Posts Tagged ‘Watercolor illustration’

Blog #3 Friends of Silver Falls Native Plant Project- Overcoming White Fright!

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.

Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana. .005 Sakura Micron Pen.

Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana. .005 Sakura Micron Pen.

White fright!

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.

Salal and deer fern- Drift Creek b+w

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.

Corydalis scouleri micron pen sketch

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.

Aislinn Adams
Blog #3 Friends of Silver Falls Native Plant Project- Overcoming White Fright!

Friends of Silver Falls Native Plant Illustration Project- Getting started!

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.
Scouler's Corydalis, Corydalis scouleri, flower with drawing detail

Detail of Scouler’s corydalis, Corydalis scouleri, from my older sketchbook.

Tús maith, leath na hoibre, A good start is half the work!

Irish Proverb

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 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!

Scouler's corydalis, Corydalis scouleri sketchbook pageStudy 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.

First Sketchbook with tools and paper

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).
FOSF Native Plant Illustration List with no crop marks

Friends of Silver Falls Native Plant list included it in the sketchbook.


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.

Aislinn Adams
Blog #2 Friends of Silver Falls State Park Native Plant Illustration Project.



American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, and Irish Fall Color?


© Aislinn Adams 1998

My first American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua.

The first time I saw an American sweetgum was in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, Ireland. It was autumn and I was a first year horticulture student attending college there. Ireland is not known for its fall color but that sweetgum, growing on a small island in the “pond”, stopped me in my tracks; its glowing orange-red-purple leaves took my breath away. Such a marvelous display would have done New England proud.

I know there’s a whole series of chemical reactions, triggered by temperature and day length, which make leaves turn the colors they do but seeing that sweetgum made me wonder – if Ireland had more N. American native trees like sweetgum would we have better fall color too?

An American native plant.

Sweetgum is native to the eastern U.S.A. but can be found growing in many parts of the country, including on my own street here in Salem, Oregon. It is not popular with many of my neighbors because its shallow roots push up through the concrete pavement causing large cracks. Even though several neighbors have replaced the sweetgums with smaller, more sidewalk-friendly species, there are still enough on the street to give a striking autumnal show- one I look forward to every year.

Ireland can have good Fall color too.

The botanical watercolor illustration above is part of a series I created for Birr Castle Visitor’s Center in Ireland (and part of my botanical watercolor greeting card series.) I worked on these botanical illustrations while staying in Washington D.C. and was happy to use sweetgum plant specimens from my D.C. neighborhood. I have visited Birr Castle demesne many times (I grew up about 20 miles from Birr) but I don’t recall seeing sweetgum growing there. I have no idea how good the Birr sweetgum looks in an Irish Fall but decided to paint it with good fall color anyway as I like to believe that it too can give as good a show as any of the trees here in the U.S.A. After all, the National Botanic Gardens’ sweetgum looked great.

Aislinn Adams

My Earliest Recollection of a “Botanical Illustration” Comes From an Unlikely Source

Apple Blossom

My earliest recollection of a “Botanical illustration” comes from an unlikely source.

While browsing through my library of botanical illustrations, created for the Washington Post’s “Digging In” gardening column, I came across my illustration of an apple blossom (above). As I stopped to study it, unexpected memories surfaced. We all know the old saying- a picture paints a thousand words- but it can also paint a thousand memories. There is something about this particular botanical illustration: the way I drew the leaves, the composition and stippling treatment, that brings me back to my childhood. For a moment I experience the power of memory to transport me back to another time and place.

Another time and place.

That place is Tullamore, my hometown and county seat for Offaly in the Irish midlands. My father was a pharmacist, (or Chemist as they were called back then). He had his own pharmacy where loyal customers came regularly to get their prescriptions filled. As a small child I often visited him there and, if I was lucky, he gave me old-fashioned barley sugar, the only candies on sale in the shop at the time. I remember it as a calm, friendly place with kind shop assistants.

Christmas gift sets and nostalgic fragrances.

I particularly liked visiting the pharmacy at Christmas time. I was drawn to the gift sets, carefully arranged on green and red crepe paper, festooned with silver and gold tinsel. To my unsophisticated child’s eye they represented the height of luxury. I loved looking at those sets, their smooth bars of soap and cylindrical, cardboard containers of talcum powder, lying snugly on a bed of pastel shaded satin. I smelled their sweet fragrances – apple blossom, lily of the valley, wild rose: the lily of the valley the most exotic and intense perfume to my child-nose, the apple blossom sweet, pleasant and comforting. Fragrances full of nostalgia for me now, conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells of a warm spring day in an Irish childhood.

Earliest introduction to “botanical illustration”.

I was also drawn to those gift sets for their pretty, floral watercolor illustrations, quite probably my earliest introduction to “botanical illustration”. This memory teaches me to never underestimate the influence of any experience, no matter how small, on the open and impressionable mind of a child. I have heard it said that a person usually ends up doing in adulthood what they enjoyed doing most as a child. I look at my nine-year-old daughter, a ‘nature kid’ if ever there was one: barefoot, swinging wildly from a rope slung around the big leaf maple in our front yard, and I wonder what she’ll be doing when she’s my age.

