Leaf of the Day: More Kohlrabi Sketches

I only had the evening to work today and the deadline for veg is getting very close. So I bought some new kohlrabies, bigger this time and with more leaves. They are not the freshest and the leaves are somewhat limp so I am having to “arrange” them a bit. This is the problem of living in a city. I did go to the local farmers market last Saturday but found nothing better there and I can’t find any with roots intact, so these will have to do.
As I can’t draw such a complicated piece straight onto the watercolour paper (I would need to rub out too much and damage the surface), I have made a pencil sketch first and think I will also have to work out the leaves in more detail before painting.
This will be quite a big piece. I had to use the big 16 x14″ sketch book for the pencil drawing (and had to scan the drawing in 2 halves as you can see).
The new colour sketch is on the smaller 9 x12″.

For me, the danger of having to draw and redraw something is getting bored with the image. I do like to get on with the next thing. But it really does pay off if you can persevere. I have great regard for artists who specialise in just one subject … say butterflies or birds, I just don’t have the temperament, but that is the way to true excellence. I have been reading more about Audubon whose dedication and drive was completely extraordinary, the more I read, the more I respect and admire this remarkable man. Even if I had the talent and the drive I don’t have enough years left to match a fraction of his achievement…


More Kohlrabi Sketches

Pencil sketch on cartridge 16 x 14″

Watercolour and Pencil, on Kilimanjaro Watercolour Sketch Book 9 x 12″

Leaf of the Day: Pima Cotton

I only “noticed” this lovely shrub last week but it is another I have walked past many times. It grows by one of the main paths, set back in the border and has been masked by a showier thing until now, when it is coming into its own. The day I saw it, the low autumn sun was illuminating the tops of the spiky bracts, and I had no idea what it was. Sometimes I am amazed at my own ignorance because this plant has played an important and comforting part in my life. Allergic to wool and many other itchy scratchy fibres, cotton has been my very closest friend for as long as I can remember.

Had I seen a fluffy white “bol” first I think I would have guessed
but coming from northern climes I have never seen a cotton plant. I was interested to discover that Andalucia province, where we lived in Spain, has quite a large cotton growing area around Cordoba and Sevilla and that Spain was instrumental in the history of cotton as a commercial crop in America, the Spanish being the first Europeans to grown cotton near St Augustine in Florida in 1556.

Image from plants of Hawaii here

But I don’t really know how to write about cotton. I have already spent too long today reading about it and not working. It is the most wonderful plant with a fascinating early history dating back to 3000BC, but its more recent history is fraught with exploitation, slavery, and terrible working conditions, not only in the cotton fields but in Blake’s “dark satanic” cotton mills of the Industrial Revolution. Even now there are questions over its production, its ethical and green credentials. Buy organic if you can is the message. See Sustainablecotton.org here

From an artistic perspective this is a very beautiful plant and I am spending a couple of days with it. The leaves, the lovely big yellow flowers, the spiky bracts containing the buds and the seed pods are all fascinating.
Today I drew a leaf. It is big, 11 inches from top to toe and the lower lobes curl back on themselves…quite beautiful.
More tomorrow ..

Pima Cotton Leaf

Leaf of the Day: Bald Cypress Cone and the Carolina Parakeet Part 1

Today I went to look for the bald cypress tree in Leu Gardens as I had picked up a little cone to draw a few days ago and wanted to make sure it was what I thought it was. The day was humid, dull and very still, one of those swampy listless days that make you feel that everything is too much effort. The snakes though seemed to be in their element. I don’t usually see many but today I saw four, 3 black racers and this beautiful harmless Garter Snake. I have read that if a snake has longitudinal stripes as opposed to bands they are harmless. If they have diamonds or bands get out of their way. I treat them all with great respect.

Down by the lake, which like everything else today, was torpid and still, I found a nice big bald cypress. These are lofty trees and normally the leaves are well out of my reach but a low growing branch enabled me to take a photo of some new cones and leaves with odd little yellow flower like things on them which I think are a sort of gall, (but after hours of research I am none the wiser.)

The Bald Cypress Taxodium distichum is a common tree here and likes the fringes of lakes where you can see the knobbly knees which I drew some time ago here. Also called the swamp cypress or southern cypress, it is actually a member of the giant redwood family and not a true cypress at all.
It is another ancient and beautiful tree, living it is said for up to 1500 years and attaining a height of over 100 feet, although I must say they do look pretty miserable in the winter when the needles turn red and fall, leaving it very bald indeed. At the moment they are bright green with new growth.
But they do have an atmosphere, these old tall trees. Perhaps it is because they are so associated with swamps, heat and the mysterious and eerie landscapes of South, with those huge walking mangroves, trees with lichen covered branches and impossibly convoluted root structures and these cypress trees with their huge buttressed trunks, dripping with Spanish moss keeping silent vigil beside black still waters.
Silent, that is, unless they happen to be the roost of some very noisy egrets.

