Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Naturalist Notebook: Drawing the flowers in your garden

It occurred to me that by now some of you may be in cities and towns that are requiring you to shelter in place, and it may be hard for you to get out and about to find some nature. But there are probably things right in your own backyards that you can be recording and drawing. For example, there is a shrub in our backyard, Mahonia aquifolium, also called Oregon Grape.

This hardy plant puts on tiny yellow flowers in the spring that always brings a smile to my face, but when I thought about it, I realized I didn’t actually know very much about the plant besides its name. So a couple of years ago I decided to do a study of it. At the time, there were some native bees working the blooms, and I also decided to include them, as well as some natural history notes about the plant that I found.

The mahonia is blooming now, as is another perennial, called Iphieon uniflorum, or Spring Star Flower. This plant shows up every spring, too, and is related to onions—it smells that way, too, when you brush up against it. It grows in the middle of our lawn, and provides a cheerful burst of blue. I love seeing it so much, I make my husband mow around it until it stops blooming. This, too, would make a wonderful study. Here it growing in front of my compost bin. 

But the flowers that caught my eye today were some I have growing in a bed in a part of the garden I call “the farm,” where I grow vegetables in the summer. I had planted these tulips a couple of years ago and forgotten all about them.

And I saw tulips again when I went for a walk on campus:

It would be nice if we could get outside and find some wildflowers to draw, but in the absence of that opportunity, here is another. Flowers are busting out all over in gardens right now, and there may be some in yours, too. Pick one you like and do a simple study of it for your journal. Include the leaves, as well, because leaves also help identify flowers. As an example, I chose some Carolina jessamine that grows on the side of our house. I snipped off a piece and brought it inside to my studio (by the way, the same rules about washing your hands after handling flowers you are not familiar with pertains to your garden flowers, too—Carolina jessamine is toxic if ingested. Remember, when in doubt, wash your hands!). I am including a step by step drawing, so that you can see the process for drawing a tubular flower. At the end, I’ve also included on the left side of the page steps showing how to draw a leaf that curves. It is sort of an optical illusion—try it out and see what happens. As I have said before, drawing things is mostly knowing how to do the magic tricks.

Give this a try. Be sure to look up some info about your plant, and include it as notes in your journal page, as I did above with the mahonia. For a really stunning example of how beautiful a sketchbook study of a plant can be, check out this, from artofnorka. It is a work of art all by itself:

For inspiration, I am including a real treat—you are so lucky! There is probably nobody better in the world at painting tulips than Scottish artist Fiona Strickland. She has graciously sent me photos of 
her step by step process for painting one of these. (Click on the image to embiggen.) This is a very special bag of magic tricks that she is sharing. It is as if Johannes Vermeer were to say, “Sure, I’d be happy to show your students how I paint that light streaming through the window.” (If you don’t know who Vermeer is, you should look him up. If you are looking for a good movie to stream, here is one about Vermeer and one of his most famous paintings: Girl with a Pearl Earring. You should look up up Fiona Strickland, too; she is a Vermeer for our time, though there is no movie about her. Yet.)

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