Don’t we just love to see how creative projects are progressing? I have been following the progress Kate’s Cloth of Heaven, a beautiful quilt she is making as a special present. So, I thought you might like to follow the progress of my painting of Cullen cinereum.
Often I draw feathers, which I sell in my Etsy shop. I am also working on other, looser watercolour paintings. However my C. cinereum painting is a larger, more precise botanic art painting that I am painting for a special project.
I am one of a group of botanic artists who go to Menindee each year to collect plants that were first collected in the area by Dr Hermann Beckler, a member of the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. Our aim is to collect all 120 of his specimens and then do a painting of each of them. You can find out more about the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project on our website.
This October was the fifth time the Fella and I had journeyed up there. I was looking specifically for this plant, C. cinereum. Beckler collected four plants in the Cullen genus. I have collected and painted the other three, now it was time to search for this one. Below are my paintings of the first three.
I found it easily enough, on the dry bed of Lake Pamamaroo. So I collected my specimens [and yes, we have permits to do this] and set up my work space back in Menindee’s Civic Hall.
The first stage of painting is not any art work at all, but a lot of research. Accurate identification of the plant is crucial and that means working through the species key provided in reference books ~ what makes this plant Cullen cinereum and not C. discolor or one of the other species? What are the features of the genus? As well there are structural things to look at ~ how does the leaf join to the stem; are all the leaflets the same size? What is it’s habit and what identifying features do I need to include in the drawing?
Some artists move on to doing microscopic work and produce delightful drawings of the tiny parts of a plant. Unfortunately I am not very good at doing this. I do enlarged drawings of different sections, such as leaf joints and flower buds. Such drawings help me understand the plant and are a great reference.
Once I have a good understanding of the specimen before me, I begin a measured line drawing. Botanic art is done at size. Any enlargement, such as microscopic work, is indicated, for example x2, x10 and so on. Tracing paper is great for line drawings as you can rub out as often as you like and not destroy the paper.
This time I also managed to get a tonal drawing done. I laid another piece of tracing paper over the line drawing and shaded in the darker areas I could see on the specimen. Aside from colour matching, that’s all I have time to do up in Menindee. [You may remember the story of the little ladybird that hatched on the plant as I was drawing it.]
So, back home and it was time to transfer the line drawing to the good sheet of paper. I am using Fabriano watercolour paper, 300gsm. At this stage I had to consider the composition of the painting. I am fortunate that the specimen I used had a very nice shape to it. You can see the nice flow in the line drawing. It has a gentle curve that nestles into the corner of the paper and then the strong diagonal across the page. As well this composition shows the identifying feature of the habit ~ that it grows along the ground a little way and then becomes more upright.
To trace it I went over the drawing on the back of the tracing paper with pencil. After placing the tracing on the good paper I went over the whole drawing again to transfer the pencil on the back to the paper. Your really get to know the drawing well when you do it this way!
The next step begins, laying down washes on the leaves, and the tonal drawing comes into its own. I have lots of photos, but they don’t guide me at this early stage. It would be too easy to get carried away and not leave the lighter sections.
This is where I am up to. Most of the leaves have their first wash. I have begun to add in some of the stems and flower stalks as I need to know whether they go in front or behind the leaves.