Sunday 27 August 2023

Hawthorn: Two New Works of Crataegus monogyna

Last month I competed two new works featuring the Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, both paintings have been submitted to the Irish Native Tree Project organised by the Irish Society of Botanical Artists. The first is and  enlarged detail of fruits on the branch in autumn and the second is a scaled down drawing of the whole tree in winter, which also has life size details of the bark and branches, painted in watercolour. 

Above: An enlarged branch x3 and dissections x 3.5. I don't normally enlarge whole subjects, usually I only enlarge the smaller details - so this was an interesting task.  I decided to keep the composition very simple so as not to clutter -  to me white space is important. The numerous lichens on the branch added interest. 

Both works are not particularly large at A3 in size, they were completed on Saunders Waterford high white paper 140lb (300gsm),  this paper is good because it's pretty tough and good for layering rich colour....which is definitely a requirement for these fruits, and this colour is where the Saunders Waterford paper is most beneficial, that said, it's not quite so great with pale washes, which can look a tad dull, so if you err on the pale side with watercolour there are better papers. Also, I find that I have to work that bit harder on neat edges but it comes good if you are careful with controlling the water.  

Above: Early stages, This shows the slow build of colour, putting in the underlying blue and blue violets first is vital, some of this colour is retained in the receding edges and more distant fruits, to create aerial perspective.  I also add the 'hot spots of warmer colour near to the center of the fruits, which is where there is the highest saturation or brightest colour is (with light and shade both being less saturated). The main thing for me is to get a base in for almost everything, rather than finishing any one part - that way I can keep control of the overall light and  I can see the whole painting and what needs to be done.  

Rich colours built using dry brush technique, the violets are painted on the receding edges of the fruit. A fairly limited primary palette was used. More distant fruit is paler, less saturated and cooler in colour to create separation and depth. Colours can be seen on the sketch book pages later in this post.   

Here you can see how the painting builds in stages. I added just 3 leaves which I felt was sufficient, its always best to work with odd numbers, because it creates better visual stimulus and I felt any more would be too much, and I wanter to retain the fruit as the focal point. The final touch was to add the fruit dissection at the space that id left lower left, you can see this in the first image of the finished painting. The later part of the Latin name, monogyna, refers to the fruit, which has a single ovary and therefore seed  (mono-gyna) 

The next work was the whole tree, this is a a subject slightly out of my comfort zone but I enjoyed the challenge. I decided to complete the tree in graphite because there seemed little point in using colour to paint a winter tree at this size, but the branch and bark details are in watercolour. It's important to make sure the graphite is strong enough and a range of Faber Castell pencils, grades 2H to 5B were used.

I've been working on preparing for both of these works for rather a long time, a lot of the time was spent looking for the 'right' tree in different seasons and 'the one' I wanted was discovered at a local nature reserve, known as Doxey Marshes. It was quite hard to sketch because of other bushes and trees behind and it's hard to find the best angle, I liked the fact that it was leaning and shaped by the wind, so chose this position. I also did quite a few sketchbook studies, which can be seen if you read on. 

Doxey Marshes in winter, finding a suitable tree 

I began with a framework of the main branches, then the smaller branches and details  
Hawthorns hold on to some of their haws over winter, so I needed to include this, to help me understand the arrangement I  photographed the branches against the cloudy sky using high contrast, this created a silhouette, this helped with my understanding of all the small structures.   

When the tree was complete I added details of the bark, thorns and haws in watercolour and along the bottom of the drawing. Many had lichens. 

Adding the bark details

The finished tree with bark and branch details, the tree in graphite and details in watercolour  

As always various sketchbook studies of the tree were made in advance of the painting, and the composition for the final painting was based on a sketchbook entry made in October 2021, but I used cut branches for colour accuracy as photographic colour is often incorrect. 

Prior to the paintings - I also painted some habitat studies with black watercolour paint, which I absolutely loved doing! I make such studies because it's important that I get to know a subject..., I suppose it's what the portrait painter does, and once the decision is made to illustrate a plant, much time is spent observing it.

Sketchbook October 2022, various autumn fruits, including the Hawthorn in Autumn  

Habitat study of the tree in winter, painted with black watercolour 

Some studies of bark, thorns and lichens on the tree. All of these studies were carried out the previous year and helped with my understanding of the tree.

