Sunday, 19 April 2020

British Wildflowers Exhibition: Easton Walled Gardens 2020

Before the country went into lockdown, I participated in a small exhibition of British flowering plants at Easton Walled Gardens, Grantham. My intention was to publish this short piece at the time of the exhibition but between flooding and pandemics I kind of forgot and never finished this post. So, several weeks after the event here it is. I've chosen just a few of the 14 works works to discuss the stories behind the paintings..... there are so many more that I wanted to paint. I suspect this may be the last exhibition I'll be participating in for a while but looking on the bright side, now is the time to paint!
My daughter Polly and good friend Dawn Wright also took part in the exhibition. For my part, all of my works were on vellum, here's a small selection. I'll add a slideshow later of all my works.
Scottish Bluebell orHarebell, Campanula rotundifolia (Campanulaceae) on Kelmscott vellum. I found this plant growing in a wall in Grantown on Spey in NE Scotland. it was hanging on to the wall by a little tuft of moss that must have been retaining enough moisture for life support(see below). I've always loved this flower ever since I first set eyes on it when I arrived in Scotland in the late 1980's. The little bells nodded at the roadside as we drove by and I can recall stopping to see it. Its a difficult colour to achieve on vellum because of the creamy colour of the substrate. Cobalt blue with a touch of quinacridone magenta was the key ingredient. I'm now growing from seed for the garden this year. 
It's surprising what a bit of moss will support! The Scottish Bluebell is quite long flowering plant, it provides food of pollinating bees after many other summer flowers have bloomed. There is a strong association with hares and these flowers, hence the name, it was believed in folklore, that witches transformed into hares, using the flowers in spells for their transformation.  Many people also believed fairies lived in patches of harebells and if you happened to walk through such a patch, this could result in the fairies casting a spell, which is why it's also known as Dead Man's Bells! This painting seemed to take forever, painting on vellum is a slow process at the best of times but has the added benefit of paint being  easily removed if it's not going to a result some days, I ended up with less than I started with.
The harebell flowers are so small, papery and delicate to paint it was a real challenge, so I decided to paint a larger version of just one flower. I wouldn't normally do this but it seemed like I needed a closer view of these little flowers and it made a nice addition to the painting of the whole plant.

Carfully adding soft layers of colour, larger areas of colour are more difficult on vellum because its's easy to lift the previous layer if too much water is used, dry brush work is essential.

Scaled up flower x3 on Kelmscott, almost finished

The second subject is also from Scotland, Linnaea borealis, the Twinflower, I've written a blog about this one before, but here are the little paintings.  This is one of out smallest flowers,  so a again I painted a larger study of the flowers. The Twinflower is in the Caprifoliaceae family, better know for Honeysuckle, which seems slightly surprising. It's a creeping plant that forms giant clonal mats of flowers as shown in the video below. It was a favourite of Carl Linnaeus and was named after him. It's and is found boreal pine forests, hence the second part of the name, it can also be found in birch and heather but needs sufficient shade to do well. It occurs in many other northern hemisphere countries, where it is abundant but in Scotland it is rare and associated with the remnants of the old Caledonian pine forests.
Beginnings using the sketchbook studies made in Scotland

The Twinflower painting is on goatskin Kelmscott which is mounted on a heavyweight board prepared by William Cowley, the only remaining vellum maker in the UK. I wanted to show this plant in its simplest form, showing the tiny twin headed flowers and creeping stems and tiny toothed leaves. In the UK this flower is only found in Scotland. It has had a difficult time existing with humans, land clearance up to the 1930's meant that populations of the plants became too isolated for pollinators to cross-pollinate, as a result the population was reduced to around 50 sites and the genetic diversity reduced. Looking at the video you might think it's a healthy population but the plant is actually a giant clone which makes it vulnerable. To add to the challenge of survival,  it only produces one seed per flower, so should any disease or environmental change occur the entire clone will could be lost. Scottish Natural Heritage and Plant Life have been working to reintroduce the plant and the good news is that it's working but is an ongoing challenge.  
Enlarged study of single flower stem on Kelmscott vellum, with the characteristic two nodding bell flowers ( x2.5). The plant is covered in small sticky hairs and when the single seed develops it is also covered in these hairs,  the seed sticks to passing animals who unknowingly disperse it to new sites in the forest. 
The giant clonal plant spreads across the forest floor and the fills the air with sweet perfume.  

