Great Garden Sketchabout #7 – Floss Silk Tree

March 11, 2011

11 Mar 11, 1pm, overcast weather. Floss silk tree and tropical plants in one of the Bed 65 areas on the path between Morshead Fountain and Tropical Plants Pyramid. Graphite pencil, water colour pencil wash. The floss silk tree is a Chorisia insignis (Family Baobab); the swathe of bright green leave is the Venezualan Megaskepasma erythrochlamyis (Family Acanthiaceae)

Tucked away in the ‘jungle’ looking out to the sunshine and seated comfortably out of the intermittent rain, I was drawn by the stark contrasts in colours between a very dark tree truck in shade, yellow in the distance, and the very bright apple green and dark green in the bed of maranta-type vegetation set around the base of the tree. To add to the depth of field, I added some bromeliad-like leafy plants in the foreground (more dark-green and red in colour) and branches from a neighbouring bamboo which spread in and around the lower branches of the boab tree. Trees in the distant background, and their unusual gnarled branches, ended up creeping across to form a two-page spread.

While superficially looking like a chaotic jungle, this is a very deliberate, stylized planting on the part of the landscape designers at the Gardens: the boab tree has been protected from too much loving by the general public through dense plantings of single plants – broad swathes of colour. I need to broaden my range of watercolour pencils to keep up!

In drawing any “jungle”, it’s hard to know where to start and when to stop. After about forty minutes, I decided to stop – a “sketch” as a grasping of the moment. Moving beyond a sketch perhaps to a “drawing”, what’s needed is now to return, afresh, and define in ink the details of the individual leaves, accentuating the bromeliads in the foreground. I added the bands of colour at home, but will overlay them with ink to prevent any bleeding of the ink lines. I hope what will result is both the broad effect of the colour (and original quick linework) as well as a lot of much slower linework. I was worried about my cross-hatching of the tree trunk till I went up close to see how tree bark, which happily work out to be vertical striations an inch apart. In one sense, I was subconsciously affected by the experimentation with watercolour pencils and tonbow markers to accent heavy darks, over at www.quirkyartist.wordpress.com

It is of course the eve of the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Great Garden Sketchabout. The Sydney gardens are renowned for their role in promoting botanical illustration and over this autumn are now embarking on promoting outdoor sketching every Saturday afternoon between 12 March and 16 April. We know that ANZAC Day, 25 April, usually heralds the start of Winter but the high humidity and mid-20 degree temperatures which we normally associated with February, appear this year to be extending into March. At least two of the Saturdays will see members of the Sydney Sketch Club in attendance. A series of Bookmaking and Sketching workshops will be conducted in the mornings, all part of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Autumn of The Arts: come into the garden. The RBG’s sister site, the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan will also see sketching safaris (an appropriate description given the vastness of the 416ha ‘garden’) in the mornings: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/AutumnOfTheArts/sketchabout

What to draw? See sketchers at work at http://gardensketchabout.blogspot.com/

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