Great Garden Sketchabout #18: Page 5, “cultivate”

March 25, 2011

25 March 2011. Illustration Friday this week was “Cultivate” so I drew this seed pod from three different angles and included it in my Royal Botanic Gardens Sketchbook on the first of the “upside down” pages. 8×10″, Derwent graphite pencil and Winsor & Newton field box watercolours, highlights in Staedtler watercolour pencils.

More work today with watercolour paints. I have no idea what I’m doing. But some explanation is necessary. “Cultivate” was the “Illustration Friday” weekly challenge and forms this week’s ‘homework’ for the next meeting of the Bookbinding & Sketching workshop, convened by The Royal Botanic Gardens as part of its Great Sketchabout for Autumn of the Arts during March and April. My original idea was to do a two-page spread based on a view looking west which took in the scarecrows of the cultivated garden, the city skyline (including one of the Farrer Place towers where all the main NSW governmental decisions are made with connotations of government “overlooking” the Gardens) and sleeping flying foxes in the palm trees they’ve trashed. This ‘trio’, visible in my photo below, seemed to convey the sense of “Cultivate” quite well to my mind, but time has eluded me on this occasion.

Instead, I came home after work one night this week and came upon a seed pod on the path to my front door. It came from the big magnolia tree in my front yard. There are few seed-pods left on the tree at the moment because it is the end of the fruiting season and because the currawongs this year have been feasting on them. These black birds, with their characteristic yellow ring around their eyes, flap around with their huge wings, prizing out the seeds or flying off with an entire seed-pod to munch on a nearby rooftop. The pods have a plump red-purple outer skin and bright vermillion seeds inside. The vermillion is the same reproduced in the torii in Japan, especially in the forest trail of torii in Kyoto. I wonder if magnolias, coming as they do from China, where the inspiration for this brilliant colour. I have great memories of using vermillion ink in learning Copperplate in the later stages of my calligraphy study. When I picked up the pod, I like its surface texture and contour and brought it inside to sketch sometime. Little did I know but over the following days, the seeds started to eject themselves automatically from the ever-shrinking purple casings. My seed-pod, left for dead half-mangled by the currawongs, was still heaving with life. This ‘will to live’ is apparently called “conatus” by philosophers and if ever there was a title for this sketch, it would be that.

And why a seedpod from home in a Royal Botanic Gardens sketchbook? Because I want to consciously link the Governor’s Garden, the gardens so well captured by the resident linocut artist in his exhibition at the Red Box Gallery, to my garden. There is a strong need for my observation to be not just about the ‘public’, but also the private; not just about the wondrous travail of umpteen gardeners over the decades, but also a gardener at-home. Okay, so the seedpod can be ‘read’ rightway up and upside down – to that extent my carefully considering subject matter is little different from a public botanic gardens’ supervisor selecting individual plants to be included in the ‘collection’.

And why a seedpod for the “cultivate” theme? Because of the assumed symbiosis between this seedpod, these seeds and the birds which work with and against the plant to perpetuate the species, as well as its own. This theme thus contains a natural link to another of my pages relating to the flying fox ‘plague’ currently in the Gardens.

This is the first of eight pages which will be designed to be ‘read’ both right way up (if the whole book is opened out as one giant, single page) and upside down if read in conventional book mode. I visited Rathborne Lodge again today to examine the Yellow Bamboo, the subject of another page. Also, I found came upon a palm tree with sleeping flying foxes in the Gardens today which will suit my compositional ideas and become the subject of another page.

In terms of collage, Australia Post has coincidentally on current issue some new postage stamps relating to flowers. I can see them making an appearance in my Garden sketchbook, by hook or by crook. There is some lovely self-referential irony in the potential incorporation of stamps in my sketchbook given Australia Post has also issued stamps of flowers painted by great Australian artists recently.

References  “The Governor’s Garden” – linocuts by Artist-in-Residence, Rew Hanks. Spectacularly complex, both botanic and political commentary on the Royal Botanic Garden’s two centuries of history. I like the juxtaposition of Govenor Macquarie and Sen Peter Garrett MP, as well as the delightful context of contemporary prints alongside traditional botanical illustration. Particularly significant was seeing the kauri wood original printblock with the ensuing print.


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