About Hawthorn 

Hawthorn is a fascinating tree and fortunately plenty are available in the lane where I live. It's an incredibly important tree, providing all year round food and shelter for wildlife; being a food plant for caterpillars of moths, it is also rich in pollen and nectar for insects and the antioxidant rich haws persist on the tree well into winter, which supports migrating birds and mammals. The dense thorny hedge made by the branches makes a good home for nesting birds and provides cover for other wildlife.  

Flowering of the tree is long associated with May Day when there was a pagan symbol of fertility. On May Day, the branches were fashioned into celebratory garlands to mark the changing seasons, so it was also a sign to put away the winter clothes.

Like several other trees in folklore, it was advised that Hawthorn should never be taken into the house - for fear of bad luck - in fact the flowers are said to have the 'odour of death', and this was noted at the time of the plague of the Black Death during the 1300's. There is an explanation for this story, and the odour is actually attributed to the presence of trimethylamine,  a chemical formed in the early stages of animal decomposition. To be honest I can't say that I've noticed a bad smell but maybe I just didn't notice because the flowers with their pretty pink anthers distracted me. 

Finally: I have one more tree to paint and will write again about the final work, then they will be judged shortly, so fingers crossed, the paintings may or may not make it into the exhibition but whatever happens it was fun to do and as always I learned a lot!

Sunday 15 January 2023

Painting a Royal Tree in Yogyakarta: Back Story and Singapore Exhibition

I love a plant with a story and this plant definitely has a story to tell, which is what compelled me to paint it. I was first introduced to the Stelechocarpus burahol or Keppel Fruit tree in October 2018 by fellow artists from the Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists (IDSBA), Eunike Nughoro and Henny Herawati who were kind enough to take me on a tour of many wonderful places in Yogyakarta, Java. This particular tree, is at Taman Sari, otherwise known as the Royal Garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, within Kraton. The tree is also the Royal emblem for the Special Region Yogyakarta and since 2017, the historical center of Yogyakarta, including Taman Sari has been designated a World Heritage site. 

On November 15th 2022, this painting was exhibited at the Flora of Southeast Asia exhibition at the Singapore Botanic Garden (SBG). The exhibition was organised by the Botanical Art Society (Singapore) (BASS) and SBG. The exhibition runs until February 15th 2023. 

This lengthy blog post covers the story from finding the plant to painting it and finally exhibiting it.

Stelechocarpus burahol painting, approximately A3 in size in watercolour and graphite. The size was a limitation of the exhibition criteria, so I chose to portray it in a deconstructed way, typical of a scientific illustration, showing various parts and stages of development. The initial reference drawings were made in Indonesia during 3 visits. The painting completed in 2022 in my studio, when the call for entries went out by BASS - This was the opportunity to complete and exhibit a painting of this fascinating tree. 

The Tree, Location and History

Everything about this tree was interesting to me, firstly its location: Taman Sari was built in the mid 1700's, known as the Sultan's Water garden it is most unusual with a fascinating history.  Built by the first sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono I, the construction was lead by Tumenggung Mangundipura, who travelled to Batavia  for inspiration (former capital of the Dutch East Indies now Jakarta), which explains the European style. The complex consisted of many buildings including a mosque, meditation chambers, swimming pools, 18 water gardens, pavilions and artificial lakes - 'Taman' means garden and 'sari' means beautiful or flowers in Javanese and describes the environment well. Apparently in its heyday, the gates could be closed and the main areas flooded to leave just the tall buildings visible. Taman Sari is still impressive today despite its visible decline but you can feel the history of this special place.  Today only the central bathing complex is well preserved, the remainder of the site being badly damaged through various events during its history, including the British Invasion of 1812, the war of Java from 1825-1830 and finally a large 7.8Mw earthquake in 1867, which destroyed several buildings. 

Work in the 1970's restored the main bathing pool, shown above, this is where the former Sultan's viewed and selected women from the tower in the 1700s. 

Botanical Artists visit 2018: Eunike, myself and Henny on the right 

First time seeing the protected tree, with the yellow flowers emerging from the trunk, a good example of cauliflory. 

