Sunday, October 21, 2012

Final orchid paintings, aloha to Hawaii, mahalo to all

My last evening here in Hawai'i, in the village of Napo'opo'o. The waves crash, yet the air is still. I reflect on the closing of orchid painting workshop, and the lovely work done by all. Amber, our chef par excelence, who made yummy healthy meals of fish, fruit, and lots of leafy greens, here looking very serious (as she is preparing pupus and pizzas for 15 of us at our final dinner):

I like the pens hanging off her apron! Sue, with her work on the wall (we share our art with the neighbors during this closing "show" and dinner celebration):

Here is Sue's final piece:

(Pardon quality of scans, but isn't this a beautiful painting?)

Her sister Jane's with her work, and following that, her final piece:

Lovely work Jane; I especially like the foliage. Last but not least, Robyn with her work, and her final piece for the workshop:

Again, lovely. Robyn would want me to tell you that the "alien" painting near her head is actually a straight-on look at an orchid column, cap removed, and not a portrait of a friend or family member!

In addition to Amber, who is nothing short of incredible, and the students, who were a dream to work with, I wish to thank Pam and Mike, our hosts, Christopher (owner/operator of Pacific Orchid Farms, and supplier of our orchids), and all of the understanding and supportive neighbors of this wonderful little village. Pictured below, Christopher, his lovely lady Keala, and neighbor Nancy Griffith (an extremely interesting person...deserving a blog of her own...) at our evening celebration. Mahalo to all, until next year, Linda

Painting Leaves and Stems

Morning at Kealakekua Bay, aloha. Orchid painting participants Sue, Jane, and Robyn are gone: thanks to them for being such wonderful students and just lovely individuals. It is not yet 7 am, have been up since 5, I like to feel the day begin. It is now full on morning, birds are on the downside of their morning wake-up party. Surge of waves a bit calmer than earlier, but I still expect a splashy day. Amber, our magnificent chef (and proprietor of North Shore Cafe, in White Salmon, Washington) leaves this morning, I leave tomorrow. But let me share with you some of our last lessons, and the final paintings of Sue, Jane, and Robyn.

After some quick sketches and rough painting on hot and cold press paper, doing value studies of the flowers, and practicing painting white flowers, it was time to work on painting orchid foliage. Stems first. Below is my sample page where I worked on creating demos; as always I learn as much from preparing the demo as from the actual demonstration for others.

One of the first excercises before painting orchid stems (or other plant stems) is to practice brush work painting lines. Some stems can be brushed with one stroke only, making sure to hold the brush in line with the stem being painted, rather than the normal brush position. This is because when painting, one edge of the brush stroke (the top) often is smooth, whereas the other is rough (the bottom). See below:

Look at the stem you are painting: a common mistake is to start too dark, in that like other parts of the flower the color will (or can, your choice) be built up in layers. The first layer is to establish the stem's width and overall shading or value, the next is to emphasize values, the last to add lines for veins, or any color markings. The next image shows 4 stem paintings (note...these are very quick and rough). The first (farthest to left) was made by laying down a stroke for the stem, then lifting up paint with a brush with a little bit of water, and no pigment. Voila, three-dimmnsionality. The next (to right), was made by laying down one stroke for the stem, then adding a bit of darker green to one side, to emphasize that the stem is round. The stem second from the right has lines over preliminary layers, implying veins, and the final, rightmost stem, has a bit of red coloration as the final layer.

Bottom line, as per usual: practice, practice, practice! As for leaves, below is my practice demo sheet for painting orchid leaves (and pseudobulbs, below leaves):

First a nice clean drawing is done, with leaves folded and curved in various ways, for interest. Next light layers of green are applied, using a larger brush (7 or 8 round, Winsor Newton series 7), for the larger areas. Layers are let dry before the next is applied; each layer should show something about the shape of the leaves...indicated by the value of the areas to be painted. As with stems, the final layers can be line work to show veins. Below is a detail of the above demo:

Enough for now. My next entry will show Sue, Jane, and Robyn's final pieces. They each took only one day to do these: I was favorably impressed!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Painting white flowers

Aloha from Kealakekua Bay and more orchid painting. As students focus on completing one final painting for the workshop (after a very fun field trip to Pacific Orchid Farms at the other side of the island) I am sharing some of their studies created 2 days ago, when they worked on painting white flowers.

The first day of the workshop we worked on value studies and understanding the parts of the orchid, such as shown for the cultivar Bllra. Tahoma Glacier 'Sugar Sweet' as illustrated below:

When painting white flowers, such as this orchid or similar ones (like the one imaged below), an artist must think "white isn't really all white", and think of ways to show the orchid so that it isn't the floral equivalent of a picture of a snowman in a snowstorm!

The photograph above demonstrates one of the most spectacular ways to paint white flowers: make the background dark, such as the dark foliage in this image.

Robyn and Jane graciously allowed me to share their studies with you. First Robyn made some thumbnail sketches to decide what would be the most effective color to use as a background to her orchid painting:

She decided on the color she liked the best, carefully painted in the background around her full-sized pencil drawing of her orchid flower, and then painted the orchid. You can paint the orchid flower first, but it takes much longer, and if you make a mistake on the background painting it is really annoying (to say the least) to then have to repaint the more complicated orchid flower.

