Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rosebud Orchid (Cleistes/Cleistesiopsis bifaria) watercolor

The Rosebud Orchid, Cleistesiopsis (Cleistes) bifaria, is perhaps my favorite Florida terrestrial orchid (the Ghost Orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii, is my favorite epiphyte).  

I remember back when I was 13-14, living on the outskirts of Tallahassee in a semi-rural area with a state forest on one side and the Apalachicola National Forest on the other.  The previous year, an arson-derived wildfire took out a number of acres of mature pine forest, leaving a long swathe of moist prairie in its wake.  The forest service planted a number of seedling pines (which are now a near-mature forest again) in the area, but they were many years from maturing at this point.  Because of this new open area, we were able to hike in easily and observe the local flora - blue-eyed grasses, yellow star lilies, sundews, butterworts (big yellow and little blue), hat-pins, and bachelor's-buttons all grew in abundance in the area.  

One day, I came home from school to my mom inviting us to go out on a hike with her to see something "interesting" she saw earlier that day while hiking in the forest.  She suggested grabbing a pair of binoculars as we headed out of the door.  We followed the western edge of the prairie to a patch of forest close by that was mercifully spared from the fire.  

As we approached the area, I saw a few of the familiar white spirals of Grass-Leaved Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes praecox) that we had also seen previously further out in the prairie.  As we hiked further along the remains of an old firebrake, we saw nearby some familiar fetterbushes with several leaves that had become swollen, thick and bright pink - our best guess is some sort of gall disease.  Further back toward the edge of some deeper woods, I thought I spied some more of these pinkened leaves.  "What do you see back there?" my mom asked me.  "Some more of those pink leaf galls", I replied.  

"Take your binoculars and look again."  I obeyed, expecting to see more of the same pink galls.  Instead, what I saw through the binoculars were two pink petals and a veined lip with contrasting brown-green sepals arching behind them and curving gracefully backward.  "Rosebud Orchids!" I exclaimed as I scampered toward them to observe them more closely.  All the literature I had read on them up to that point indicated that they were exceedingly rare, so I was not expecting to see these in the wild without a lot of searching, and certainly not within walking distance of my home!  I was elated.

I took to studying this species relentlessly, reading any information I could find about them in our wildflower books and later in Carl Luer's The Native Orchids of Florida (a 14-year birthday present).  It turns out that in the ANF and other portions of the Florida panhandle, this is a reasonably common orchid, but it does become rarer as you head into states north of Florida.  Ironically enough, the closely related Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), which is listed as more common in the literature, seem to be much harder to find than the Rosebud in the ANF.

The plants are very stately, bearing a single vanilla-scented flower almost two inches in diameter on a tall solitary stem.  One leaf grows midway up the stem and another bract grows beneath the flower.  The entire plant is coated with a fine, plum-like frosting that makes it relatively easy to see plants out of bloom.  Only the tall meadow-beauties in the same area have a similarly frosted leaf, but the plants are so different, they can be easily distinguished.  The flower itself consists of a set of brown-to-green sepals that arch upward from the flower.  Sometimes the sepals are straight, other times they are curled at the end.  Occasionally, one finds sepals that curl completely on themselves like an emerging brown fern fiddlehead. The tube-like corolla (the petals and lip) is tilted slightly downward, surrounding a bright green column (gynostemium).  The two petals are similar and range in color from white to a light rose-pink, ending with a slight curl at their tips.  The lip is more darkly colored, bearing a plateau-like crest edged in rose and spotted on its upper surface and a slightly ragged edge.  Rose, green, and brown colored veins snake throughout the lip, giving it a most exotic and handsome appearance.

What I found most intriguing about this species is that such beauty could be found in a native American plant.  One would expect exotic orchids from the tropics of Brazil or Peru or Madagascar to bear such beauty, but an orchid growing just a few thousand feet from my home?  I took to sketching and doodling this orchid over and over in the margins of my homework notebooks, sketching it idly whenever I had a chance.  The shape became quite familiar to my mind's eye and I could easily draw an entire plant from memory.

Many years later, I can still easily sketch one of these without any visual aid.

