Blogging is a great way to share my work with people and tell the stories behind the botanical illustrations I create. It can be a mixed blessing however because in order to reach people I have to write regularly so that search engines can find me. It takes time to write blogs and lately I’ve been too busy to write anything. For this reason I was very surprised when the famous Californian company Williams-Sonoma found my pen and ink illustration of the squash flower, Cucurbito pepo, in one of my old blogs. Williams-Sonoma has a well-earned reputation for high quality products for the home. When they contacted me I was very excited to think that one of my botanical illustrations would end up in their catalogue and on their store shelves.
How it happened!
Last February while searching for a suitable illustration to use on the packaging for a new product- the Pumpkin Spice Seasonal Collection candle- a member of the Williams-Sonoma design team found my squash flower illustration on-line. (See blog http://www.aislinnadams.com/blog/page/3/.) After the initial contact the whole process was very straight forward, a licensing agreement was signed and a jpeg of the black and white illustration sent to the designers. It took approximately seven months for the Pumpkin Spice candle to go from the design stage to the store. A quick turn-around really.
Where the illustration started!
This illustration was originally created for the Washington Post’s gardening column “Digging In”. Once a week, on a Thursday, one of my pen and ink drawings would illustrate the gardening column. Each week I created a new illustration which meant that my squash illustration only appeared once. However, thanks to Williams-Sonoma, it is getting a new showing, and for a longer period of time. I am particularly pleased with how it looks on the high quality, three dimensional packaging and, in an attractive burnt sienna tone suggesting pumpkin and spice.
This is the third in a series of blogs I’m writing about a native plant illustration commission I received from the Friends of Silver Falls State Park (FOSF). To read the first blog click here.
Having gone to all the trouble of making beautiful new sketchpads for this project (see my last blog), when it came to the moment of actually drawing in my first one I had a serious attack of “white fright”. I looked at the white expanse of expensive Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper and was paralyzed. No amount of cajoling or upbraiding myself made a whit of difference. I was intimidated. After struggling back and forth for a while I decided that a different approach was needed.
Drawing as meditation!
I knew from experience that when I draw with a black pen only, no pencils or erasures allowed, I somehow manage to relax more and spend the time truly observing my plant subject. It’s the closest thing to meditation that I know; a time when I let go of expectations and focus completely on the act of looking and drawing. Time stands still.
Coastal range sketch- salal, sword fern and trailing blackberry (while also having fun with bark texture).
A new sketchpad!
With this in mind I decided that my “white fright” sketchpad had to wait while I practiced some “meditation drawing”. I went back to my local art store and bought an (inexpensive) 11×14 inch, Alternative Art wire-bound sketchpad and some .005 Sakura micron pens. I like the way the fine .005 tips allow me to include lots of fine detail if I wish, as well as interesting textures. The inexpensive sketchpad also means that I don’t worry about wasting good paper. It is big enough too for lots of observations and, with its strong hardback cover, it doubles as a drawing board for my “good” sketchpad.
Scouler’s corydalis, Corydalis scouleri study in my “meditation” sketchpad.
Not all my pen drawings are this successful, and many are unfinished, like this one. For me the point is not to produce the perfect finished drawing but to loose myself a little in the looking, and really enjoy getting to know the plant.
Blog #3 Friends of Silver Falls Native Plant Project- Overcoming White Fright!
This is the second blog in a series I’m writing about a large native plant illustration commission I received from the Friends of Silver Falls State Park (FOSF). To read the first blog click here.
Tús maith, leath na hoibre, A good start is half the work!
When I first received this commission I was very excited: so many wonderful species and so much potential for good work, but my head began to spin when I thought about the scale of the job ahead of me (thirty native plant species). I realized, almost immediately, that the project would involve many comprehensive studies of the different growing stages of each plant. I knew too that if I wanted to do a good job I needed a good plan. But by the time the project finally started it was June and Oregon was beginning to experience its worst drought on record. I could feel the panic rising as I watched many of the native species on the list wither before my eyes. To calm my nerves I focused on the art materials I’d need, starting with the right sketchbook. I had already begun to make my own for other projects and knew I would do the same for this one but I wasn’t sure what page dimensions to use.