The next plant is from the same family and is Honeysuckle, otherwise known as Woodbine, unlike the Twinflower it is common just about everywhere, the native version, Lonicera periclymenum, is widespread and found in hedgerows and woodland but there are many other species of honeysuckle that have become naturalised.

Honeysuckle flower, bud and fruit cycle on natural veiny vellum, using the vellum markings as part of the composition  can be effective. It's often necessary to use some 'body colour' on darker vellum - just a touch of opaque white is mixed with colour and used on the flower edges and filaments to make them 'pop' off the surface. 
Honeysuckle has a heady perfume at night, which pollinating moths, such as the Elephant Hawk Moth love but honeysuckle upports many insects, such as the White Admiral butterfly and of course many bees, but only a long tongued insect can reach the deep nectaries in the flower tube. Birds love the red berries in autumn and all round, it's a great plant for wildlife. This one grows outside my window so it was easy to access.

In plant folklore its long been associated with fidelity and young women were forbidden to bring the flowers into the house. Apparently it was believed that honeysuckle made the dream of their true love and stimulated risqué dreams! But having honeysuckle growing around the door was common and grown to prevent evil spirit from entering whilst bringing good fortune to the inhabitants.

An older study page of Honeysuckle, which I've painted many times.  
The Honeysuckle was a bit of an ad-hoc composition and I let the vellum guide me with no particular plan. I chose the focal point flower of the twining flower stem first and took it form there, the vellum was large enough to add more, I added the berries, then decided to sketch some additional stems onto tracing paper to see how they looked before taking the plunge. I don't often work this way but it's  nice to have a more organic approach to painting sometimes ... a 'see what happens' approach without being overly precious.
Rough scribbled ideas! In the end I decided to go for the trio of stems as a composition because  it created a square format and avoided the 'X'  shapes in the crossing stems that can be distracting from the focal point, I felt that the veins described the habit of the stems without over complicating it. I often scrawl ideas onto tracing paper in this way - it gives me  a rough idea of what works and what doesn't. 
The last one for this post is Primula vulgaris, I painted this some years ago on Kelmscott  (see below) and was always curious to know how it would looks on dark veiny vellum, so I repeated the painting with some alterations on a very dark veiny vellum. I wasn't sure if the pale lemon flowers would work so well on a dark surface but thought I'd give it a try. I used quite a lot of the opaque Lemon Yellow Nickel Titanate, which I'd also used on my previous painting, but it's important to maintain some of the substrate showing through because there's nothing worse than overly heavy painting on vellum, which kills the luminosity - it's a fine balance of 'how much' is enough on vellum.

I put cobalt blue under the leaves in the background and also on those with stronger highlights, surprisingly this creates the appearance of distance or highlights  depending on how its used. I kept quite a lot of the vellum showing through the colour as I liked this effect. The roots were very easy to paint almost created by the veins in the surface.
The image starts to emerge and you can see the effect where  the opaque colour is used on the flower petals
Finished painting on dark vellum above 2020 and below the original painting 2012 on Kelmscott. Two very different looks. Obviously I didn't have the plant for the second painting, neither did I have the original painting but I did still have photographs, studies and several other plants to work with,  so it wasn't so difficult to spot the difference! 

The exhibition was due to to open for Easton's Snowdrop week on the15th February, alas the high winds and floods put a stop to that on the first day and weather proved to be a bit of a challenge that week! Easton Walled Gardens is a beautiful venue to exhibit at, I spent a few daysin the Coach House painting. The exhibition ran until the 15th March and we took it down at the beginning of the social distancing. It was pretty much the last time we left the house.

A painting day in the Coach House gallery, where the light is wonderful.

