Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Jade Vine

I don't often paint exotic or big bold plants! But things change and last month I started work on a larger work with the Fritillaria imperialis. It's a plant I've always loved but never had the nerve to try. I thought I'd probably never paint my favourite 'big' plants..... in fact it almost felt as though I couldn't or shouldn't paint them because that's not normally what I do. Last year something happened that got me thinking about new subjects when Beverly Allen invited me to join the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney  Florilegium Project. I was sent the plant list which was slightly daunting because many of the plants were not familiar subjects. I was immediately tempted by the Jade Vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys, and claimed it without giving too much thought to the scale of the job! Since that time I started to think about other appealing 'big' plants and have now compiled a short list  of plants that I really must try to paint while my eyesight isn't too bad...... more about that later. Here's my first effort and its story so far.

The Jade Vine is a member of the Fabaceae family - the nitrogen fixing legumes or peas and beans. It's a big woody vine! There's nothing else quite that colour in the plant world, it really is 'jade' or turquoise in colour and once seen is never forgotten. The colour is caused by the presence of the anthocyanin, malvin and the flavonoid, glucoside, saponarin. Together the cause this copigmentation. Apparently at night  the flowers look white, almost luminous! and like many white flowers it is pollinated by bats. It's native habitat is in the damp forests of the Philippines. Sadly loss of habitat has caused its decline and it's now considered endangered. 

I tracked down a specimen at Eden last year but was too late to make a start, so had to wait to visit Kew and Durham Botanic garden in April this year. I made preparatory sketches and was fortunate enough to collect the fallen flowers too (with permission form Durham). I returned home with colour studies, sketch book work, flowers and hundreds of photographs! Working from photographs in this way is a bit of a departure for me but it works OK if you've done the background research.

Beautiful Jade Vine at Kew
Fallen flowers. The colour changes from the jade green to a more blue and purple shade.
 It's going to be a bit of a long haul but after over a year waiting it's finally underway. This type of work can't be rushed and will no doubt take several months to get to the final painting.

I started by drawing out the plant in detail and painting in the supporting structure. The stalk has an underlying yellow/ green colour with a fairly dark purple on top. I used Green Gold for the first wash and a mix of Violet Dioxazine and Paynes Grey on top. 

Getting the structure in place

Thereafter I began to add the first wash to the flowers and found a mix of Winsor Blue Green Shade and Winsor Yellow worked well as a base colour. I also added some Violet Dioxazine for the older flowers and a little Manganese Blue Hue as a glaze in places.

First washes to the flowers

I'm currently starting to add detail to the flowers. But this is just the start of the job really. There's a second flower spike and the woody vine and leaves to add yet.....It may take some time!....and perhaps I'll forget the big plant paintings idea!

Slow progress

The work needs to be finished and delivered for the Florilegium project by March 2015.


  1. I'm in awe Diane. The scale alone is amazing. Watching the video was very helpful as a way of seeing how you build up washes- not to mention fascinating. Such unusual colors. I particularly enjoy the contrast of colors between the petals and the sepals (?), pedicels and stem. Maybe it's because you have the Violet Dioxazine in both?

    1. Thank you Aislinn, I keep feeling like I need to dull down that flower colour - it's so unnatural - have to resist!. Winsor blue green shade is the most vibrant colour I hardly ever use it so glad I found a job for it at last:)

  2. Dianne, I saw this vine in bloom at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, when I was there for the ASBA conference last year. It was hard to believe that it was a real plant because the color is so very odd. Your explanation about it looking white at night for bat pollination makes perfect sense. It was fun to watch you work in the video. Thanks for taking us along on this adventure! The painting will be fabulous, I can tell already!