Finding the right sketchbook!
Study of Scouler’s corydalis, Corydalis scouleri, from my older homemade sketchbook.
Feeling the panic nipping at my heels I began drawing Scouler’s corydalis, Corydalis scouleri, (in bloom in my own garden at the time). I used a homemade sketchbook I already had – made from Fabriano Artistico Extra White Watercolor Paper. I realized very quickly, however, that the pages were too small. I love the brightness and versatility of this paper, which I use for graphite as well as watercolor studies, but I needed bigger pages.
Making my own sketchbooks for the project.
Luckily my local art store had a sale in Fabriano Artistico Extra White (140 lb, 300 gsm) at the time. I bought 22×30 inch (559 x 762 mm) sheets and divided each one into four x 11×15 inch (279 x 381 mm) pages. I then had them spiral bound into sketchbooks of 12 pages at my local printer. I thought, rather than having one large sketchbook, dividing the pages up like this would make it easier to manage- and safer. Damage or loss of my sketchbook would be a real setback- especially if all my plant studies were in one. By splitting up the pages this way the sketchbook is lighter too and more manageable. I can study about 10 plants per sketchbook and when full move onto the next.
My first FOSF sketchbook of 12, spiral bound pages. The cover (printed on my Epson printer) shows a pen and ink illustration of Western tiger lily, Lilium columbium, created previously. It is one of the native plants on my project list (shown below).
The finished botanical illustrations.
The finished botanical illustrations will be reproduced on 11×16 inch (279 x 406 mm) sheets (similar to an herbarium specimen sheet) so my sketchbook page dimensions, at 11×15 inches (279 x 381 mm), help me visualize how much plant information can fit onto that size sheet. I’ve already begun using my first sketchbook and it’s working well so far. The only change I will make to the second and third will be to insert lighter tracing paper sheets between the watercolor pages so that I can protect them better. I’ve made a tús maith (good start) I think. I will let you know how the “other half” of the project goes in due course.
Blog #2 Friends of Silver Falls State Park Native Plant Illustration Project.
Native plant Illustrations for Silver Falls State Park- a timely enquiry leads to a dream commission.
Pen and ink illustration. Western ground ginger, Asarum caudatum, one of the native plants growing at Silver Falls State Park.
The Friends of Silver Falls State Park
Earlier this year I visited the Nature Store at the South Falls area of Silver Falls State Park. I was hoping the attractive gift store might be interested in carrying some of my botanical art greeting cards and was finally making enquiries. The aptly named Nature Store is housed in the restored historic log cabin to the north of the South Falls Lodge and is run by the Friends of Silver Falls (FOSF) non-profit. Since their founding in 1986 the FOSF’s mission has been to fund educational and interpretive programs at the park and the Nature Store is the main source of that funding. As a very active voluntary organization they have a long tradition of collaboration with the park staff. Being Oregon’s largest, Silver Falls State Park attracts over a million visitors annually so the FOSF provide valuable help on a weekly basis as well as at busy times of the year like the annual Mother’s Day Wildflower Festival.
As soon as I made enquiries at the store a friendly shop assistant (a FOSF volunteer) handed me their administrator’s business card advising me to email her. This I did as soon as I got home and was promptly rewarded with a reply. My timing couldn’t have been better as it turned out, not only was the FOSF interested in selling my native plant greeting cards, they also had a project they were deliberating upon and wondered if I might be interested- illustrating a series of thirty native plant identification sheets to be displayed at the lodge. I could hardly contain my excitement and of course I said yes immediately.
Red flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum. One of my native plant greeting cards that can be found at the Friends of Silver Falls State Park Nature Store.
Old herbarium specimens to be replaced by new botanical illustrations made possible by the Maroe Brown Trust.