Snowdrops week! the sun came out eventually and all was good! 

Thursday, 5 March 2020

The Crown Flower: Painting Calotropis gigantea for the IDSBA exhibition

Calotropis gigantea, otherwise known as the Crown Flower or Giant Milkweed, is a plant that I've admired ever since first seeing it on Gili Trawangan Island, Indonesia, in 2015 and every year since. It's the most striking of plants in structure, so I didn't have to think for too long about selecting it as a subject when it came to entering the Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists exhibition, scheduled for June 2020 in Jakarta.

Calotropis gigantea finished painting, 51cm x 39cm watercolour on paper
The Plant
For me the first stage for any painting is to carry out research, so here are just a few of the many facts about the Crown flower.
Calotropis gigantea (L.) Dryand, belongs to the Apocynaceae family, which is a pretty diverse and large group of plants with 410 genera and 5, 556 accepted species names. Apocynaceae means 'dog-away' in Greek, which explains why this family is also known as Dogbane, basically it's known to  poisons dogs and other animals. In the case of C. gigantea, this is a pretty toxic plant to be handling and great care is needed, The sap contains white 'milky' substance which really does pour from the stem like milk when cut, if you happen to get this into your eye, it can temporarily or permanently blind and causes severe headaches too. I've also read that the plant is toxic if ingested, but not sure who would be dining on this one! Apparently the centre of the flower is supposed to be edible... I won't be trying it! The sap is allegedly used as an arrow poison, although I think perhaps this relates more to the African Calotropis procera, which is even more deadly and known as the Apple of Sodam,  it has a more rounded fruit and a far worse reputation.
The Genus name, Calotropis, comes from the Greek 'Kalos' meaning 'beautiful' and 'tropes' meaning 'boat' which refers to the structure of the flower.

Large swathes of plants on the north west coast of Bali, near to the quiet black sandy beaches, where just a few fisherman  are the only people to be seen.
Seed pod
Native to temperate and tropical Asia, China, Malaysia and Indonesia, C. gigantea grows as a shrub or small tree, growing to over 4 m tall. I've seen it in many sites in Bali and Lombok and it's common in dry coastal areas where there is full sun but also near lagoons, I saw a beautiful one last year in Candidasa. Flowers are purple to white but some appear to be closer to a magenta colour and they are quite variable in colour depending on location/environment and age, the older flowers lose colour and fade quickly. Flowers are in large umbellate clusters. They have an unusual ' crown like' structure, at the centre is a large star shaped stigma which has 5 points, this is where pollen is found in the form of pollinia. The pollinia become attached to visiting nectar seeking insects, many insects are found in the nectaries but bees, possible carpenter bees are thought to be the specialist pollinators who inadvertently collect the pollinaria and carry it to other plants, which facilitates cross-pollination.
Leaves are elliptic to oblong and are very woolly, the colour is a light grey green. Stems are also woolly. Fruits are large and pointed with many seeds.
Flowers and buds, note the yellow 'star' shaped stigma, the pollinia, which are pollen sacs (just like orchids) which  become attached to insect pollinators and carried to other plants.
Like many poisonous plants, this plant has medicinal uses, it contains calotropin and cardiac glycosides, the latter being similar to digitalis ( the foxglove) has been used in the treatment of heart conditions, however, much of the medicinal uses are reported to be anecdotal folklore type remedies but some studies regarding its efficacy in the treatment of cancers have been carried out, and reported to be effective in the treatment of asthma. There is also some evidence that it has mosquito controlling properties in the Japanese encephalitis carrying mosquitos.
Fibre similar to flax is extracted from the stems and leaves of the plant and seepods produce a wooly material used for stuffing pillows. In Thailand the flowers are used for garlands but this can result in some eye problems for those making the garlands. Theres so much more that could be said about this plant, its beautiful and fascinating but I'll move on.