The first tree can be found near to the entrance, it is encased in wire to protect the trunk, this where the female flowers and fruit are found. This is an example of cauliflory, where the flowers and subsequent fruit grow from the woody parts, presumably this is beneficial to larger animal pollinators or seed dispersers within certain habitats, the trees normal habitat is in the forests of Central Java, so a very different environment to Taman Sari. The smaller male flowers are found on the higher branches. Cauliflory is found in a number of notable species, Jackfruit and the spectacular Cannonball tree spring to mind. Click here for  a short read with nice examples about this adaptation on the Master Gardener website.

Stelechocarpus burahol  is a member of the Annonaceae family, the Custard Apples, the Keppel fruit is said to have a soft texture and mango like taste, I didn't tase it, many people recount eating it when they were young but today it is more scarce. The fruit was much treasured by some, particularly the princesses and was known historically for its properties as a deodorant, also a symbol of unity and mental and physical integrity and it was thought to act as a temporary contraceptive after the fruit was consumed. However, its uses were met with suspicion by some, and this meant that many people did not want to have this tree planted because they believed they would be cursed, so they removed it. The tree became rare over time and reserved for royalty, bearing in mind that the Sultan is said to have had up to 40 princesses, the fruit was no doubt popular and useful. 

Above, my sketches of the tree, I returned three times to observe. Below are some images of the tree, showing some of its stages, from flower to fruit. 

The waxy female flower emerge from 'plaques' on the trunk 

Once pollinated the round fruit develop, there are a large number of fruit on the trunk 

This is another tree are the other side of the complex (the exit) which is next to the Kampoeng cyber village and Zuckerberg Street.  This area was a settlement on the ruins of Taman Sari by families made homeless during the 1867 earthquake. They became a thriving community of artists who made Batik. The area declined in the 1990's but in 2003 a group of artists and residents revitalised the area and sought sponsorship to buy computers and it's now an area filled with murals, batik makers and tech!....but that's another story

 The same as the previous tree but from a different visit, I visited three times to document it. The new leaf growth is pink, red to dark red, which makes the palette interesting. 

The Painting and Exhibition 

When the BASS call for entries went out for the Flora of Southeast Asia exhibition, Stelechocarpus burahol came to mind immediately. The exhibition was to be a collaboration between four Societies from Singapore (BASS), Indonesia (IDSBA, Thailand (THBA) and the Philippines (PhilBA), the subjects had to be native to one of the participating countries. As a member of BASS I planned to illustrate the Indonesian tree, but this meant that I would have to complete the painting from my reference sketches and photographs, which is always more difficult than having the subject at hand, but I felt in this case it could be done as I had extensive reference. 
The plant names had to be submitted via a spreadsheet to be checked by a botanist , and this ensured that no-one was wasting time on the wrong plants, which seemed very sensible. I have to say that the organisation from start to finish by BASS was excellent, given that they are a new society, and the support from the Singapore Botanical Garden made a brilliant collaboration. 

From my own perspective I always think it's a good idea to find a plant that is not well represented by illustrators, it feels like a more useful pursuit to document those little documented plants. In addition, in a juried exhibition, more common plants can have several artists illustrating the same plant so that makes it less likely to be accepted.  I Googled various sites, such as, to find out  how well illustrated Stelechocarpus burahol was and found very little -with only four images, see this link. There was only one colour illustration, from Blumes, Flora of Java (1851) Volume 2, an illustration by A J Latour under the synonym Uvaria burahol, which is a former name for the species. This illustration did not show the fruit.

The size restrictions for the painting is a practical consideration for exhibition space, so in this case I had to work within an A3 format. I made a start at the beginning of February 2022 after pulling together all of my notes and sketches, these had all the sizes of plant parts and colour notes. I drafted a composition which showed the various stages and phases of the plant rather than trying to paint a large section of the tree, it made more sense to do it that way to tell as much of the story as possible in the space permitted,  it was easier to compose given that I didn't have access to the tree. 