Regular visitors may remember browsing through a set of herbarium specimens, housed in a wooden box, that sat on a counter in the lodge dining room. For many years these specimens (provided by the FOSF) helped visitors identify native plants growing in the park. Over time the popular specimens succumbed to the wear and tear of visitor use and had to be removed. At the time of my enquiry the FOSF had just received a generous bequest allowing them to consider replacing the old with new botanical specimens, however, in the end they decided to use botanical illustrations instead. It was my good fortune to walk into the Nature Store at just the right time and thanks to the generous bequest of Maroe Brown – long time FOSF volunteer and native plant lover- I have this great opportunity to work on the new FOSF series of native plant identification sheets.
Illustrating thirty native species-a long term project.
Illustrating thirty native species will take time, several seasons in fact, but I look forward to the challenge. It’s not often that one has the opportunity and funding to really get to know a plant subject: to study and record its different growing stages and most importantly, to observe it in its natural habitat. At 9,200 acres, the park (often called the “Crown jewel” of the Oregon State Park system) is vast. I look forward to exploring its diverse regions as I search for the native plants on the list – and I hope you can join me on this botanical adventure as I write about it here.
Blog #1 Friends of Silver Falls State Park Native Plant Illustration Project.
One of the most exciting, fun and challenging projects I am involved in this year is a sketchbook exchange called Nature Trail 2014- A Natural Sketchbook Exchange. There are 15 botanical artists in the exchange, hailing from many different places- the United Kingdom, USA, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. As the exchange’s blog explains-
“Each artists’ book will have a double page spread completed and then be posted on every month to the next artist. Subjects to sketch and paint will encompass anything to do with the natural world; for example, feathers, shells, berries, habitat landscapes and absolutely anything botanical. Also colour notes, poems, any writing that you would include within normal sketchbooks can go in, in whatever design.”
We all bought a Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook for the project (5.5 x 8.5 inch/14 21.6 cm.) The smaller size is very practical for mailing and the quality of paper and sturdiness of the hardcover make it a great choice.
How I got involved!
All this came about because of my participation in a couple of botanical artists groups on Facebook- Botanical Artists and Irish Botanical Artists. If you would like to learn more about my experience with these groups you can read about it in my last blog. Last fall I was invited by one of the members to join the exchange- her idea. All the decisions on how it would work, what sketchbook we would use, and what we would create in them, has been a very collaborative process- drawing much on the advice of several of the more experienced members of the group. Here is my January entry- which has arrived safely on the other side of the Atlantic already and into the capable hands of another Nature Trailer.
January- my first entry in the sketchbook exchange.
January was almost over before my journal was ready to go on its maiden voyage. Somehow I became a little too involved in the extra details – title page, envelopes, labels etc., This is my first time to participate in a sketchbook exchange or to keep a regular nature sketchbook so I was very excited and, in spite of the anxiety, having loads of fun.
The first thing I did on receiving my sketchbook was to create a title page. I hadn’t played around with hand-lettering in years so designing the page was a walk down memory lane with some new influences cropping up- reminding me that I am always changing. I used graphite pencil to create the form and texture, adding polychromos pencils last for subtle color. I started using Faber Castell polychromos pencils recently and I really like the feel of them. I’m also enjoying the Stillman & Birn sketchbook paper, both for pencil and watercolor. I don’t have that much experience with watercolor papers but I certainly do like the paper’s smoothness for graphite and color pencils.
I love textures!
The textures in the lettering were inspired by nature- leaves, lichens, tree bark, wood grain, succulents and seeds. My January page- devoted to lichens- is also a study in textures. When I picked up this lichen-covered bigleaf maple branch in our front yard I knew instantly what I wanted to do in my journal for January. I haven’t managed to identify all the lichens on this branch but I’ve made a good start, with the help of several people including some fellow Nature Trailers. Here are some of the main ones:-
Oakmoss, Evernia prunastri, Pincushion sunburst lichen, Xanthoria polycarpa, Waxpaper lichen, Parmelia sulcata, Fork-boned lichen, Hypogymnia inactiva, and Brown shield lichen, Melanelixia spp.
“More things are learnt in the woods than from books; trees and rocks will teach you things not to be heard elsewhere.” Bernard of Clairvaux
All the lichens, save the one on the very right (pincushion sunburst lichen,) are painted in watercolor. I used polychromos pencils for the pincushion sunburst lichen and the “JAN” lettering.
