Friday, February 28, 2014

First Lessons in Botany and 18 hours of drawing

This is a page from Asa Gray's botany textbook published in 1857, First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology, illustrated by over 360 wood engravings from original drawings by Isaac Sprague. I found this dried flower pressed between the pages. Could it be as old as the book?  This sample was pressed between the pages devoted to the snapdragon family. It seems to be a variety of the wildflower beardstongue.  

This book belonged to the Mt. Allison Ladies College Library, 1854-1958 and was sitting in the stacks of the Mount Allison University library when I found it. I had read about Asa Gray in Barbara Novak's book, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825-75.  He is considered by many to be the most important American botanist of the nineteenth century.

The illustrations in First Lessons have helped me interpret my somewhat fuzzy photographs of fireweed in Banff National Park. When I took the pictures, I was hiking with a group that was moving quickly. I had no idea at the time that I would be using the photos several years later as a reference for a large-scale drawing.

Below is a very dark photo of my initial drawing in graphite on 55½ x 36 inch watercolor paper. The drawing is done with an HB pencil on bright white paper.  This stage of the work has taken me about 18 hours of free-hand drawing.  Scroll down for a detailed photo.  I will try re-setting the white balance in my camera and perhaps I will have a better result with the next photograph.

55½ 36 inches, graphite on watercolor paper, in progress

Detail of the above work

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Starting with a Blank White Page

The blank white page can be daunting, in visual art as well as in creative writing.  It's been a few weeks since I worked consistently in the studio as I have been busy with submissions for residencies and exhibitions.  After cutting and sanding seven thin plywood templates for thistle-like installations, I have had to clean my vacuum cleaner (!!) and tidy the studio.  I work in a small space, so every new project requires another overhaul of the room and its contents.  Thankfully I have a big closet with shelves to store my supplies.

This time, I have saved the fallen thistle remnants that have potential before vacuuming the layer of detritus under the remaining stems.  It's going to be a while before I can gather new samples!  

Next, I wrestle with my roll of 55½ inch Artistico watercolor paper (300gm) on the floor to cut off a 36 inch wide swath.  My art books work as weights to keep the paper flat while I measure and cut it.  I always use a heavy piece of cardboard underneath anything I am cutting with an Exacto knife.  Voilà!  Clipped to a piece of plywood and waiting to be made into Art!  My waterproof tarp goes down over the carpet next.  

February in Canada is not a good time to collect plants, so I am reduced to using my photographs.  I have decided to create a drawing for a new project proposal (for a specific exhibition submission), in order to have a sample to include with my Bouquet series.  I will write about the concept behind this new project in future posts.  Below, my guide to wildflowers is somewhat helpful.  There are other botanical books in the university library that I will look at this week.

After trying several thumbnail compositions yesterday, I went back to my catch-all sketchbook.  I plan to do several more sketches.  The challenge is to animate a visually static subject.  I have come back to the draping plastic wrap as a metaphor and a compositional element that introduces dynamic lines and contrasts with the organic shapes of burned wood and fireweed.  This drawing will be shaped by tearing and burning, similar to the Bouquet project.  The sketch below is fairly light in tone, but the next one will explore the full range of greys to soot black.  The magenta-pink is quite awful!  I will try watering it down much more or eliminating it entirely.  I would only add it near the end of the large drawing as it will be impossible to remove once it is there!

Sketch 10 x 8 inches  graphite, charcoal, acrylic, and ink washes
This sketch is not where I want it to be, but it points in a direction at least.  I intend to have a compositional plan before beginning the large drawing.  This way I won't have to make major adjustments once I begin my detailed renderings of plants on the final paper.

I will also work on expanding my Bouquet project into a larger installation in the near future.