Garlands made from the flowers are used in religious ceremonies copyright Wikimedia Commons 

Study Pages 
I visited the north west coast of Bali is 2019 and found a the wasteground with hundreds of these very common plants near to the volcanic black beaches. After carefully bagging cuttings and taking hundreds of photographs,  I set to work in the sketchbook. The colours are unusual, the grey green hairy leaves were going to be challenging, there is no shine to work with, once cut the plant fades quickly and the leaves wilt so I did a mixture of sketches and field studies. colours so change one a plant is cut so it's important to colour match with a live or fresh plant.
I used my usual system of colour matching using my trusty old green chart, its a high light value grey green, which means its a light blue, cerulean or cobalt or maybe a mix of the two, to achieve that light opaque quality, I used the Lemon Yellow nickel titinate and opaque which is great for these pale colours as well as glaucous leaves, it needs frequent mixing as it will separate but I liked this quality for this plant, I don't paint particularly wet so I don't have the separation issue on the paper.  I also used some Winsor Lemon in the mix in places. the make a more natural green a small amount of Quinacridone Magenta was added. The flowers were fairly simple, also Quinacridone Magenta and Cobalt in various  ratios, with a small amount of the lemon in places. So a very simple palette.

Starting by making drawings of the small parts of the flower as well as of larger sections of the plant is useful to get a feel for them, using a hand lens is useful at this stage to examine the unusual structure. The leaves are difficult because of the way that they rotate around the stem, so significant foreshortening is required. This is an important part of the process for me because it helps me to understand the plant and how it fits together, drawing larger sections of the plants give me ideas about the composition at an early stage.
At this point I've already got a clear idea in my head about how I want to portray the plant and make a few thumbnail sketches to think about the arrangement.

I photographed and made measurements of all plant parts and referred to any reference material that I had to confirm points. Some of the leaves are large and I didn't want them to dominate the composition, so selecting a typical but appropriate cutting was important and I also wanted to show the typical upright growth habit but also shows the drooping nature of those stems with the weight of the large flower heads, this type of information about a plant can only be gained by observing the plant in its native habitat.

Colours, measurements and notes on observations regarding growth habit and arrangement etc. were made in a Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, 8 x 10 inches, which is a good size for most plants. There aren't too many books on the Flora of Bali! but there is a lot written online. 

The greatest challenge about this work was the heat and humidity, it was November and quite late in the year, the first rains had just started. I had to use tracing paper at all times to stop my hands sticking to the paper, but the tracing paper kept sticking to me! next time ill use something less sticky, like mulberry paper.  After 5 days of observation and sketching I had sufficient material to continue back home and planned to complete the painting in the uk. It's never the best option to complete the work at home and away from the plant but its not always practical to complete large works at the site.

I wanted to have three component parts of the plant in the composition and possible the seed pod. I made separate drawings of these parts on drafting paper and in ink and transferred them using a light pad, a MiniSun A2 size is great for transferring, even through this heavier weight Stoonehenge Aqua paper.
The A2 light pad is pretty bright and allows me to transfer through 275lb  Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press paper - as long as the initial drawing is in ink. The separate flower on the right hand side was discarded as unnecessary, it was just left on the tracing because as one point I was considering dissections and a seedpod but decided against it. 
After transferring the drawing using the light pad I used my reference to begin the painting plotting in the star shaped flowers on the main cluster. 
I started off in natural daylight on an easel but because of  the short timeframe to complete this work, I decided to work under lamps on an upright large desktop easel. It was a full sheet of imperial paper so I had to put an additional board underneath as the easel is slightly too short. I use two daylight lamps 5500 K and +90 CRI. I also use a x2.5 magnifier on an adjustable arm to check detail and for clean edges etc.  
Making a Start and Materials 
The paper chosen was Stonehenge Aqua HP, which is a paper that I've used for quite a while, it's fine for smaller works but the surface sizing is really quite soft and as a consequence it's less robust than Saunders Waterford High White, which my normal choice these days but decided to give the heavier weight 275lb Stonehenge Aqua a try. It's incredible smooth and hard to see any mesh on either side. If you keep your work very clean and don't use too much water or if you refrain from pushing the paint around, this is a decent enough paper but it is quite difficult if you should happen to make an error - obviously no one likes to make an error but thats how it goes sometimes. Edges are clean and crisp but make sure you don't use an eraser on it as it ruins the surface, so a light clean tracing is vital. Also, use plenty of spare paper around the edge and the low tack tape with pull off the surface leaving a fluffy mess! which confirmed that sizing is very soft. I'm still not sure how much I love it for larger works. All paints are Winsor and Newton Artist quality pans. The colours previously mentioned were used for everything, so only 4 paints in total. Cobalt Blue, Windsor Lemon, Lemon Yellow NT and Quinacridone Magenta. I didn't use the Cerulean on the final painting.

