5 March 2010

Botanic Painting

These botanic paintings may not be cutting edge "in-yer-face" art, however they take a great deal of skill (yes I know I am praising myself, but I remember how painstaking it was to try to master it. I was fortunate, I had a brilliant teacher.)

Synthesizing science and art, these special techniques can be learned and then all you need is careful observation, immense patience and the ability to work quickly so you can finish before the thing changes completely or dies!

With each successive one I did I marvelled more and more at the great beauty, the wondrous nuances of colour and form. Some flowers smell divine.... and others I have painted stank of rotting meat or faeces. They are hard to work on in an enclosed environment. Nature has a purpose though, for these smells, so objectionable to most of us, are divine to other creatures such as flies and beetles which are attracted by the odour, zoom in and fertilise the plant.

When I did this hyacinth the scent, so wonderful to begin with, became overwhelming. The orchid I show here is a cultivated one and it didn't really have any odour that I could detect. In the wild it must rely on its alluring shape and colour, resembling an insect, to attract pollinators.

When I worked on a Turk's cap lily seated amongst a riot of Mediterranean plant life on the Col d'Eze above Nice, I could see the sea far below, stretching to the horizon. A bee stung me, which put an end to that study!

I was even more put out when sketching a "talipot palm" (Corypha umbraculifera) in the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Florida. These amazing, large palms only flower once in their life. This lasts for several months, and by then the weight of the inflorescence is so great that the palm topples over and dies. The leaves can reach 5 metres in length and were used to thatch houses, and as umbrellas. Wine can even be made from this plant. The flowering of this particular palm was such a rare event that it was highly publicised in the Florida area. I went along with my sketch book eager to catch sight of this phenomenon.

I settled down, my feet were really close to the water's edge, the spectacular inflorescence with its millions (yes, really, several million!) of flowers in full view across the lake.

The picture below is not mine....I wish it was, but an old one which I got from good old Wikipedia commons, but this is how it looked.

My concentration on the drawing was intense, although I did notice a log floating in the water nearby. It seemed to be moving... slowly... smoothly... towards me.

I suddenly realised with a start that it was no log, but an alligator easing its way over to me, possibly friendly, but I decided not to wait and find out. I took off at high speed, with no time to perfect the drawing! Well that is a good excuse isn't it? This vintage picture is so lovely.

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