Its resistance to water earned the bald cypress the name of “the eternal wood” and because it was such a useful tree the once vast stands of cypress in Florida were cleared almost to extinction. It does have a powerful regenerative streak though. In these stormy times it is interesting to note that if a bald cypress is struck by lightening it will explode, shattering into many sharp splintering pieces which are hurled into the air with huge force. Despite the destruction this sturdy tree doesn’t die but regenerates from the existing trunk. However it sounds like a tree not to be standing under unless you wish to be sliced like a cucumber in a mandolin.

Image from Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture here

While I was researching this tree I came across this lovely John Catesby print, of the Carolina Parakeet. It shows the bald cypress complete with cones and the rather perky parakeet. I had written about Catesby before in connection with his drawing of the now extinct passenger pigeon. (see post re Amazing Rare Things exhibition here)
Sadly this pretty little bird went the same way. It was Americas only indigenous parakeet. The bald cypress was its favorite nesting tree and it fed on the ripe cones in the autumn. I think if I were a bird in those days I would have politely declined any offer from Catesby to paint my portrait.The little cone I have drawn is a gorgeous thing, a tightly packed sphere, every separate scale piece fitting so perfectly together. This one was an old one, brown and cracked but I also found some new green ones.. you have to be quick to get there before the squirrels.


Bald Cypress Cone

Leaf of the Day: Violets and The Bulow Sugar Plantation

Today is Saturday and the first day of March. Chris and I headed out north-east of Orlando to find the Bulow Sugar Plantation .
All that remains today of this once prosperous plantation is the ruins of the mill and some wells. The land, 6000 acres, was bought in 1820 by Charles Wilhelm Bulow a rich merchant from Charleston. Here he grew sugar cane, indigo and rice, but after only 3 years died at the age of 44 and the plantation, plus a substantial legacy, was taken over by his son John Joachim (apparently a dashing young man who liked to live in style). He built a sugar mill which was the largest in Florida, a grand house where he entertained Audubon, and the plantation prospered.
This high life and the fortunes of the plantation were cut short by the Seminole war in 1836, when Indians burnt down the plantation and the mill. John returned to Paris where he had been educated and died very young, at the age of only 27.

It’s a beautiful place to visit. The ruins lie quiet and still amongst pines and oaks. The wide creek which used to transport the sugar to the coast meanders its way down to the Atlantic and you are a million miles away from Disney here.
Apart from the chance to see some real un-Disneyfied Florida history, we went out of curiosity as Chris’s surname is Bulow. A relative possibly? We don’t know really but it made going there even more interesting. Here is Chris by the ruins of the (his)mill.

The woods were full of interesting fungi, plants and fallen seed pods which I have yet to identify and by one the old wells a carpet of pretty violets, their little heart shaped leaves unfurling as they push up through the moss and dead leaves of the forest floor.

The journey was made more exciting today due to the fact that this week is bike week at Daytona.. Bikes of every kind, colour and size accompanied us on the road. I have seen some Harleys to die for.
Today I only have time for a pencil sketch of a couple of the violet leaves.

The next stage of the course begins this month with an assignment using coloured pencils. I shall need some practice as it is many years since I used them. I will be trying a basic Prismacolor set and Bristol board to start with.

PS. I did remember to say “white rabbits” this morning 3 times, so I am expecting good luck this month.


Leaf of the Day: Tassel Flower

The Tassel Flower is a pretty little weed. It caught my eye when I first came to Florida. It’s very unassuming and inhabits scrub and waste ground which is exactly where this came from, just by the side of the main road by the apartment. It looks very much like a dandelion type of plant. The same sort of flower and a similar leaf. I am not sure exactly how to describe this leaf. Its most interesting feature is that the flowers are not yellow but a very beautiful reddy orange! My next post will, I think, be a leaf shape chart as I need to get more familiar with the names.
Its Latin name is Emilia Javanica.

Tassel Flower

Leaf of the Day: Geranium

Today I went out early again and found a very funny little heron. It was stalking something very very slowly. Even the slowest photographer would have been able to get a good shot. I have never seen such incredible slow motion walking.
Unfortunately I didn’t have my sketchbook with me but took some photos. I will post these and others soon, linked to Flickr .
This geranium leaf is a small, very ordinary type, just two tones of green. Some geraniums were hit by the freeze but not too badly. I am not sure of this variety.

A word about the drawing
At the moment I am just using ordinary cartridge paper in a sketchbook for these first drawings, so, when doing fine shading, the texture of the paper tends to be picked up and the pencils can catch causing uneven shading. I will use Bristol board or a HP watercolour surface for the bigger and more complicated drawings. Many years ago I used to use Schoellershammer 4R which was a super hard surface paper for ink and pencil with just a nice bit of tooth. I am not sure if it is still available ..I think they have reissued the 4G .. ( very smooth) which I will try to find here. If anyone knows of a supplier I would be very grateful.


image 5″x6″

Leaf of the Day: Dandelion

Just a quick little drawing today as I have been out and about taking photos and doing some on the spot sketching.This one grows along with the dollarweed in the shrubbery. It’s a young small leaf only 4 inches long. I dont know what species it is there are only leaves at the moment.

The Dandelion