April 18, 2020

melastome
Melastome in the Cloud Forest of the Strybing Arboretum, Golden Gate Park, 1993 (Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

It took me until Wednesday to figure out the art I wanted to share this week. That’s pretty unusual for me. I usually have an art idea in mind the Sunday before, and once I have that visual in mind a story of something “California” somehow takes shape. Or I am reminded of the technique that went into the piece and plan to write about that over the week. But that’s not what happened this time and my muddle headedness started last Saturday when I thought I would do a daily sketch of the same thing just like last week—but no more mugs holding the desk detritus of my somewhat boring life. So, I went outside to look for a muse that would amuse me. Oh, yeah, I can’t leave my yard. There is a lovely little spot on my front porch that is covered and from there I can see a view of some lovely mature trees across the street, with rolling green mountains behind that. I can also see a very suspicious looking citrus tree from here. How can a tree be suspicious? I could swear that every orange on that tree has been hanging there since I moved into my house over three years ago.  The tree has looked the same every season of those years. Is that possible? That seemed to amuse me and I thought this would be good. That was until it started to rain again and the colors across the street took on a kind of wet and blurry look. I lost interest. 

By now it’s Monday and I still haven’t come up with anything. My son had asked me to do a botanical of monk’s hood and I thought of working on that everyday this week—writing each day about a very specific technique I use for such botanicals. (I used this exact technique for the above Melastome.) I had already done a pen and ink of the poisonous plant and got busy transferring it to a piece of my beautiful Strathmore cold press illustration board. Creating such a botanical, for me, is quite a process, taking lots of time. This is because it’s a kind of layering of color, first Prismacolor colored pencils to set the tone by adding the deepest shadows, then the mixing of a beautiful color that will go on top of that. And the watercolor colors are quite diluted as there will many layers added to make lovely saturated patches of color. First colored pencil, then watercolor, colored pencil, then watercolor…until I get the overall effect I want. This can take a long time as you need to wait for each pass of watercolor to dry before adding the next layer of paint and/or pencil. And if you have ever worked with watercolors and don’t let an under color dry, that under color can be lifted off when you add the next color. Anyway, I was going to document what the piece looked like each day, showing how the color changed and intensified with each layer. But even this seemed diluted and it wouldn’t make an interesting story because photos of all the stages might be dull and uninteresting until I got to the final piece. (Botanical renderings are not everyone’s cup of tea. And you may be one who briefly enjoys a realistic rendering of a plant in the last stage, but find all the steps to making it very dull.) I continued with the poisonous botanical, but realized there wasn’t much more to say about it. By Wednesday I was still up in the air with an art idea when I remembered this botanical. When I looked at it again that day I was transported to the Cloud Forest of Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. This is where the particular melastome you see here was growing in the early 90’s. This plant, and all the other plants in the Melastomataceae family, became my muse for the rest of the week. (I’m sorry this image is not very clear as it is a scan of a photo copy. I donated the original many years ago to a silent auction to raise funds for art and science programs that benefited my son’s school district, Grass Valley School District.)

There is one specific melastome that seems to do well in CA even though none of the plants in the family are native, and that is the “Princess Plant.” I’ve seen them mostly in gardens in the cooler climates of north CA, especially Berkeley, but I have also seen them in coastal SoCal neighborhoods like Belmont Shore. If you Google “Princess Plant” and look for a close up of the flower you will see my Melastome except in the most luscious shade of violet with soft and fuzzy leaves. Botanists would call this a very sexy plant.

pen and ink monk's hood

I promise I will share the monk’s hood botanical when it is complete. But, OMG, my son is liking the idea of such a botanical that he wants a whole collection of poisonous flower botanicals. He thinks the blossoms of poison hemlock (conium maculatum) quite lovely and he asked if maybe I could do a painting of foxglove (digitalis). I told him I would see how I felt when I finished the monk’s hood (aconitum). Stay tuned.

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