It's OK to Start Again
Sometimes I find I'm just not in the best frame of mind to paint and feeling slightly stressed with too many distractions is never good, anyhow, there was a back facing leaf that I didn't much like, the only option for me was to start over.  I always do this if somethings not quite right, its often quicker than trying to fix or alter something to distract. It wasn't that I hadn't planned it out well but when the paint starts to go on it becomes obvious. So after 4 days of work I started again, with a more focused approached and tweaked the composition and the offending leaf plus a few other areas.

First version, spot the difference with the one below (this one was scrapped but used for practice)
Leaf position, take 2:  I just couldn't live with the ugly back facing leaf and twisted it slightly in this version, this didn't alter the accuracy and was a small adjustment. I made a few other changes too. I actually have two attempts at pretty much every painting and try not to be overly precious with any work.... if its not going to plan, start over and save yourself the grief of the 'annoying' bits. 

The leaves are difficult in this plant, the dull surface doesn't give provide and highlights and they have a 'v' shape or flat profile, this requires some careful use of shadows, especially at the leaf margin, where the leaves curve in places, these small shaded areas only required a more dense / creamy mix of the same colour and were carefully dry brushed on. I't amazing how little is needed sometimes. Cast shadows were Cobalt with a touch of Quinacridone Magenta. Rear leaves were kept paler and more blue bread to give the effect of distance, which is important with a plant where leaves rotate around the stem, this is commonly referred to as aerial perspective, it's no big mystery but simple creates separation between near and far parts using the same effect as those used by landscape painters - if you look to the distance the mountains will be paler and more blue and the foreground is stronger and more saturated - a very simple observation which is most useful in botanical work too.

Burning the midnight oil! still not added the smaller bud branch at this stage because initially I wasn't altogether convinced I needed it, so had left it off the tracing. 
Almost finished, decided to add the smaller bud stem on the right as originally planned,  it did need it as it describes the plant more accurately,  C. gigantea is multi branching plant with many flower heads at different stages of development.
It was hard work and many hours were spent on the intricate parts, I didn't have time for the seedpod and felt it was well balanced as it was, so declared it finished. I sent it off just in time before the deadline  had to send in time for the IDSBA Call for Entries deadline, which was on the 29th February. Fingers crossed that it's accepted.  I do hope to paint this again, it's so interesting and challenging. 

About the Exhibition
The IDSBA exhibition  " Botanical Art for Friendship' is a collaboration between the Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists and the Korean Botanical Artists Cooperative. The exhibition is a great idea by this relatively new Society and will take place in the capital city of Jakarta at the National Gallery of Indonesia, which is a major achievement. I have been so encouraged by both the friendliness and professionalism of the Indonesian Society. Last year I taught a class there, which was a wonderful experience filled with enthusiasm and kindness. Their submission process required background information on the plant and references for information provided, something I think all societies should ask for. I hope to return to Indonesia for the exhibition in June, Coronavirus permitting of course! 

The beach, near to where I found the Crown flowers 

It's really great to be painting more, although I do feel a little 'painted out' just now, having completed previous paintings for the current exhibition (I'll write another blog about that). This was my 9th painting completed this year!... although to be honest most of the planning for this one, which is the hard part, took place at the tail end of last year.  