Because I find them so helpful (and inspiring) I decided to include a copy of St. Corita Kent’s “Rules” at the back of the journal. Numbers 6 and 7 are my favorites. One of her “helpful hints” is “Save everything- it might come in handy later.” Taking her advice to heart, I’ve copied her rules onto a piece of rice paper I’ve had for over 30 years!!
In an effort to keep the journal flat I have put the rules in an envelope that is attached to the inside back cover with a ribbon “hinge”. This is to allow it to be laid flat, out of the journal, while being used. Making the envelope and figuring out how to attach it to the journal was an adventure in itself and I could never have done it without the help of local craft shop owner and new friend Christy Wood. Learning to make the envelope was so interesting and creatively stimulating that I will write about it in a separate blog.
But in the meantime I am just delighted to have finished my first month of the Nature Trail 2014- Natural Sketchbook Exchange and I’m getting ready to start on February’s sketchbook , wonderful!
What I have learned about sustaining creativity and Botanical Art Facebook groups.
Over the course of this year I will be blogging regularly about my participation in an exciting new project called “Nature Trail 2014 – a natural sketchbook exchange.” However, before I start blogging about this sketchbook odyssey I would like to explain how I ended up being part of it in the first place. To do this I must go back 16 months in time- and tell a story about travel, new friendships, the benefits of being connected to an art community- virtual and “real”- and change.
A catalyst in my process of change.
Last year was an amazing one for me because it was the year I made positive changes in how I work. This process of change started several years ago but didn’t crystalize into tangible results until my trip back to Ireland in November 2012. While there I met members of the new Irish Society of Botanical Artists (ISBA.) Because of this meeting and what ensued, my attitude to my artwork in general and botanical art in particular has changed dramatically.
You never know when a chance meeting can have a profound impact on your work- and life. That is exactly what happened when I met this group of botanical artists at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. As a result of that meeting I have become a member of a worldwide community of botanical artists and because of this my work has taken off in a new and more purposeful direction.
Geography is not a problem for botanical art communities.
Although originally from Ireland I live in the Pacific northwest, many thousands of miles from those botanic artists I met in Dublin. Nontheless, thanks to the specialist Facebook groups- Irish Botanical Artists and Botanical Artists– I am in daily communication with many of them and have made lots of new “friends”. Because of this communication, and the support I receive from these “friends”, my work habits, output, and attitude to my own art have changed radically- for the better.
A virtual community of practitioners leads to ”real” community and lots of creativity.
I have learned that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to work alone. I need the support and feedback of fellow-practitioners to sustain my creativity. My first choice is always to meet fellow artists in person but, in my case up until recently, I didn’t know any. Contrary to the many criticisms I’ve heard about Facebook; that it causes people to withdraw from person to person communication as people spend more and more time “talking” on their computers, my experience has been the opposite. Ironically, through these botanical artists Facebook groups I now know more local botanic artists and have started a monthly nature-sketching group nearby. The old adage “it’s a small world” is the same whether online or not.
Inspiration comes from a community of practitioners.
We all need inspiration to start something and to keep it going- especially when the going gets tough. Many of the members of these Facebook groups are world-class botanic artists. Their work is incredibly beautiful and very inspiring, but what is equally inspiring is their willingness to share it and discuss techniques and materials freely. If I have a bad day drawing when nothing seems to go right I post a comment on the Botanic Artists’ page and always get encouraging and funny responses.
Abundant generosity flows from a community of practitioners.
I have also discovered that people are very generous with their support and knowledge. No matter how successful and busy members are they always seem to be able to find the time to share some helpful information and give good advice. There is no professional jealousy- instead abundant, thoughtful, generosity.
Great ideas and new projects too!
It is said that we are more intelligent (and creative) when we work together in groups. That is certainly the case with these Facebook groups. By seeing the creative ideas shared online by this botanical art community, my own understanding, knowledge and creativity grows. The Nature Trail 2014 project is a perfect example of this “intelligence.” As I was saying at the beginning of this blog I will be writing regularly about this project in the coming months. I hope you will come back to see its progress and maybe be inspired to start your own nature sketchbook or join a botanical art group on-line or in your area.
