Wednesday 16 November 2016

The process of painting Atriplex stipitata

The second in our series about how Roslyn Glow goes about painting her plant Atriplex stipitata. Her first post was about her research into her plant.

Colour matching
It is important to get the colours right before the specimen dries out /dies/fades. I paint little patches of colour and label them. I use the same paper as my final painting. 
Part of my colour matching (Photo copyright: Roslyn Glow, 2015)
I notice that, under a hand lens or microscope, the surface of the plant looks as if sprinkled with crystals of some kind. Since this is a salt bush, I infer that they are salt crystals.  I don’t know how to depict this. I discuss it with others.  Mali Moir, project leader, suggests that Margaret Holloway (an artist involved in this project) has solved a similar problem.  I make a mental note to consult Margaret when I get back to Melbourne.  

I paint a blow up of the fruit and of the male inflorescence, using the binocular microscope. I don’t have a digital microscope, so I try to photograph parts of the plant through the binocular microscope. This is not really successful.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

The next task is to decide on a composition.  

Ideally the painting should show the back and front of a leaf, a bud, a flower, a fruit and any feature used to identify the species, including microscopic studies if microscopic features are essential for identification. Since the plant is dioecious, these details should be present for both male and female plants. The habit of the plant should also be shown, either in full or by implication.  We can’t always reach the ideal.   

I play around with my specimens, before realising that with only one small fragment with a fruit and a couple of sprigs with male inflorescences, my options are limited. Celia Rosser, who painted all the banksias was careful to show all stages of growth of buds to mature fruits.  This often required her to paint more than one branch.  She carefully arranged two branches into a pleasing composition.  Sometimes, at first glance it looks like a single branch, but the two branches are always separated although they form a single composition.  I decide to follow a similar path. 

I arrange my two sprigs as best I can.    We are taught to do a series of ‘thumbnail’ sketches before committing to a composition.  I can’t think of any more than one.  I consult Pam McDiamid, a fellow artist whose skill in composition and speed of decision making I much admire.  She realigns my larger sprig.  I am happy with the result.  She advises me to do the thumbnails.  I prepare the thumbnail sheet, but can’t think of any alternatives.   The big decision is whether or not to include microscope studies, and if so, which details should I depict, at what magnification.  And where should I place them.

Recording the composition
I photograph the specimen in its chosen position.  I will print these photos when I return to Melbourne.

Rough sketch

I make a series of rough sketches, using my softest pencil (an 8B), on sketch paper.  The size doesn’t matter, in fact the bigger the better, to get the character of the plant.  The series ends with one in 2B, at about the right size.   This is the part of the process I enjoy the most. 

Next time, in the last in the series, Roslyn will take us through the painting stage, and you will be able to see the finished painting.

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