress is a characteristic tree of southern swamplands growing in stagnant pools, and forming wide buttressed trunks, together with these strange woody “knees” which project from the water. The knees are outgrowths from the tree’s roots and it seems that they provide extra aeration for the root system. Clinging onto the knees are the wandering roots and leaves of the adventurous syngonium podophyllum the Arrowhead vine.

My favourites are the sketch of the anhihga in the tree and the waterlily leaves, both have potential to be developed futher. They are done with a Pilot pen the V5 which is soluble so to add a bit of shadow just wet with a brush. It’s a very useful and quick sketching aid.
My sketch book is 6 x 8 inches.


Bald Cypress Knees