Gardening with Native Plants.
I love gardening with wild flowers- or native plants as they are more accurately named. Long before I decided to return to college to study horticulture, I was interested in gardening with wild flowers. This has meant that no matter where I live I grow the native species of that area. Since moving to Oregon, nearly 13 years ago, I have happily discovered that many of the native plants from this part of the Pacific Northwest have long been residents of Ireland and the U.K. Thanks to such plant collectors as David Douglas and Archibald Menzies, and a corresponding rainfall, many of the native plants from the Pacific Northwest thrive in the moist, temperate conditions of the British Isles and Ireland.
Native Plant Time!
If you are interested in native plants and live in the Pacific Northwest this is a very exciting and busy time of year. Between April and May there are many local events organized to help you get up close and personal with the native flora. Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon we have plenty to choose from – wildflower festivals, native plant guided walks and native plant identification classes. If you want to learn more about the native plants in your area- from the showy and colorful to the weird and wonderful- now’s the time. To help you find the right activity here are some links, below, for events in this region but if you search for your own state native plant society or a different native plant organization where you live I’m sure you will find similar information.
Native Plant Appreciation Week.
For me every week of the year (nearly) is native plant appreciation week but spring is one of my favorite times to really admire the beauty and variety of these plants – both in the wild and in my own garden. Many states celebrate Native Plant Appreciation Week (NPAW) around mid-April to early May. Here in the Pacific Northwest the Oregon, Washington and Idaho Native Plant Societies will be celebrating NPAW from April 28- May 4th. Click these links below to find out about the different events they are organizing.
Native Plant Society of Oregon’s list of wildflower festivals
Washington Native Plant Society’s Native Plant Appreciation Week Events.
Idaho Native Plant Society of Idaho NPAW
Native Plant Identification Classes.
If you live in the Salem, Oregon area you can attend a Native Plant Identification class that I, and fellow Native Plant Society of Oregon member John Savage, will be teaching at the Straub Environmental Learning Center. For dates, time and other details go to this link- http://fselc.org/event-calendar/
The Fawn lily, Erythronium oregonum, and its many common names.
Erythronium oregonum has many common names- giant white fawn lily, Oregon fawn lily, dog’s tooth violet, trout lily, adder’s tongue, lamb’s tongue. Maybe this is why the Historic Deepwood Estate here in Salem, Oregon- where I live- has chosen the scientific name for their annual spring native plant festival. Not wishing to confuse people with a common name that is not “common” to all, they use the scientific name Erythronium (pronounced, err- ih-throne- ee-um.) Personally I find it much more useful to use the scientific name for the same reason. Never underestimate the creativity of humans to come up with interesting and numerous common names for one plant, and though they are lovely, ultimately they are rather confusing, especially when trying to communicate which plant you mean to someone.
My first fawn lily, Erythronium oregonum.
Erythronium oregonum was one of the first bulbs I planted in my own garden when I moved to Oregon many years ago. It has since seeded itself throughout my front yard, totally ignoring all my efforts to corral this charming spring bloomer into an attractive sweep of creamy yellow. It was one of these flowers that I used for my botanical illustration above, and inspired me to create my Pacific Northwest Native Plant Greeting Card Series.
The fawn lily and early plant explorers.
When I first saw this beautiful fawn lily here in the Willamette Valley I assumed it must have been collected by Lewis and Clark or David Douglas in the early 19th century. This is not the case. The first fawn lily to be described from this part of the world, pink fawn lily, Erythronium revolutum, was collected by Archibald Menzies in 1793 and described by James Edward Smith in 1809. Then in 1806 the fawn lily’s mountain “cousin” the glacier lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, was brought back by Lewis and Clark (Lewis called it a dog’s tooth violet in his journal) and described by Frederick Pursh in his Flora Americae Septentrionalis in 1814. (for more on the collection see my blog The saga of the Lewis and Clark Plant Collection and the Irish nurseryman Bernard McMahon’s unwitting role in its fate!.) The glacier lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, also has other common names including yellow fawn lily and yellow avalanche lily.
The common fawn lily, Erythronium oregonoum, erroneously mis-identified.
