Friday, September 23, 2016

Botanical Illustration III - Scratchboard

I completed the third and final class of introductory botanical illustration last evening.  The eight students attempted scratchboard, something I had never tried before.  There's no erasing; no correcting errors.  My results appears at the head of the post.  The instructor and I agreed that I had probably done my best work in the red section of the largest leaf.

I now know that I am sufficiently capable of drawing to tackle other projects, but I'll probably have to wait until I retire to take this up again.  I don't think I'll attempt scratchboard, though; it was frustrating and unforgiving.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Kali dispersing common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds
On Sunday afternoon, September 18, Kali and I joined about 20 other guests at a natural area called the Paunacussing Preserve owned by the Natural Lands Trust (NLT), the largest regional land trust in eastern Pennsylvania.  This guided walk was for long-term NLT supporters and was led by Preserve Manager Preston Wilson supported by another NLT staff member and a volunteer.  Sunday afternoon was very warm, humid, and cloudy with thunderstorms in the forecast, but the very much-needed rain held off until Monday morning.

The 100-acre Paunacussing (named for the creek that rises on the land) contains active agriculture, farmland converted to native meadows, meadows undergoing active afforestation, woodlots, and a large pond.  Topographically, it is fairly level and walking was easy. 

We set off on paths cut through native goldenrod meadows in full bloom.

Old fence post festooned with Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Cooperative azure damselfly perched in the meadow
Thistle gone to seed exposing its silvery underbelly
All afternoon long, the sky was full of vultures.  The light wasn't good, the birds weren't close enough for me to get a good "naked eye" view, and I hadn't brought my binoculars, so I couldn't tell if they were Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) (the more likely) or Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus).

From the meadows, we moved to the pond on the property.  When the preserve was privately owned and used as both a weekend retreat and as a farm, the owners maintained a fairly sizable pond fed by four springs.  When NLT acquired the property, the land managers decided to reduce the size of the pond and to begin to accelerate its inevitable transition to freshwater marsh.  (Ponds constructed at the headwaters of small streams are ecologically damaging since they create large expanses of water exposed to the sun.  The water discharged from such ponds is much warmer than water in streams should be, altering the entire ecosystem downstream.)
The pond
The land managers excavated through the berm that was damming the creek and lowered the water level considerably.  This exposed large areas of mud that were quickly colonized by emergent aquatic vegetation.  The remaining pond is only about four feet deep.

Beavers have colonized the pond.  Preston explained that he didn't want beavers in the pond because they were cutting down trees and because they were blocking up the outlet channel and the agri-drain system that NLT installed to allow land managers to manipulate the water level.  He said that he had been in contact with the Pennsylvania Game Commission about removing the beavers.  Kali and I do not believe he made a compelling case for removing the beavers.
A beaver's handiwork at the edge of the pond
Cattails (Typha spp.)
Cattails and green-headed (or cut-leaf) Coneflowers (Rudbeckia laciniata)
A moss-softened path
From the pond, we ventured into a small woodlot where NLT had erected several fenced exclosures to demonstrate the impact of white-tailed deer.  The enclosures were too new to show much difference in vegetation between areas accessible to and protected from deer browsing.
Preserve manager Preston Wilson (light shirt) explaining the deer exclosure
When we emerged from the woods, I found that I had acquired a new arthropod companion on my lower leg.  I gently coaxed the caterpillar onto a Southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) leaf.
Note the dense auburn hairs plus the much longer, less-dense lighter hairs
The last part of the tour wound through meadows under active afforestation.  NLT plants tree seedlings in plastic tree shelters.  Over the last few years, they have planted nearly 3,100 trees in the preserve in an effort to join woodlots into large blocks of forest.
Afforestation area with an Eastern Bluebird nesting box
Finally, as we neared the end of the walk, we came across a view of this tree (below) sporting a dozen resting vultures.

Botanical Illustration II

I promised I would keep you posted on my progress in my introductory Botanical Illustration class.  During the second class, we tinted the drawing we made during the first class using colored pencils.  One of my fellow students decided not to color her original drawing, explaining that she didn't think the color would enhance the drawing much.  I was inclined to think the same way, but decided to color my drawing anyway (1) to explore the coloring process and (2) because my drawing wasn't a "masterpiece" anyway; so what if I screwed it up?  I'm neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with the result (above).  Kali said that the coloring was pretty subtle, but the colored pencil "leads" were hard - I really had to push to get the color to show.
After we colored our previous week's drawing, we explored drawing on paper tinted with watercolors.  We moistened watercolor paper, dabbed on some color, and encouraged the paint to run and bleed.  The instructor ironed our paper to dry it, then told us to select a spot on which to draw another leaf.  The result appears above.  I'm still not comfortable with the stippling technique; I'm going to have to work on it to achieve the results I'd like.

Tonight: scratchboard.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Botancial Illustration

My father had a real talent for drawing; I was always envious of his abilities.  I considered my own talents to be limited.  In fact, I once drew an old grist mill as an illustration to accompany an article I had written for my organization's newsletter, and someone (who did not know that I had drawn the the mill illustration) commented, "I wonder whose kid drew that picture?"  If that wouldn't put the kibosh on any artistic aspirations I don't know what would.

However, since I've inherited half my father's genes, I've often wondered if I could improve my drawing skills with some coaching and practice.  Plus, with retirement looming, Kali questions me constantly about how I'm going to fill my time after I stop working.

So, when a retired high school art teacher offered to teach a three-evening introductory botanical illustration class for my organization, my program planner and I readily agreed to put it on the schedule, and I signed up.  Last evening was our first class.

The instructor asked the students to find a relatively simple leaf as a subject.  Then, we retreated from the oppressive heat and humidity to an air conditioned conference room and set about with plain, old Staples-brand No. 2 pencils to draw the leaf.  The instructor told the students it was perfectly acceptable to trace the leaf, but I decided to try to draw it freehand.  Once we had the basic form and venation on paper, we took fine-pointed markers and inked the outline.  Then, the instructor asked us to highlight features of the leaf in stippling.

My representation of a sourwood leaf (Oxydendrum arboreum) and my subject head this post.  Kali said that she liked my drawing, but didn't think it was a very accurate representation of the subject.  I'm not completely satisfied either (I'm a bit disappointed with the stippling, in particular), but I don't think I've tried to draw anything since my grist mill fiasco.

Next week, we add color with watercolors, and the third week we'll attempt a scratchboard project.  I'll post my results of each.