The fruit of winter’s labor: A painting of red Indian corn

"Red Indian Corn" colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 30" x 22", by Wren M. Allen.

So many details! Working on this 30″ x 22″ mixed-media (colored pencil and watercolor on paper) painting, “Red Indian Corn,” challenged and developed my rendering skills.

I’m so pleased to share this image with you all! This depiction of an ear of red Indian (or decorative) corn has been challenging me all autumn and winter long. First came the difficulty of composing the contour drawing, with the wildly flying dried leaves of the husk. Then figuring out how to render the glossy texture and subtle colorings of the kernels became an obsession. My final quest was balancing the pale, dramatic movement of the husk against the weight of the darker column of the cob.

This particular ear of corn ignited my inspiration over the other corn cobs I bought at an Española farm stand because of its wild, waving leaves curving around the vertical cob in a perfect example of Matisse’s “arabesque”. My working title, in fact, was “Wild-Haired”.

At the beginning of March, I realized I might actually be able to make an exhibit submissions deadline if I could complete the image. All my creative time this month has been devoted to this beauty, instead of blogging or working on my classwork for Lisa Coddington’s spring bulbs course. Time well spent, I’d say! :-)

A great weekend to all!

Some birdwatching tips

Improve the odds of seeing interesting birds on your hikes.

Not all birds are as cooperative as a mourning dove at a bird feeder! Photo by the Wrenaissance Man.

My tally for the Great Backyard Bird Count was embarrassingly paltry—2 American robins. Hardly worth uploading the results to the website. The towhees, flickers, and pestilent red finches that are usually hopping about our house and yard were nowhere to be seen. Even the ever-present ravens made themselves scarce during my designated 15-minute observation period.

Of course, I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of birdwatching: Go out when the birds are most active. Here are some tips on how to observe more birds, if you were like me and have a hard time seeing birds when you go out hiking or walking:

  • Go out when the birds are most active. Generally, that’s just before sunrise and sunset. Those awesome videos of starlings flying in formation? They were nearly all shot near sunset, as the flock was looking for a roost for the night.
  • Look where birds like to feed and water. Trees and bushes that bear fruit or nuts attract hungry birds. Puddles after rain showers are popular for bathing and drinking. Or you can set up a feeder and birdbath in your backyard.
  • Be willing to sit quietly in one spot for a while. Our human tendency is to talk loudly and move around suddenly. This makes birds nervous. Try just siting and looking around, allowing the birds to get comfortable and start acting naturally again.
  • Learn the different songs and calls of the birds you want to see. You would be amazed just how many more birds you can identify once you learn what they sound like!

Resources:

Now that birdwatching season is starting to heat up, these websites are a great source for info and advice.

The search for a perfect botanical specimen

. . . Or, how to make the produce manager at your local grocery store run for the nearest exit! :-D

How important is cosmetic perfection of specimens  for botanical artists today?

Pineapples are in season–challenging to paint and delicious to eat!

Recently I had an idea for a painting of a pineapple, and went to a local grocery store to find one. There were lots of pineapples, and at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, most of the ones on display had battered and scarred leafy stems, thanks to rough handling during transportation. When I asked the produce manager on duty if there were any with “pretty” tops, he gave me the hairy eyeball, and told me to check back the next morning (when he would be safely off-duty, lol).

Contemporary botanical art has lots of examples of “damaged” fruit and flowers. There even seems to be a bit of a vogue for painting decayed and desiccated plants. However, most of these artworks feature natural imperfections such as the chewing of grazing insects or animals, scar tissue caused by diseases or parasites, the soft colors of detritus on the forest floor. Bruising, scars and rot caused by modern agricultural production and marketing are hard to find in contemporary botanical art.

So, the question is: How do botanical artists find those glossy specimens portrayed in their work? Do they just make statistical assumptions about the completed shape of that torn leaf and “fill in the blanks”? Or do they paint it warts and all, even if those commercially made warts aren’t as romantically pretty as a lacy, bug-eaten leaf?

If you’re a botanical artist/illustrator, are a realist painter or keep a sketchbook of observational drawings, please leave a comment and describe what you do and think about grocery store specimens! Or take the poll below.

Do you prefer to paint cosmetically perfect or artfully damaged plant specimens in your botanical paintings?

  • I bribe my local produce manager to set the prettiest samples aside for me. (0%, 0 Votes)
  • If a specimen is damaged, I hum a few bars and fake it. It's art, after all! (0%, 0 Votes)
  • That's why I garden--so I always have interesting subject matter with only attractive, natural scars. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 0

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