I think she chose a great color for the background, don't you? Here is her test strip juxtaposed with the painting, so you can think about what the other backgrounds might have looked like:

Jane decided on a color for her background, and experimented with varying the color in it a bit. For example she added the green in the lower right to balance with the green color in the stem and flower buds in the upper right. She also worked on differing the look of the flower in the background, where you see the back of the flower, with the flower in the foreground, where you see all of the detail of the orchid labellum (lower lip) and column (pistil and stamens fused together):

I think the upper flower really pops, and was impressed with how well the subtle painting of the back flower worked to create three dimmensionality.

Two other ways to paint white flowers are to outline in pen and ink, as in my image below:

Or, one can exaggerate the values of the flower, with white areas in the foreground tinted with warm colors such as yellow, and areas that recede tinted with cool colors such as blue. The trick here is that warm colors tend to move forward, and cool colors tend to recede.

All three methods of painting white flowers can be seen in my study of Calla Lily (which is of course not a flower, but a sheath-like spathe enclosing the spike of flowers, the spadix):

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sue's Day One Orchid Paintings

Sue bravely said she would share her paintings from Day 1 of our orchid painting workshop with the world.

First, her 15 minute sketch of a white-flowered Oncidiinae orchid:

She thought it was a great loosening up exercise.

Next her value study of the same orchid (a way to get to know the orchid better, and study darks and lights):

Sue's comments on the value study were, "oops", the lower sepal on the left was hiding behind the rest of the orchid flower, so she would, on her next painting, use "artistic license" and put it in. She also commented that getting the right value is harder than you might think, but it makes you focus on bringing the image into 3D.

At this point she had two different perspectives of the same orchid flower, so she decided to put them together in one piece:

This image was made by tracing each of the two previous flowers in the positions that they would be in if they were on the same plant. This painting is on hot press using Winsor Newton "Neutral Tint" (a blackish-gray color); the previous painting was on cold press, also using Neutral Tint. NOTICE: the added lower left sepal that was missing in the previous painting! Sue's comment on this final piece for the day is: "practice, practice makes perfect!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Aloha from Hawaii Orchid Painting

Some quick postings to give a feel for this year's orchid painting workshop. My guests arrived Sunday evening, and we had a wonderful meal presented by Amber, our chef, started to get to know each other, and then retired to our various sleeping places to dream of orchids and painting, sounds of waves, warm tropical breezes.

Yesterday was our first day drawing and painting, so we started with a 15 minute sketch of a flower to warm up and begin to feel relaxed about get in the groove. Here is mine.

Next we spent some time sketching some details in the flower.....

as a great way to get to know the orchid a little better. The final assignment for the day was to try a value study on both cold press and hot press watercolor paper. I went to dark to fast on my cold-press version:

and finally a version on hot press watercolor paper:

 More about today's endeavor's, but on a lighter note, look what we had for lunch today:


Painting is painting is painting

This writing from 17 September 2012, just posted today (16 October).

Preparing for a show to be hung tomorrow, been emersed in painting on silk, and painting with watercolors. The same, yet different. I have been doing watercolors for many years now, and understand the colors, the texture of paint, how to layer (as in onion image below), how much load the brush should carry for the effect I want. Here is the painting process for watercolor.

I make a drawing that is as precise as possible, without a lot of detail, but with all lines clean and clear so that they won’t show up in my final artwork. Then I build up the colors gradually; the first layer is very light pastels…as much as anything to dampen the paper a bit so the next layer will go on readily, with edges forming smooth lines rather than rough edges. At all times I think about where I am going with the piece; what I would like the final image to look like. And with each brush stroke, and each layer, I am walking towards that final destination: my mind’s image of the final product. But as with any journey, the road offers up unexpected adventures and the endpoint is often not exactly what I had imagined!

Botanical paintings usually are represented by two separate color palettes: one for the flowers themselves (in a lily example yellows and oranges), and one for the foliage (various greens). I like to use two different palettes for mixing these different suites of colors.

I lay down a layer from one palette, the flowers for example, and while that layer is drying, I switch and lay down a layer from the other palette, in this case the leaves. I switch back and forth between the two palettes, letting layers dry as I switch to a different part of the painting, all the time being very careful not to smudge or drip on the painting!

At this point I’d like to bring up a phrase so commonly used to describe painting with watercolor: “they are unforgiving”! Well, they are, and they aren’t. Let’s take the latter first. Most think of watercolors as unforgiving because you can’t just erase or white-out mistakes, and that is very true. But also, some hues in watercolor stain the paper, and those (like viridian) should be used very cautiously, because once they are applied no amount of washing up can bring the paper back to anything even resembling white. But save for staining colors I find watercolors to be very forgiving in that colors can be lifted up as well as laid down.