Now it's time to do other teaching work before starting my next painting, which will be to finish the Sutherlandia frutescens. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

RBGE Florilegium: The Story of Illustrating the Cancer Bush, Sutherlandia

A new decade is definitely a time for self reflection and I've decided that I don't paint nearly enough,  so my aim for this year is to paint more and to paint often. The opportunity of being involved in the Florilegium project at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh came up last year and illustrating a plant with a great story makes and ideal start for 2020! The chosen plant for the work is a South African native formally known as Sutherlandia frutescens, aka the Cancer Bush, now reclassified as Lessertia frutescens. Here's a little about the the process of illustrating the plant as well as the story of Sutherlandia and the Sutherlands, from South Africa to Edinburgh and back.

Sketchbook studies in South Africa

The Plant 
Before I get into the story, here's a little information about the plant and its habitat. The Cape Floristic kingdom is home to Lessertia frutescens, Sutherlandia (Family: Fabaceae) it is one of the richest areas for flora in the world.  Still commonly known as Sutherlandia, the plant was recently reclassified as Lessertia frutescens from Sutherlandia frutescens based on its adaptation to bird pollination, which is by sunbirds.  It grows in dry regions throughout the country and is associated with the Fynbos, but grows as far north as Namibia and Botswana and in the Karoo Desert. It's a short shrub, with greyish pinnately compound leaves, which vary considerably in size from 4-10mm. The flowers are orange-red in colour, up to 35mm, in short racemes at the leaf axils. The fruit is a large inflated 'bladder-like' pod, which is paper thin. Flowering time is September - December.  
Large balloon like seed-pods, the plant has long been used  for medicinal purposes  (Photographed in March 2019 at Kirstenbosch)
Sutherlandia has many common names, several relate to its medicinal properties, particularly with cancer treatment, such names include, the Cancer Bush or Kankerbos, the Zulu people used the name Unwele, because it was said  that the plant 'stops people from pulling out their own hair' - thus takes away stress. It has long been respected in medicine by the original inhabitants of the Cape being used for washing wounds, controlling fever, for stomach and eye problems and cancer. Evidence is largely anecdotal, however, there is some research into its action as an immune stimulant for cancer and AIDs patients. This doesn't mean that it's a cure but Sutherlandia can help to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting diseases.  Take a look at the SANBI entry for further information. 

The Florilegium
If you are unsure about what a Florilegium is:
Modern florilegia seek to record visual collections of plants held by a botanic garden or specific place, either in living or historic collections. Artists are invited to illustrate plants from the collection  and usually supplied with a plant list to choose from. The illustrations are usually required to show the important features of the plant. Resulting illustrations are often exhibited and published in books and the botanic gardens hold the illustrations for reference and education purposes. 

The aim of the RBGE Florilegium Society is to create a permanent, visual record of RBGE’s botanical and horticultural work through the acquisition of artistic works featuring the plants that are grown, collected, studied and named by RBGE staff. The Society will also raise RBGE’s profile as an important centre of botanical art in relation to both our educational work and our art collection

Being involved in a florilegium can be a bit of a labour of love but it is a great opportunity for botanical artists. For me being a Botanical illustrator is all about recording and learning about plants as well as sharing with's what I always wanted to do. 

First Encounters
The story of my interest in this plant began with a trip to South Africa with my daughter Polly in March 2019. This is where we first encountered  Sutherlandia frutescens, at Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden. Sadly it was at the end of its flowering period, with only a few flowers remaining. This plant caught our attention for a few reasons, firstly, it's my type of subject, I'm always drawn to plants in the Pea family (Fabaceae), their nitrogen fixing symbiotic relationship with bacteria that makes them so important, plus some plants just fill me with enthusiasm and demand to be painted. Secondly, the name 'Sutherlandia', made us want to find out more. Thirdly, it's medicinal properties. Lastly, it matched my nail varnish! 

Tiny little flowers still hanging on in March, despite the flowering period ending in December 

Display describing Sutherlandia medicinal properties, at Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden

The Opportunity: How Things Mysteriously Come Together
I knew I'd come back to this plant at some point, when out of the blue, my good friend and fellow artist, Shevaun Doherty, told me that a plant called Sutherlandia was on the plant list for the RBGE Florilegium and that I had to paint it? I immediately contacted them and claimed it. Both myself and Polly plan to illustrate different aspects of the plant, which is a slightly unusual approach but was approved. 

