October 6, 2019

2019 birthday orchid
Phalaenopsis orchid, September 2019 (pen and ink, watercolors, Inktense pencils on 6 inch by 12 inch watercolor paper)

This may sound a bit too precious and cliche, but this week’s story unfolded much like an orchid blossom. I got this beauty for my birthday this year and knew I wanted to see if I could capture that shade of pink, or lilac, or whatever… As you may have guessed, I’m not sure I actually achieved the exact color. I mixed a pot of Opera, Cerulean Blue hue and Scarlet Lake, and I left lots of white showing through to add to the lightness of the color. I have not included a photo of the actual orchid so you can’t judge me. But, I do like this color quite a bit and wonder if there is an actual orchid that looks exactly the color my brain wants to see. (There seems to be so many different shades of orchids in the grocery stores around here, so there very well could be this very shade of pink.) 

You may also be wondering if I was inspired to make this sketch because of the perfect vertical piece of the watercolor paper. You might be thinking, I wonder if she had some of that paper just lying around. Actually, week before last I was looking around through random pads of paper to see if there were any unused pieces and I found this on the back of a horizontal landscape sketch from the Descanso Gardens. Who knew that I could just turn that paper on end and create the perfect shape for this orchid? Just because a sheet of watercolor started life the long way does not mean it can’t be turned over and rotated into another shape that perfectly supports the weight of an orchid. (Here’s the other side.)

DG:summer 2016
Descanso Garden, summer 2016 (watercolor and watercolor crayon on watercolor paper)
old birthday orchid
Birthday orchid, September 2018 to September 2019

If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed that I don’t often include photos. I think I am not that comfortable, or good at, taking pictures that look like anything. Primarily, I use a camera just to capture a moment to help me remember a place or thing. I’m much more in tune with my interpretation of the things that interest me, rather than the actual thing itself. I’m never very happy with the way color turns out in photos I take. I also don’t usually like the colors that come from a photocopier, even if I have someone who works at the copy shop make the image for me. And I don’t really know what to do about it and I’m just not interested in finding out. So, I just rely on my colors as a kind of relay that starts in my heart (with my interest in the subject), then to my brain to imagine the colors and finally with me mixing, squirting, scrubbing and layering color onto the paper. I think my art shows a kind of confidence that my photographs lack. 

But, I do have a nice reason to include this rather average photo. I was given this orchid for my birthday last year and it has been continuously flowering for the past 365 days and counting. Ok, I get that it has only one flower left, but I still count that as blooming. And I don’t know much about orchids, but looking closely at this birthday marathon plant there seems to be another stem of buds coming on. (I tried to capture that little nub with the camera, but alas it doesn’t look like anything.) I am hopeful that this last flower will last until another couple buds appear and pop open. Can I keep this going for another year? Maybe…

Even though this started out about the color of my new orchid, I didn’t want to forget my old orchid friends, like this one. I have never tried to grow orchids before and believe it or not, I now have 4 on my kitchen window sill. And all of these were gifts. Maybe there is a cosmic message out there telling me that I don’t have a brown thumb and can grow lovely indoor plants. I probably don’t actually have a brown thumb, but I don’t know if I have a green one either. Maybe my thumb has nothing to do with it, but rather the perfect light that comes through my kitchen window year round. It’s pretty brightly inspiring. I am forced to look at them on a daily basis because I stand at my kitchen sink a lot and the sill is directly at eye level. A couple months after I put this one on the sill I noticed it was going for some kind personal best in my kitchen. I found myself scrutinizing every stem, looking for new buds and I bought orchid food (20-20-15). It seems when I talk to most folks about my few house plants they say, oh I don’t have time or talent for growing plants indoors or out. And I say, you just haven’t found the perfect plant for you. I also like the idea that there are plants that actually remove harmful chemicals in the air indoors. Martha says that the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) is good for that, as well as Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum), golden pothos (probably the easiest to grow…I have it all over my house…), and red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata). Unfortunately, I have not read of any orchids that clean your indoor air. So, I guess we who grow orchids will just have to live with their beauty. I think it makes me breathe a little easier to see something colorfully hopeful, balancing precariously on the end of a graceful stem. What do you think?

A few final words on colors in photos and/or photocopies…

Many years go, I lived in Munich for the better part of a year. During that time I visited Amsterdam a couple of times. As I have always been an artist I went to the Rijksmuseum as well as the Van Gogh Museum. I have always been an avid admirer of all things Vermeer and sought out a few of his paintings while at the Rijks. I remember walking into a light filled room where two of his paintings were hanging. Right in front of his The Little Street, was a woman who had kind of camped out there. She had a number of open folders, a tripod, pads of paper, markers, colored pencils, and paints and brushes all over the floor. And she was walking back and forth in front of the painting taking photos, both up close and a little far away. Initially I was a bit upset that I couldn’t get very close to the painting. But of course I soon became intrigued with what she was doing—no guard had asked her to move so others could see as well. So, I struck up a conversation with her. (I was thankful that she spoke English.) She said that she worked for a company that printed art posters and that they were getting ready to reproduce this gorgeous street scene—complete with brick facade in partial sunlight and partial shade. She told me that when reproducing paintings it was very difficult to get the colors just right in the photo and then onto a poster. I remember her adding that the beautiful brick color was especially difficult to get right. So, she was taking photos, mixing paint colors, layering different shades of colored pencil and just making general notes about all the colors on this piece. Now, this was of course in what might be called the analog days of capturing the lines and colors of an original piece of exquisite art with a photograph. I imagine now such works would be digitally mastered, and pixels would be scientifically arranged for such a poster. After speaking with her I had decided that I wanted to have a job like hers. But I didn’t. I don’t know if I ever found out what company she worked for. I never looked for the poster, either. However, I just Googled The Little Street poster and saw several versions for sale—and the color was definitely different for each one. Maybe capturing true colors with a camera hasn’t changed all that much. Makes me want to go back to the Rijksmuseum again to see The Little Street. I wonder if she is still there, trying to capture those colors…


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