Peony “Anne Rosse”- the human story behind the plant.

Peony “Anne Rosse”, Paeonia “Anne Rosse”.

Peony “Anne Rosse” – behind every cultivated plant there lies a human story.

This week I promised to write more about Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, Ireland, and it’s place in plant collecting history. For this purpose I post my botanical watercolor illustration Peony “Anne Rosse” from the series I painted for an exhibit in Birr Castle’s Visitor Center. I choose this peony not only because it is a beautiful Irish ‘cultivar’ (cultivated variety) but also because it’s story is central to Birr Castle’s horticultural legacy.

Countess Anne Rosse.

Anne Rosse, for whom the peony is named, was Countess Anne Rosse, wife of Michael Parsons, the 6th Earl of Rosse. The Parsons family has lived at Birr Castle in the Irish midlands for almost 400 years and it was Michael’s father, the 5th Earl of Rosse, who laid the foundation for the extensive plant collection for which Birr demesne is now known. However, it was under the careful guidance of Michael and Anne that this foundation was built upon and developed.

A shared passion for plant collecting and gardening.

The couple were very well matched. Anne Rosse, neé Messels, came from a strong gardening background and as the daughter of Leonard Messels of Nymans, a well-known garden in the south of England, she had “a profound devotion to gardening” (Birr Castle website). Michael, the 6th Earl of Rosse, was an experienced plant collector and undoubtedly their choice of China as a honeymoon destination in 1935 was the result of this shared passion. While there the Earl arranged for the first major plant collecting expedition to be undertaken by a Chinese.

6th Earl and Countess Anne became very well known for their horticultural introductions.

Many other expeditions to the Americas and eastern Asia were sponsored and subscribed to by the Earl. As a result of all this exploration and subsequent plant propagation the 6th Earl and Countess Anne became very well known for their horticultural introductions, including Peony “Anne Rosse”. This tree peony, a cross between Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii and Paeonia delavayi, is the result of two different plant collecting trips to eastern Asia by the Rosses: one by the Earl to Tsang-Po Gorge, Tibet before his marriage and the other by the couple to Yu, China in 1937(Birr Castle website).

A giant facsimile of Countess Anne’s plant journal.

The botanical watercolors I painted for this exhibit are used in a giant facsimile of Countess Anne’s plant journal. There are 24 botanical illustrations in the series: two for every month of the year. As I painted this beautiful peony named for her it was not difficult to imagine Countess Anne walking around Birr demesne delighting in the latest bloom, busily sorting through new plant specimens just arrived from China or designing a new planting scheme.

The human story behind the plant.

Behind every cultivated plant there is a human story. Many of these stories start with a solitary plant collector, usually male, braving the elements in foreign lands to find new and rare plants. The story of Peony “Anne Rosse” is different. Here is the story of a husband and wife sharing a life long passion for plant collecting and gardening. I picture them working as a team, side by side, complementing each other’s skills and I can only imagine the delight and pleasure they must have experienced seeing the first Peony “Anne Rosse” bloom.

Aislinn Adams

Botanical Illustration, Adding Color This Week.

Korean dogwood

© Aislinn Adams  Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa

Watercolor illustration for a change!

All my blogs so far have featured black and white drawings for the “Digging in” gardening column of the Washington Post. This week I thought it was time to introduce some color by posting a watercolor illustration of Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa. The Kousa dogwood, also known as the Japanese flowering dogwood, is native to eastern Asia and Japan but has been gracing the gardens of Europe and North America since the late 1800’s.

My neighbor’s Kousa dogwood

I can see my neighbor’s Kousa dogwood outside my side window as I write this blog. Living in an historic home in downtown Salem, Oregon, where the houses stand close together like old friends, I can enjoy looking at my neighbor’s Kousa dogwood without getting out of my chair. The tree is not yet in bloom, unlike its North American cousins, the flowering and Pacific dogwoods. The Kousa dogwood flowers about a month later.

The dogwood flower- not a flower?

I have illustrated the Kousa dogwood three times for the “Digging In” gardening column: once in flower, and twice in fruit. The strawberry-like fruit is very attractive in the fall but the flowers in early summer really steal the show. What we so often admire as the dogwood “flower” is in fact not the flower but the flower bracts. The true flowers are tiny and dark green in the center. When the Kousa dogwood is in flower it has a flamboyant air about it, probably because its “flowers” often point upwards in horizontal rows. It’s as if the tree is holding out its arms to embrace passersby and proclaim how good it is to be alive.

Birr Castle, Ireland.

The watercolor illustration I’ve posted above is from a set of botanical illustrations I painted for an exhibit at Birr Castle’s Visitor Center, County Offaly, Ireland. The story of Birr Castle is a fascinating chapter in the history of plant collecting and I will tell you more about it next week.