Tulip botanical illustration

There’s nothing like a deadline to get you motivated, even if it’s just a self-imposed one.

I hadn’t drawn tulips before, and for a few weeks in the early months of the pandemic several local grocery stores were often filled with tulips of all colours. I bought one bunch, then another, and yet another, partly for the joy of flowers during a stressful period of time, but also as inspiration. As I finished drawing one tulip, I chose the next from the latest bunch I had bought (tulips don’t generally last that long I find, plus I draw quite slowly) and ended up with three different colours, which I was quite happy about.

At one point I posted what I thought was the finished creation on my instagram account. Well, I misspoke, I actually hadn’t ‘finally finished’ the three tulips. As pleased as I was with the tulip colours – the purple, pink and red petals were pretty much as I wanted – I knew the leaves weren’t quite right. I took on board some helpful suggestions from an online illustration group I had joined, Draw Botanical, and in fact darkened up the leaves substantially. Suddenly Faber Castell Polychromos Dark Indigo had become one of my favourite pencils, a beautifully rich shade that adds depth to the many greens that inevitably populate botanical art.

Tulip botanical drawing

By adding dark indigo, I darkened the leaves to the point where I was happier with the shading

As the world closed in, and my work temporarily halted (hopefully soon to resume), drawing has unexpectedly come to the fore. As has my voracious appetite for yet more pencils; who knew there was such a glorious variety of colours, brands and quality. Although it takes me a long time to quit distracting myself and settle down to the latest illustration, once I’m there it completely absorbs me. Anxiety and confusion about what’s happening dissipates and I can feel the stress unwind its tendrils from my nervous system.

It’s funny how things you don’t really register at the time as being that significant will come to play a bigger role at a later date. As a gift a couple of years ago Scott had bought me two books on botanical illustration, I can’t even really remember why. Both turned out to be by artists who I constantly refer back to, and who are experts in their field: Ann Swan and Wendy Hollender (who runs the aforementioned Draw Botanical). They also focus on coloured pencils, rather than watercolour techniques – unusual in the world of botanical art. Gradually I’ve added a few more books by other artists to my reference collection, and have something like a hundred or more coloured pencils: Faber Castell, Caran d’Ache, Prismacolor. It never seems like enough.

I’ve become a little more observant of nature, looking into the details more. How many petals a certain flower has for instance, or where exactly the leaves are placed, or what insects might be attracted to that particular plant. It’s been a bit of a revelation to consciously notice the mathematical, ordered nature of nature, so to speak. Although on an abstract level I was somewhat aware of the idea of patterns in nature, I really had no clue about, say, the patterns of spirals in pine cones, which follow the ‘Fibonacci Sequence’. Discovered by Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci during the thirteenth century, the sequence occurs often in nature and in the manmade world. A pine cone will start with one scale, then follow the sequence of 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc. I have yet to draw a pine cone, but I think now knowing there is such a pattern can only help. Nature truly is astonishing.

It’s been nurturing to draw, but it’s also slotted in well with the general downturn in busyness (although that seems to be shifting, already the traffic seems to be up to pre-Covid 19 levels in my area of British Columbia). It’s made me slow down, and has been a way to connect to nature when it hasn’t been quite so easy or advisable to go further afield to hike or bike. A sliver of a silver lining.

Keeping busy

Moutain biking

Mountain biking deserted trails

It’s a fuzzy, out of focus shot, Scott wanted to be quick; there were only one or two walkers behind us on the otherwise deserted trails, but we wanted to keep moving, to stay well out of their personal space for their sake, and ours.

A few days prior we had driven to the trailhead in the hope we could squeeze in a bike ride. Like everyone else we were desperate to be out in the sun and fresh air, but there were too many people and the trailhead was far too packed, it would be impossible to keep the prescribed six feet of distance between us and the next person. So we turned around and opted instead to set the alarm early on a day that was forecast to be rainy and cold. Our gamble paid off, the area was virtually deserted and the occasional walker we met either pulled way off the trail for us or vice versa. We rode well within our abilities, taking no unnecessary risks, and kept the ride shorter than usual. But that hour or so of puffing up steep inclines, negotiating veiny roots on the forest floor and breathing in the misty, oxygen-laden air is something I am so grateful for, particularly as we live in a tiny bachelor with no balcony to speak of and certainly no garden to hang out in. We’ll try to go once a week, as long as it’s safe for us and others to do so.

In the meantime as – along with thousands upon thousands of others – I was laid off last week for goodness knows how long, I’ll continue to use the extra time to draw, practice yoga online and join in with streamed circuit classes.

Keep well, keep safe.

drawing of trumpet flowers

Trumpet flowers

 

Leaping into spring

We doggedly turned the pedals; eyes streaming, glasses fogged up, snotty noses cold and damp. My feet had long since gone numb and I noticed Scott slapping his frozen hands against his legs in a vain attempt to get some feeling back into them.

No, it wasn’t an epic trip along some ice-covered road in a distant Nordic country, just riding back to the ferry after visiting a friend overnight in Victoria on Vancouver Island earlier in March. The weather had changed overnight from cold and sunny, to frigid and sleeting. It felt in equal measures foul and fun (in a masochistic way, natch). We were dressed for the cold but not the wet, a point underlined as we disembarked on the mainland and booted it along the causeway to where we’d stealth-parked the car. Riding in full-on snow at this point as we sloshed through thick pools of water and slush, terrified yelps escaping my frozen lips as yet another truck barrelled past in the unofficial race off the ferry. My eyes were still noticeably swollen at work the next day, the after-effects of the wind and sleet that had somehow worked its way under, over and around my glasses.

Now that it’s finally warming up – cherry blossom bursting impatiently forth, a dusting of green on trees as leaves begin to unfurl – the first foray into mountain biking of the season has meant upending our tiny apartment as we dig out our bikes from a jammed closet. Three grinds up a gravelled road, and three runs down a bermy, easy run and we started to feel our bodies loosen up after far too long a break.

So March has been characterized by sporadic rides, lots of reading (Ashlee Pipers’s Give a Shit: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet has caught my attention for the last little while – plentiful ideas for upcycling, recycling, reusing – and I ploughed through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, which frankly drove me a bit nuts with all the ‘thees and ‘thous’. I couldn’t put it down, but I have to admit I much prefer his essays from A Moveable Feast), and fitting in more drawing around work. Lately I’ve been working on some strawberries:

botanical drawing of strawberries

Strawberry composition

And I learnt a bit more about my backyard in British Columbia in This Mountain Life; both the staggeringly beautiful scenery this area contains, and the unique people who explore it, it’s well worth checking out.

 

Carrot and Stick

The stick was my admitting that I needed to get drawing again – once I’d said it publicly I felt compelled to get on with it, knowing I would feel guilty if I didn’t. The carrot is, well, the carrot. I’ve started to draw again and it feels good. Or maybe the carrot is the number of new coloured pencils I felt were necessary to treat myself to. Either way.

Drawing of a carrot

Carrot

There’s a quote attributed to Jim Davis, but I’m not sure if it came directly from his mouth or via that of his creation, Garfield: ‘vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie’. I like it.

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