The draft composition upper left, I drew all of the parts and arranged them within the A3 space. I had a fairly clear idea of how I wanted to arrange and tell the story of the plant it in my head prior to this, so it was just a case of creating comfortable spacing between parts and making a balanced composition within the format. Also important was to include only the relevant parts without duplicating anything that wasn't  necessary. 
The line drawing was complete by February 10th, at this point I left it for a couple of days to think about the arrangement. I viewed it on my easel in passing and also took some images on my phone to view away from the studio, this helped me to decide whether any changes were needed, it's best not to rush into painting too quickly as there's no going back if I miss something or make a mistake, patience is worthwhile. I made a few minor adjustments but overall I was happy enough with it.

The next stage was to transfer the image onto Stonehenge Aqua HP 550gsm watercolour paper. I used an A2 light pad for this job, and keep the room darkened by closing the blinds. A very light touch of the pencil is needed to keep the outline as pale as possible. The rocker switch on the light pad was switched off at intervals to check the line weight and to ensure that I wasn't going over the same lines more than once. 
The paper used was nearer to A2 in size and I intended to trim it once complete,  I prefer to work on larger paper and sometimes make notes as I work on the edge. For me Stonehenge paper is good because of the smooth surface but its important to paint on the correct side as the underside is a little felt like, it also only really suits 'dry' painters and the surface isn't terribly robust, so it you like to push paint around and paint wet - its probably not the best option. 

Beginning: I cover the painting with tracing paper revealing only the part being worked on - this prevents splashes or oils from hands marking the paper. Some people like to wear cotton fingerless gloves but I find them slightly restrictive. 

I began in the middle with the leaves because the leaves are alway he tough part, I didn't have the problem of wilting flowers as with a live subject, so this wasn't an issue. I always think that a painting is made (or lost) on the strength of the leaves and bad leaves will ruin it, so I practice them first and often paint leaves first, that way if the leaves are wrong I can start over until I feel they are right. Light is super important too and when working without the subject I had to make sure it was consistent across the painting.  On shiny leaves I pretty much always use pale blue underneath, usually Cobalt, this is for the shine or highlights. 

February 20th. Leaves are not painted to a finished stage but enough so that I can see that they will be ok. I then proceed to paint all parts to a certain 'not quite finished stage' before completing the whole painting in stages, going back at the end to deepen and adjust where necessary. I believe this approach creates cohesion across the work (for me anyway) 

This was the 9th of March, you will note that I wasn't working on this continuously, 
 I like to think between parts, this the complete opposite to my approach in a sketchbook, which is often done in one or two sessions.
March 21st. I painted the plaques around the flowers lightly then plotted stems and finally added petals and flower centers. I also started the fruit at the same time. It's important to keep parts evenly weighted, so never work on any part to a finished stage.

March 21st. The fruit really aren't very attractive, they're essentially dull brown balls! the light was going to be extra important to create the rounded form, as were the soft edges. The rear fruit was left paler to create depth and distance with a good bit of violet used as the underlying colour. I know there was a danger of these dominating the piece and was cautious not to over do it.
 The surface has small hexagonal type shapes across the surface but I add those at a later stage, see below. This is a common shape in nature - its the energy efficient shape, that a shape that best fills a surface without need for waste, it takes less energy to construct a surface comprising hexagonal shapes that fit together neatly, its also mechanically more stable because of the tension pulled across a surface on the different sides of the shape. Thats also why bees use the hexaganol in their honey comb construction, it creates strength. 

The texture and hexagonal type shapes on the surface, added using dry brush 

30th March. Fruit dissection and developing fruit and pretty much everything else was added at this point 

March 31st Top branch with male flowers 

April 13th The graphite parts were added last, a scaled down drawing of the trunk with fruit 
 and the flower details completed the story. I used graphite because this would attract too much attention in watercolour - I like to think about how it looks from a distance and don't want too many 'bit's or unclear parts. Despite all of the time I had this still ended up very close to the submission date. 

And so it was finished in advance of the submission date, which was April 15th. The next task was to photograph and submit the digital image, normally I would use a professional service but was short on time. I did the initial photograph myself using a DSLR camera and photography box lamps, I also have a photography box which the work can sit inside with the camera above, this is great for making the light even, but it was a little small and I didn't want to trim the paper yet. I had to do some editing, which was done in Photoshop using the 'Levels' tools. It's very important to ensure that the background is clear and even and the image is true to actual painting, BASS were insistent on these points, they provided clear information and links and advise on how to achieve this. The signature could not be added at this stage for anonymity with judging. I also refrained from sharing the finished painting on social media. The online submission met the quality control but I knew I needed a professional image if the painting was accepted. 

