Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Pineapples Galore!

Last week saw the start of another pineapple painting for me.  I always recommend painting a subject more than once if you really want to get to grips with it.....this is my 5th pineapple! In fact many botanical artists seem to attempt a pineapple at some point! A quick Google search reveals a huge selection's one of those 'must try' subjects.

pineapple study page
Pineapple study page, February 2014

You can find any number of great examples of contemporary pineapple paintings, Coral Guest and Fiona Strickland to name a couple of the best.  Historical botanical illustrations documenting pineapples are also plentiful, Georg Dionysius Ehret, Maria Sibylla Merian and Marianne North all illustrated this exotic fruit. But why is the pineapple so appealing?

Pineapple and cockroaches 1701- c.1705 by Maria Sibylla Merian (Public domain Wikimedia Commons)

 Firstly, it's a pretty good subject. Technically quite challenging with its 'Fibonacci' spirals ( more about that later) so requires some discipline in the drawing and also has great texture and colour too. Perhaps for todays botanical artist the work of master illustrators add that extra paint what they painted? Except today this one time rare and much sought after fruit is readily available for us to buy and try with very little effort. The pineapple has an incredibly rich history and that bit of scientific curiosity too, so I guess all-in-all it's very appealing .....

Here's some pineapple trivia followed by a quick tutorial for anyone that fancies a go.

The Pineapple:
The pineapple, Ananas comosus is a member of the Bromeliaceae family. Thought to originate from the Orinoco basin in South America. Prior to introduction in Europe they were distributed throughout the tropics and this caused some confusion about their origin.  The pineapple is desiccation-tolerant with adaptations, including CAM photosynthesis (stomata opening at night), all of which allows the plant to cope with drought..... this probably explains why the pineapple is so successful!

 During development the fruit produces up to 200 flowers. Once it flowers, the individual fruits of form what is known collectively as the pineapple. Whereby the ovaries develop into berries which form the large, compact, multiple accessory fruit. 

Pineapple flowers (img. Wikimedia Commons  2.5 Generic Licence)
In cultivation pineapples are propagated by vegetative reproduction - in fact you can cut the crown off a pineapple and grow a new one! Pollination is by hummingbirds, beetles and bats but this is not a favourable method of reproduction in crops because the seed production reduces the quality of the fruit. fact the importation of hummingbirds is, I believe, banned in Hawaii because of the impact on crops.
History: When Christopher Columbus  arrived at the island of Guadeloupe in 1493, the ships crew stumbled across piles of fruits, including pineapples as well as pots of human body parts! The European sailors first recorded the fruit which had an rough, segmented exterior rather like a pine cone and a pulp like an apple.

John Parkinson (1567–1650), Royal Botanist to Charles I, later described the pineapple as: 

Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme... being so sweete in smell... tasting... as if Wine, Rosewater and Sugar were mixed together. (Theatrum Botanicum)
The exact date of their introduction to Europe remains unknown but their is evidence that pineapples were being cultivated in the Netherlands by the mid to late 1600's. Once the fruit had arrived it quickly became a symbol of hospitality, power and wealth, the pineapple really was the celebrity of the fruit world; expensive, much sought after and often displayed in works of art and in dining room centrepieces topping towers of exotic fruit.
Still Life with Watermelons, Pineapple and Other fruit by Dutch artist Albert Eckhout (1610-1665) Eckhout's still-life paintings show Brazil's abundant crops in the 1600's ( Public domain  Wikimedia Creative Commons)
 The pineapple symbolism made it the subject of many works of art. The scene of  Charles II's head gardener, John Rose,  presenting the King with the first fruit grown in England was famously documented in this painting by Hendrik Danckerts, 1675.

Charles II being presented with the first pineapple by his gardener John Rose (Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons)
The same symbolism was also used extensively in architecture. You can find pineapples used in all sorts of architectural features, on follies, gateposts and buildings. This extreme example at Dunmore House in Scotland, was added to the building sometime during the 1760's, they had a hot house of course and grew...... pineapples!  

The Fibonacci myth: The fruit of a pineapple is arranged in spirals ( see image below), this arrangement commonly found in nature, in pine cones, sunflower seed-heads and lots of other plants, it's commonly said to be a Fibonacci sequence. While some fruit do actually have the 5,8 and 13, or 8,13 and 21 arrangement of fruit in each spiral, all of  which are Fibonacci numbers, many do not.

Pineapple spirals, don't necessarily exhibit Fibonacci numbers
The Fibonacci sequence was first described by  mathematician Leonardo Pisano Bigollo (c. 1170 – c. 1250) as a mathematical sequence related to growth being 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 and so on - where each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. If you count the fruit on each spiral of some pineapples, they do indeed add up to these numbers. But this arrangement is not always the case and Fibonacci is no a magic formula or design in nature it just happens to be the most energy efficient growth pattern..... so Fibonacci's sequence is simply a model for growth and therefore a generalisation ( and a very useful one!). I've highlighted the spirals in red, white and blue on the fruit below, and as suspected they don't add up to a Fibonacci numbers. If you have nothing better to do why not go and count the spirals on pineapples in the greengrocers you will find that having checked a few - it's more often than not often not the case, but the general growth pattern looks much the same. So if you have tried and failed to understand the Fibonacci spiral in a pineapples and can't seem to get the numbers that you think it should add up's not because you've missed something! it's because there is a lot of variation in nature during growth and only the most perfect pineapples exhibit Fibonacci numbers. Having said that pine cones and sunflowers are more likely to exhibit perfect sequences....yes I checked these too!  

What also appears to be true in some cases though is a Fibonacci type theorem whereby a pineapple being a cylinder made up of these hexagonal fruit has spirals in which the largest number of hexagons equals the sum of the sum of the two smaller numbers. A + B = C..... So it still makes the patten. But enough of all that. 

