The Native Tree Project

Mature piñon pine tree, Pinus edulis, on the banks of a small arroyo in the high desert of New Mexico.

This piñon pine near my home will be the model for a 2-year portfolio project.

As part of the RBGE Distance Diploma in Botanical Illustration, I need to document the life of a native or historic tree for 2 years.

Choosing a tree was surprisingly difficult. I was very enamored of the heirloom varieties of apple, pear and apricot trees that were planted throughout the Four Corners states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, the Randall Davey Audubon Center here in Santa Fe has such an old orchard dating back to the 1890s, and I talked with them about using one of their trees in exchange for a lecture or exhibit to help with their programming. Unfortunately, their orchard doesn’t always bear fruit every year due to the extreme climate at the top of Canyon Road. I couldn’t find another tree of the same variety to serve as an understudy if the star couldn’t perform, so the search continued.

A horse chestnut on Canyon Road at the Santa Fe Historical Foundation’s HQ, El Zaguan, caught my eye. The last survivor of an historical garden and chestnut grove dating to the 1850s, this imposing specimen is a beautiful anomaly in this desert city. The foundation’s office staff gave me the impression that the foundation was not going to work hard to save the tree if its health began to fail as, “it had already lived past its normal lifespan.” So the hunt continued.

The aspen grove located in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains also intrigued me. Aspens are like grass: essentially a large, single, clone organism. This particular grove is perhaps one of the largest in North America. Even though this grove is just across town, getting there entails a 45-minute drive–in good weather. I’ll need to be able to check on the tree’s status at least weekly, and more frequently at key lifecycle points, so this was rather inconvenient.

Finally, I realized the answer was in front of my eyes. The piñon pine, or Pinus edulis, is the state tree of New Mexico. It also grows all over the high desert around my exurban house in an environment described as piñon-juniper woodlands. It’s an important food source for animals and humans. Individual trees have beautiful forms, sculpted by wind and weather. Existential drama comes from an epidemic onslaught of an insect pest.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning along with me more about this icon of the Southwest!

Wrenaissance Art is posting at Instagram as @NewMexicoWildflowers

Navajo yucca seedpods have very sculptural forms.

These dramatic yucca seedpods are a sample of the wildflowers and nature photos I’m posting on Instagram @NewMexicoWildflowers

This summer I’ve started posting at Instagram. The topic matter is New Mexico wildflowers, and that is the name of the feed–@NewMexicoWildflowers.

You can enjoy iPhone photos of the delightful spots of floral color that I find on my daily walks and hikes through the New Mexico high desert. From time to time, I’ll also be sharing wildflowers and plants seen on my travels and other natural wonders seen in New Mexico and farther afield.

The motto and theme for this Instagram project is, “Mostly wildflowers. Mostly New Mexico. All natural.”

I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

My big news: Studying botanical illustration with the RBGE

Botanical art pencil drawing of a dying tulip, by Wren M Allen

This detail of a pencil drawing was part of my application portfolio to the RBGE program

 

In April, I received notice from the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh that I was accepted into their long-distance diploma program in botanical illustration!

The program began on June 22, and there are about 15 of us botanical ladies enrolled. Most are British, but there are students from Thailand, Japan, Turkey, the Netherlands, Canada, and 3 of us Yankees. So quite a good representation of the world’s botanical illustration community!

The course will take 3 years to complete. It consists of 10 modules, including drawing and painting techniques, botany and art history units, and 2 long-term portfolio projects–a 2-year study of an individual native tree, and the year-long final graduation portfolio project. Acceptance to the final year is based on passing the earlier modules with a high enough score and having one’s project proposal accepted by the tutors.

So far, I’ve been researching my native tree, and working on the introductory drawing module. As someone who is a colorist rather than a line-artist, this has been quite a challenge!

What’s it like to take a long-distance course in botanical illustration? How did I select the Royal Botanical Garden of Edinburgh’s program? Why would a botanical artist want to take an online distance diploma?

Please join me in the months ahead as I’ll be sending back “reports from the field” to answer these questions and share my progress! 🙂

 

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