There are several ways to lift color. The swiftest is to blot up color that one has just applied with the brush. My favorite tool is a paper towel, and I always paint with brush in one hand and paper towel in the other. If a quick blot doesn’t do the job, or one needs more precise and selective lifting, applying water to an area with the brush, next drying the brush, then using the dry brush as if painting results in lifting up the paint. Sometimes it is necessary to take an older brush and “scrub” the paper where you wish to remove color. In botanical art with the traditional white background artists sometimes use a very fine abrasive (such as “magic eraser” cleaning product) to sand off a blotch or drip (or cat paw tracks) that mysteriously appeared on the background area.

Each painting for me has a predictable emotional ride. It is relaxed and methodical in the beginning: I have my tools laid out, my work area is clean, I have my subject in front of me to reference frequently as I work. I select color for my palette, and mix those to use for the first layers of my painting. As I build up the layers, I begin to get increasingly anxious, as the painting walks further and further away from my imagined result (something much more perfect and impressive than photo-realism…). Then I persevere, having a mental argument with myself that all will be OK, just don’t get so frustrated and impatient that I start being sloppy (as this is NOT a sloppy endeavor). Finally toward the final layers, I begin to see that a beautiful painting might be taking shape, and by the time I add the line details which really make the painting “pop” I begin to relax and feel that is OK to be a painter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lilies to Lilies

Spring and summer for me are times of packing, leaving, fieldwork, returning, regrouping, packing, leaving…and so on. My last trip did not disappoint. I taught a four-day intensive plant identification workshop, which I lovingly refer to as my “Crash Course”….you get the idea? Emphasis on intensive… but fun too. Next a day in the field, a day of rest (laundry), followed by three days of meeting with the Native Plant Society of Oregon (NPSO): and this all at the amazingly lovely Deer Creek Center, home of the Siskiyou Field Institute (SFI).

            I have been coming down to this region of southwestern Oregon, the western Siskiyous, since 1978, first to botanize and revel in the amazing diversity of plants (like Lilium bolanderi shown above, WOW!), and later as the location of my field studies on the genus Arabis, or rockcress (Arabis aculeolata, the Waldo Rockcress, shown below being visited by a bombyliid fly).


I can’t recall when I started leading field trips for SFI, but it was long ago, and in recent years I frequently meet folks who attended one of my earlier hikes. Those were the dog-friendly days, and as much as people remember the places and plants, they remember my most feisty and energetic rock dog, tail-chasing Jack Russell Terrier, Josie.


Now SFI has its own field station (my deepest thanks to the anonymous donor), complete with accommodations for campers and those needing a room, and a wonderful classroom with dissecting microscopes for all! Hurrah for botany! I had 12 in my group this year, and we alternated classroom time including slides, lectures, and keying plants, with time in the field, reinforcing what we learned.

Day one: local Pitcher Plant fens and drive up the TJ Howell Memorial Highway (a forest service road named for one of Oregon’s pioneer botanists). I cannot list here the variety of native plants we saw, but one highlight was the purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) above and below), complete with tiny monarch butterfly larvae—milkweeds are always an interesting place to look for insects.

Day two: a hike to Babyfoot Lake, shown below, to see the effects of the Biscuit Fire on its 10-year anniversary (and swim in the lake--a classic Vorobik field trip). Day three: botanizing the montane meadow and area around Bolan Lake (and swim). Day four: back at the lab with an intensive day of learning plant family characteristics and keying (and noon potluck).

The annual meeting of the Native Plant Society of Oregon was special for me, in that I have been involved with it since 1980, edited its bulletin and its journal, and this society includes many mentors and friends. During my talk I spoke a bit about the 2002 Biscuit Fire, as it was one of the largest that year at 500,000 acres in size, and came within a very few miles of the Deer Creek Center.

As our climate changes and droughts become more frequent and extreme, many of us have experienced wildfires. The two that are intimately in my history are the 1991 Oakland, CA firestorm that destroyed the homes of some of my friends, and the 2002 Biscuit fire, that transformed the Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area from an old growth conifer forest, including huge Sugar Pines, Douglas firs, and the Klamath endemic, Brewer’s Spruce, into a fire-ravaged moonscape, at least in places. (Above: the moderately burned rocky outcrop within the Babyfoot Lake Botanical area, with lewisias, penstemons, stonecrops, and 3 beautiful little rock ferns. Below: fire-ravaged forest in 2002).

The fire’s occurrence provided an excellent teaching opportunity. For many years before the fire I led field trips to the lake, to look at the plants, hike, and swim (a botanical baptism of sorts). We would enjoy the cool of the dark forest, and look at several different orchids, including Fairy Slipper Orchids, Phantom Orchids, and Coralroot Orchids. Post fire, the suite of plants had changed, but from the ashes comes re-growth!

There are several plants that are now conspicuously absent from the dead forest, notably all of the aforementioned orchids, but most of the shrubs came back vigorously from crown-sprouting. And wildfires do not burn uniformly…some spots are devoid of life immediately after the fire, some are passed over.

Though the character of this place has completely changed, I cannot communicate the optimism I experience when I re-travel these paths, and see the thriving shrubs, the white waves of blooming beargrass, and lower down, smell the sweet-scented Shasta Lilies in full flower.