Finally The Painting. I've written this mini guide to a study for those of you that might want to try the pineapple. It's actually not so difficult as might be assumed. The spiral sequence is a simple one.
The most common errors are
1.getting the angle of the spirals wrong
2. Making it looks too flat.

First I map out the spirals by taking some basic measurements and looking at the angles. The spiral with the most fruits is less steep than the other.

The chosen one, a short and fairly round pinepple, I took some measurements, height, width, note there is no Fibonacci sequence etc.  
I make a rough drawing on tracing paper of the two main interlocking spirals - but taking to care to observe the perspective. The same type of pattern is seen in the leaves of the crown.
Drawing: Once I have the basic shape I add transfer the shape to a study page and add some detail to the drawing in the fruits and leaves.I use the same paper for the study page as I do on the final painting because otherwise the colours will be different.

Position and Lighting: The best position for the fruit is eye level. The fruit is placed it on top of a glass, my set up is a low-tech balancing act using a few empties! I position the lamp at the upper front right with a daylight bulb, to avoid working in my own light. I also use a tin can to reflect a bit of light back onto the fruit. Tin cans are great for all sorts!
The set up

Take photos for reference kept at hand on the laptop- remember pineapples ripen very quickly

Colour: To be honest I don't spend a huge amount of time doing colour samples unless I'm really struggling with a particular colour. I work out the basics an play with them on the rough study.

A few little 'rules' to keep it simple: 
Work out colour by finding each basic hue first, these are found in the mid tones where saturation is highest.
So I always start brighter than is needed and take it down in saturation, for the shades using a complimentary colour or with my own neutral tint mix.
I warm up or cool down the colours depending on the light.
Try to work with as few colours as possible.
Avoid opaques other than in the initial wash, thereafter use only transparent colours to preserve the luminosity.
Avoid colours with black, e.g. indigo, sepia  unless it's for dry brush detail. They make colours 'dead' if used in layered washes.
Early stages, finding the colours.

Continuing to work out the colour, the shades, techniques and glazes.

Gut instinct tells me that the basic yellow hue found in the fruits is: New Gamboge 
Warm it up with scarlet lake
Cool it down with  ultraviolet

add Neutral Tint to the mix the shade colours

Greens in the fruit
Cobalt Dp + Transparent yellow
Warm with New Gamboge
Cool with Ultraviolet 

The Browns -'bracts' on each fruit,
Raw umber
warm add v small amount of Scarlet Lake
cool it with Cerulean

Add Some Cerulean on the highlights

The Crown
 A very light wash of Cerulean and Ultraviolet to give the 'grey' effect applied as a wash first
Transparent yellow + Cerulean for the lighter brighter greens at the base of the crown
Cobalt Blue deep  and Transparent Yellow for the older leaves used selectively on areas of leaves most green e.g. leaf edges.

The Process
I work out the washes and watercolour techniques in order on the study page and make any notes
Keep an eye on the light at all times - remind yourself it's a spherical type object. Alternatively I could have painted a wash all over leaving out the main highlight but this doesn't work so well with a pineapple because of the many small areas where the light hits the fruits. So I paint each bract/ fruit individually to start with and add glazes later.

Bear in mind that the fruit ripens and changes colour rapidly - thank goodness for the photo reference!
Now I'm ready to start the painting.....  

But in true Blue Peter style, here's one I made earlier.....

Pineapple watercolour from 2010

A Word of warning for potential pineapple painters.  Alas there's a dark side to the modern pineapple! This once rare sybol of wealth can be purchased at the local supermarket for less than £1! I've never seen pineapples for that price before and competition between growers usually means there's much high price to be paid somewhere or other in order to secure supermarket contracts! Most supplies comes from Costa Rica, where growers may use pesticides which can affect soil quality and reduce biodiversity. Pesticides include organophosphates and known hormone disruptors which can affect workers' health and contaminate water supplies. The chemical are of course found in the fruit too!.... oh and the workers are not paid a fair wage.
To find out more read this article 'Bitter Fruit: The truth about supermarket pineapples' 

So if you're going to paint a pineapple please be careful about its origin and look for the Fair Trade symbol and organic fruit.


  1. This post is awesome!

  2. Thank you - for sharing the history, the math and your tutorial. Very nicely done!

  3. Brilliant blog post! I love it when somebody writes like this, entertaining, educational and visually appealing.

  4. I have a pineapple WIP (work in progress)...ty...this will help...with color selection...your work is appreciated by all...the additional info too...5 star job

  5. A superb post Dianne, so informative. Thank you for sharing your techniques, I want to have a go myself now.

  6. Wonderful post. I especially liked the historical references and the diagrammatic drawing outlining the underlying math.

  7. Great blog Diane. Thanks for all the great tips and information.

  8. Interesting post and beautiful work, Dianne!

  9. I'm tempted to head out straight for the supermarket now, but I must finish the heleniums I'm doing at the moment. Thank you for the inspiration though!

  10. Thank you all for your very kind comments! so pleased to hear that you found it worth the read. I'd love to write more!

  11. Superb Dianne! Fascinating and very informative.Thank you!

  12. As a trivia hound, I love all the research you did about the pineapple! :-)
    Thanks for all the useful drawing tips. Now I just need to find the nerve to try it myself. ;-)

  13. I am unforgivably late in seeing this post. Its absoulutely perfect and the most fascinating that I have seen and read about this very popular fruit. Dianne, you paint an excellent picture, not only of the Pineapple itself but all the associated data. For me, this is the best painting of a Pineapple I have seen by a Contemporary Botanical Artist.

  14. Thank you so much Coral, I'm very flattered by your kind comments.