There were two rounds of judging with 12 judges comprising botanical artists and botanists, with three representing each country. The second round was judged by 5 judges including the Singapore Botanic Garden botanist and curator. 

Acceptance came by the beginning of September, I then had time for the work to be professionally photographed, I prefer photography to scanning when delicate graphite is involved. The organisers needed a high resolution image to print the work in the catalogue and on panels in the garden. So it was important to have a good image with the correct resolution and dimensions that was print ready and colour corrected. Home computer screens are generally not calibrated for print - at least mine isn't  - firstly I've no idea how to do it and secondly I prefer to leave the image quality work to a professional. It's really not a expensive service and takes the worry and time out of it.

I rolled and packed the painting in tissue and placed into heavy duty cardboard tube, approx 12cm diameter, it needed to be wide enough not to cramp the work and to make the rolling easy. Finally I made sure the package was waterproof! It arrived in successfully in Singapore on September 15th, taking about one week to arrive. It was checked by BASS upon arrival....and a relief to find that all was well.  

The Exhibition  
The exhibition opened on November 15th and I was fortunate enough to be at the opening event. It's a wonderful space and the botanic garden is beautiful being one of the few UNESCO botanic gardens in the world it is very impressive. Michele Rodda, the Curator of the exhibition is most supportive of BASS and botanical art and the Society worked with the garden to create an programme of events throughout the duration of the event and during the exhibition opening week. The Gallop extension has recently been refurbished and makes a wonderful dedicated botanical art venue, 80 works were accepted for the Gallop Extension gallery space and the remaining 40 entries were printed and shown in displays  throughout the gardens. 

The ornate gates at the main Singapore Botanic Garden entrance. Entrance to the garden and gallery is free. There is a charge to visit the amazing orchid garden. 
Heading up to the Gallop Extension Gallery, it's quite a walk from the main entrance to the gallery, especially with the 32C and almost 90% humidity, so its worth entering at the Gallop Gate entrance. The Public transport MRT is excellent and there's a taxi drop at each of the 4 gates. The facsimile works are also displayed at each of the gates. Read about the history and design of the building here

Banners were places throughout the garden

First of the two downstairs Galleries 

Beautiful graphics using the artworks to compliment the cases were printed throughout 
 the gallery 
In the center of the first gallery is a very nice large display of sketchbooks and artist materials
Display case featuring Angelina Cheong's beautiful works, Angelina also has two works in the exhibition  

The second downstairs gallery, brimming with colour!

Upstairs is another gallery showing the judges work and a lovely light space where artists gave demonstrations during the exhibition.  

The added bonus was to win a best in show award alongside Teo Nam Siang from Singapore and Deinitisa Amarawi from Indonesia. Here are our works together in a display case at the entrance of the gallery, we each spoke shortly about our works during the event for invited dignitories. Top left is my Stelechocarpus burahol, top righTeo Nam Siang's Ant Plant no.1 Hydnophytum formicarum and bottom is Deinitisa Amarawi's The Blooming Fruit: Beneath the Canopy, Sterculia oblongata. 

We were presented with a certificate and this beautiful engraved award, art materials from sponsors and a catalogue

Works were also exhibited on information panels in the garden 

It was a wonderful opportunity and I met so many incredible artists and made new friends. It's hard to believe the BASS was only established in 2019 and all of the contributing Societies are young, some artists in this exhibition have been painting for two years! All societies are very proactive and welcome overseas members. The thing that I like is that they focus on the native flora, having previously spent a good bit of time in different parts of Southeast Asia, it was nice to feel so welcome.  

If you can, do visit this exhibition, I highly recommend it but if you're far away there is an online gallery here

The exhibition catalogue available for 20sd (about 12 gbp or15usd) plus10sd international postage. Available by visiting the BASS shop  

Artists from all over SE Asia and further afield gather on the green for a final photo. It was a great day for botanical art in SE Asia!