A Trip to RBGE
In November 2019, we were invited by Jacqui Pestell to visit the Herbarium at RBGE to complete some research. RBGE staff were so helpful and supportive and we spent a couple of days investigating and sketching. Even the current Regis Keeper, Simon Milne, invited us into his office to talk about Sutherlandia and his research. Outside his office is the banner dedicated to James Sutherland (c. 1639 - 1719) the first Regis Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, and of course the reason for the plants inclusion in the Florilegium became apparent, as Sutherlandia frutecens was named after him. 
 James Sutherland at RBGE.  The first professor of Botany at the University of Edinburgh, in 1675, he became Intendent of the Physic Garden, which later became the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, thus he was the first Regis Keeper. Known for his enthusiasm for plants he published the first botanical work in Scotland 'Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis' in 1683. You can see the here the image of Sutherlandia frutecens, which was named after him 
Viewing the large collection of Sutherland frutescens at RBGE herbarium, showing the various locations and name  reclassification over the years.
Specimens from the Eastern Cape 
Cultivated specimens from the garden

S. frutescens had until recently been in the living collection in the RBGE, like many South African plants they will grow in the UK but in recent years the live plant has declined and it's now most likely part of the historic collection. From the Herbarium records it appears that some plants in the collection came to Edinburgh from Kirstenbosch Gardens. The herbarium specimens came from various sites across South Africa and show considerable diversity, particularly in leaf shape and size, which was interesting. Having a 'Type specimen' is important in deciding what is typical for illustration purposes. It was amazing to view samples described by legendary Scottish botanist, Robert Brown (of Brownian motion fame) he also who had a close association with Joseph Banks voyages to Australia....but that's a story for another time. We also spent time in the Library viewing some magnificent books with illustrations of South African flora.
Polly makes notes and sketches
We really enjoyed our time at RBGE, we made notes, measurements and sketches as obviously watercolour isn't allowed in herbariums. Polly, who illustrates pollen and dissections, intends to return to see if they can capture pollen grains using the Scanning Electron Microscope, this is her specialist area of interest. I'll be making a more traditional illustration of the plant and some of the specimens had already given me some inspiration for a composition.

In the RBGE Library

Return to Cape Town
Less than 2 weeks after our visit to RBGE, we were back in Cape Town. This time we knew that Sutherlandia would be in full bloom. The botanical community are always incredibly helpful and it took just a few emails to friends to organise a specimens of the plant for the RBGE project, which was sorted in advance of our arrival. 

Day 2 Arrival at Kirstenbosh Botanic Garden, late November 2019

Kirstenbosch provided a permit to take a sample of Sutherlandia away, which was extremely accommodating. Garden officer Alice Notten took us to view several examples in the garden, it was a scorching hot day but we came away with a beautiful cutting of the plant. Over the next few days I worked quickly to record as much as possible, making detailed drawings and colour studies. As well as drafting a few compositional ideas. 

Specimen from Kirstenbosch, I had to work quickly before leaving South Africa
Sketchbook Study ready for the next step of creating the composition 

Investigation of the reproductive parts 

Taking measurements and collecting as many drawings ans photographs as possible. Here a dissection of the seed-pods
We also visited Karoo Botanic Garden, which I love! they also have several Sutherlandia plants but it's much hotter and drier there, flowering had mostly finished but there were piles of the hugely inflated ghostly looking seedpods on the ground.  We took a road trip many miles into the Karoo desert where we observed the plant in the wild in many locations, we made further studies also took lots of photographic reference.  Suffice to say its a very common plant, so was an easy task....apart from the heat! 

In the wild, its easy to spot in the bright light with its small scarlet flowers and ghostly looking seed-pods

Road trip: growing at the roadside near Worcester 

That's the story to date, all that remains is to put it all together and complete the painting.

If you want to find out more about the RBGE Florilegium or wish to get involved see their Call for Entries