April 25, 2020

monk's hood botanical
Monk’s hood, April 2020 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

I have been threatening to complete and post this particular botanical for a few weeks now. Here it is. I guess I want to say something right up front about the subject matter I chose to render, aside from the fact that it is a poisonous plant. Normally, all the images you see at One California Girl have come from my actual sitting and looking at a particular view or art that I created from a photo I took of said view. As I do not have any poisonous plants in my garden, that I know of anyway, I painted this from a compilation of several photos and an actual old botanical that I found online. I wanted to state for the record that I did not directly copy anyone’s work. Directly copying someone’s photo, art or written work is not OK. If you are an artist, photographer or writer, you know how important it is that someone not copy your work, and then put his or her name on it as their own, right? It’s called plagiarism. And it is doubly bad, unethical and probably worthy of some kind of lawsuit if someone copies your work and then sells it, right again? I have no intention of selling this.

As I said, I don’t have any poisonous plants in my yard. I once got some Lily of Valley plants as a “pass along plant” when we lived in Grass Valley. I didn’t know it was poisonous when I tucked it into the ground back then. And it does kind of make me cringe when I think that we also had a dog at the time. But she didn’t seem very interested in any of my plants. She was more excited about digging holes, chasing water as it spurted from a sprinkler or hose and eyeing the chickens through cracks in the wooden gate. Foxglove, or digitalis, is quite pretty, but quite poisonous to dogs, cats and humans. Over the years I have thought of putting some in a shady spot in my garden, but knew enough not to really consider it when we had dogs. At least I knew better with that one! My son had asked me to do a botanical of poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), but I have declined. It’s actually kind a sweet looking plant and part of the carrot family. (That makes it seem almost palatable, right?) If you look for botanicals of poison hemlock online, you will see some really lovely renderings of the plant as it looks in its natural habit, with close up views of seeds, roots, flowers and stems. Looking at these very detailed paintings made me realize how much poison hemlock looks like a favorite medicinal wildflower that I have propagated and let reseed in numerous gardens over the years. It’s called Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carrot). To see if there was any connection between the two, other than the fact that the word “carrot” can be used to describe each plant, I went looking for specific information on Queen Anne’s Lace. And sure enough I found a great source of all things you would ever want to know about medicinal plants at the Ohio Northern University Herb Garden (webstu.onu.edu) web page. It appears that they have Queen Anne’s lace in their Medicinal Sundial Garden. I also did a little digging to see if anyone besides me saw the need to be able to tell the two apart. This is because Queen Anne’s Lace can be used as a diuretic, a cure for indigestion, and form of birth control, and Poison Hemlock would be considered deadly if ingested. (I did kind of wonder about someone making Queen Anne’s Lace tea from the roots as birth control, right? But I digress.) Anyway, I guess the greatest difference between the two is to be observed when looking at the stem of each plant. Queen Anne’s Lace has hairy looking green stems and Poison Hemlock has no hairs, but instead small purple blotches. You know, if you look at botanicals of Queen Anne’s Lace you sure don’t see the promised hairs on the stems, but you do see the purple blotches on the Poison Hemlock. I bet you can guess the moral of this story…

Making your own tracing paper

When considering making your own botanical it is important to first do a detailed sketch. And once you have gotten the lines and flourishes just where you want them on plain old drawing paper, you don’t want to have to redraw it again on good paper. That’s when I dig out my drafting tape and homemade tracing paper. Place the tracing paper between the good paper (inked side down) and the sketch. Use a little drafting tape to hold everything in place. Take a sharp hard lead pencil (H or BH) and redraw your lines directly on the sketch. (I sometimes use a red pencil so I can make sure I don’t miss any lines.) Once you’ve retraced every line remove the sketch and tracing paper and an exact copy of your plant will appear on the good paper as if by magic. But when I do a botanical I do a couple more things before I’m ready to start adding color. I take the same hard pencil I just used and lightly trace over those lines directly on the good paper. Finally, I take a kneadable eraser and gently dap at every line—leaving a pretty crisp looking sketch made of light fine lines. Ahh…

I guess you can buy tracing paper at an art store, but you can also make it very easily. I wouldn’t have even thought about making tracing paper if I hadn’t needed to make some for this botanical. I have a sheet that I made over 30 years ago, and I have made countless transfers with it. I even tried to use it for this botanical, but the transferred lines were just too light. It was time to make another. Here’s what you do:

  1. Get a sheet of 9 by 12 or 11 by 14 sheet of plain tracing paper.
  2. Hold a soft leaded pencil (I used a 6B) at an angle so you can use the side of the graphite, not the point.
  3. Scribble in long strokes across the paper leaving about a 1/2 to 3/4 inch frame around the edge uncovered. But the paper should be pretty dark with graphite.
  4. Now, you can stop right here and use it to transfer your sketches to good paper. The graphite is pretty loose and can come off easily and for me, it’s just too easy to add random smudges everywhere at this point. I do one more thing to help with that.
  5. I coat the graphite with a light layer of a solvent with a cotton ball. Be sure to find a well ventilated spot to do this.
  6. Let it dry and it should be good for 30 years of transferring bliss. 
  7. Oh, there really is one more thing that you need to do. You need to find a good place to store it, so it will be at the ready anytime you need it. My first tracing paper has been in the same sketch pad, between the same two pages, since I made it. Now that I have a new sheet, I have put it in a new sketchpad and have put that in a special drawer. I have plans to do more non-poisonous plant botanicals now. I hope I remember where I put the tracing paper…

I did remember that today is your birthday, Dad. Happy Birthday! I miss you every day.

One thought on “April 25, 2020

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