It wasn’t until 1935 that the more common fawn lily, Erythronium oregonum, was finally described by the Oregon botanist, Elmer Applegate. As is often the case with plant exploration and identification, the story is not that straightforward. According to Applegate “for nearly a century this familiar plant has been known erroneously as Erythronium giganteum Lindl. or as Erythronium grandiflorum var. albiflorum.” ( Kalmiopsis Vol. 10 2003. Native Plant Society of Oregon.) So maybe my assumption wasn’t so far off the mark. Is it possible that some of the Erythronium grandiflorum bulbs collected by Douglas (April, 1826 and 1827) may have been Erythronium oregonum after all?
Elmer Applegate and David Douglas.
There is a tenuous link of a different kind between Applegate and Douglas. Applegate’s wife Esther Emily Ogden was a niece of Peter Skene Ogden (the well-known fur trader and chief trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company.) Douglas met Ogden August 30, 1826 at Fort Vancouver, Washington, directly after Douglas’ exciting 12-day descent of the Columbia River from Fort Colville in eastern Washington. During that descent he had a lucky escape when his canoe was wrecked at the Dalles; causing him to loose the insects he had collected in the interior and some seeds, but he managed to save bulbs of the glacier lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, collected in the Fort Colville area. In April the following year, while on his journey overland to Hudson Bay to meet his ship bound for England, he collected more of the glacier lily in the same area and transplanted them in the hope of keeping them growing all the way to England. Maybe it was these particular transplants that were the first fawn lilies that he is credited with introducing into England. Now I wonder if they were all glacier lilies: if some of the Oregon fawn lilies had not been introduced into the mix also?
When I drive by the Deepwood Estate along Mission Road here in Salem and see the expanse of pale yellow that is the fawn lily, it’s hard to imagine that Douglas didn’t see them while traveling though the Willamette Valley. At any rate, it is a wonderful sight to see and, no doubt, it will be enjoyed by the many visitors to the festival next weekend- Friday and Saturday April 5 and 6. For more information about the festival click here- http://historicdeepwoodestate.org/historic/estate/calendar_events/2013/04/05/ I am delighted to say that my cards will be on sale at the festival also.
Pacific Northwest native- red flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum- a favorite on both sides of the Atlantic!
My botanical illustration this week is part of an on-going series I am creating – Pacific Northwest Native Plants. Sadly, the actual shrub from which I sketched this illustration is no longer alive, having succumbed to a bad ice storm several winters ago. I have since planted more red flowering currants, Ribes sanguineum, in my yard but I am glad to have this botanical illustration as a souvenir of that plant. It was a very fine specimen.
A favorite with the humming birds!
This lovely shrub is native to the Willamette Valley, Oregon, where I now live, but it is also fairly common in Ireland – where I come from originally. I remember it as a child growing in the hedge between my garden and my neighbor’s. I didn’t pay much attention to it, as I didn’t like its “perfume”. I have since discovered that humming birds have no such scruples –or a very different sense of smell to humans- because the red flowering currant is a sure favorite with them here every spring.
Thanks to Archibald Menzies and David Douglas.
Thinking of those childhood memories got me wondering about how long the red flowering currant has been in Ireland- a pretty long time as it turns out, thanks to two Scotsmen – Archibald Menzies and David Douglas. Menzies was the first to bring the shrub to the attention of botanists in Britain in the late 1700’s. But it was David Douglas who brought back the viable seeds that became the first red flowering currant shrubs grown on that side of the Atlantic.
In 1825 the London Horticultural Society sent Douglas to the Pacific Northwest; his task was to collect plants that were already known to British botanists but had not been introduced into cultivation. He more than fulfilled this task, not only introducing many already described plants but also “discovering” new ones.
David Douglas – seed collector extraordinaire!
So successful was Douglas in his collecting that he overwhelmed his clients with vast amounts of seed obliging them to redistribute the surplus to other nurseries. According to the Horticultural Society of London the proceeds from selling this shrub alone more than paid for Douglas’ trip to the Pacific Northwest and to this day the red-flowering currant remains one of the most popular flowering shrubs in Britain.