Sunday 6 November 2022

Sketchbook Update, March - June 2022

My last update was early spring, so it's time to add more about the sketchbook. I've not completed so many pages this year but that was expected as we come out of the pandemic, and, with other work to do it's a big ask to complete a page every week.  The aim this year was a page every two weeks, which is achievable, given that  23 are completed to date. There are too many for one post so will do this in two. So here goes with March to June, entries 7 - 13: 

I left off in the last post with the promise of Celandine for entry no. 7, and it was indeed completed, but I completed another painting first, it was the wild daffodils at the ancient woodland  at George's Hayes, Longdon,  Staffordshire. It was March 11th and the day before my 58th birthday, so thought I'd take a bit of a trip out. A bit of a rushed page painted in situ because it started raining.... so that was the end of that. 

Narcissus pseudonarcissus, wild daffodil at Georges Hayes Wood. March 11th  2022

Beautiful sight and the largest stand of wild daffs in Staffordshire 

No. 7. Heres the Lesser Celandine, yes yet another yellow flower. This was early April and at that time of year Celandine is everywhere. 

Ficaria verna, Lesser Celandine April 2nd 2022
Roadside down the Lane in Checkley, my old stomping ground

No. 8 Next up, its yellow again! with Cowslip. I planted this on the edge of the garden and it's doing well this year, I also had a few in pots which is always handy, it was a lovely sunny day so I sat out and drew it, then finished it off indoors, because it was way too bright outside. It seemed complicated to draw but was much easier than I thought and took about an hour. I try not to spend more than one day for each page but often this is split into and hour snatched here or there.  

Primula veris, Cowslip. My garden, April 2nd 2022

No. 9 Spot the odd one out, not a British native plant for the next page because I took a holiday to Malta! and of course the sketchbook came too. I have to paint this gorgeous little Barbary iris. A walk to the cliffs at Sannat in the morning, revealed the presence of the dead long leaves, like little snakes but the flowers don't open until later in the day, it was extremely hot and a swarm of tiny flies descended, which filled my hair, eyes, nose and clothes...its was pretty awful but didn't stop my return later that day to paint this little beauty. 
Morea sisyrinchium, the Barbary Nut, Sannat Cliffs, Malta, 25th April 2022 

See how tiny it is! 

No. 10 Back home again and back to dandelions, I became slightly obsessed following the realisation  there are so many species. This one was at the SSSI at Allimore Green, Haughton, Staffs. I think its Taraxacum faeroense, very cute little dandelion. 

Taraxacum faeroense, Allimore Green SSSI Haughton, Staffordshire, 8th May 2022

The bracts are all important in identification

Allimore Green, a rare piece of land the wasn't drained and has been preserved that way, a designated SSSI 

No. 11 Another dandelion,  one from the Hamata section I'm told, T. lamprophyllum, it seemed too small but that's not always important. anyway it was in my garden, so not much effort required for this one. A lazy option when there isn't much time available but goes to show that there's always something to paint. 

Taraxacum lamprophyllum (maybe), in the garden,  16th May. 2022

No 12, the last full page in the book before starting a new one is Silene dioica, Red Campion. It's one of my favourite flowers and as the name suggests it has separate male and female plants. There was an abundance of females but barely any males. I'd saved some seed podss from last year and added them to the page. When I went to finish the painting the lot had been strimmed, so I took some home and painted finished it off overlooking the field.  

Silene dioica, Common Lane, Stone. 21st May 2022

So that marks the end of the second sketchbook and will stop there apart from one more end piece, no. 13  Comfrey with a bee, bit of a rush job! 

Symphytum officinale, Common Lane Stone, 

For the next book I have more pages and its back to Saunders Waterford hight white paper. I'll  post the next batch soon. 

This project has been ongoing since February 2021 and I have been doing it with my good friend Debbie Crawford from the US. You can see all of our entries on Instagram under the hashtags botanicalsketchdates, which got hijacked by lots of folk, which it fine, so we started another with the hashtag botanicalsketchdates2022. 

Also on my own IG and Facebook page Dianne Sutherland Artist, where there's lots of other artwork too.