If you want to read more about this species, follow the link below:

Quite recently, I have taken to experimenting with watercolor pencils, which are a most intriguing medium to work with.  You essentially color-pencil in your artwork on your paper and then use a wet paintbrush to turn it into a watercolor painting.  This gives me very fine control of the placement of the color, although the limited color palette of my basic set makes picking a proper blend of the colors challenging at times (I will try to upgrade to a more "professional" set some time soon). My first experiment in the medium was my Ghost Orchid painting, seen in an earlier blog entry and recently "digitally remastered" in Photoshop to smooth out the background to what you see below:

Ghost Orchid Watercolor Painting (Dendrophylax lindenii)

I figured it was high time to render my favorite terrestrial orchid in full watercolor treatment as well.  My main problem with the ghost orchid painting that I had done previously was the fact that I didn't try to use anything to mask the foreground while painting the background.  Hence, I had to try to fill in the background into some exceedingly small areas.  I also tried to use the watercolor pencils to color in the background and then wash over them.  This was very hard to smooth out to what I wanted for a background.  Hence, the digital makeover to fix this painting a bit.

This time, I used rubber cement for a masking compound, painting over the sketch I made of the Rosebud Orchid, based on this photo:

Cleistes bifaria (Rosebud Orchid)

The rubber cement worked like a charm for masking, allowing me to wash over the paper with impunity to create a much smoother background, but being transparent, it was hard to judge how it was working right at the edges. Hence, once the paper was dried and the mask removed, I had to try to touch up the somewhat ragged edges, which made it a little more difficult to keep the color entirely even.  It is my understanding that "professional" (read: expensive) masking compounds add a bit of color, making it easier to see where you are going with it.  I may try one of these the next time around.

Once the mask was removed and the edges touched up as well as possible, I began the task of painting the flower. I was most concerned about properly conveying the sense that the light was penetrating the upward-arching sepals and washing into the shadow at the base of the petals and getting the intricate coloring of the lip as correct as possible.  After a lot of painstaking application of layers of color - olive, clay yellow, brown, deep yellow, cherry red, carmine, lavender and forest green; I am pretty happy with the results.

So, without further ado, I give to you my Rosebud Orchid rendering in watercolor and watercolor pencil:

Rosebud Orchid (Cleistes bifaria) watercolor painting

And here is a closer shot of the flower to see the detail:

Rosebud Orchid (Cleistes bifaria) watercolor painting

I hope you enjoy this at least a fraction as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Habenaria quinqueseta (v. macroceratitis) done for FLOR500 project.

Awhile ago, I was made aware of a project called FLOR500, which invited 500 local Florida artists to participate in creating artwork representing 500 species of wildflowers native to Florida.  This is to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's landing on the Florida coast and giving the state its name.

I chose Habenaria quinqueseta (v. macroceratitis), known from the Central Florida region, for my art piece, done in chalk pastel on black recycled art paper.  Click the image to see a larger version.

You can find out more about FLOR500 here: 

And you can find my individual artist and artwork page here: 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ghost Orchid Earrings

Last Valentine's Day, I bought a pair of ghost orchid earrings from LeaFloria Jewelry on Etsy (click to visit her site).  I am in no way associated with her...I just think her jewelry is awesome.  I think they very nicely reproduce the general anatomy of the ghost orchid in a nicely stylized fashion.  They are sterling silver with a small pearl hanging from their entwined labellar lobes.  Here is my lovely wife and the love of my life, Joy, modeling these earrings:


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ghost Orchid Painting - Experimenting with Watercolor Pencils

I was inspired to try something by a post several years ago on the previous instantiation of Misti Little's blog (Oceanic Wilderness in my blogroll). In the post, she was interviewing an artist friend who used watercolor pastels to do painting and was describing how they gave her the precision of pastel drawing with the final result looking like a watercolor after water was applied to the paper. This intrigued me immensely, so I filed this away in my brain. Fast-forward to about two weeks ago, where I was picking up some art supplies for my kids--I spied a box of watercolor pencils.

I figured I'd give them a whirl. I immediately fixed upon Miguel Urquia's Ghost Orchid as my subject of interest. Here's the photo below:

And here's the result. I feel like it's pretty good for my first effort, but I definitely have some room for improvement:

Here are a couple of detail shots:

Let me know what you think in the comments, but please remember, this is my first attempt at this medium.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Poem: Web

She unfurls threads of finest gossamer,
tying together violent strands,
where her victims meet their end,
where her children find beginning.
Here lies beauty,
here lies fear.
Here is death,
and renewed life.
The web that ties all things together...

© 2010 Prem Subrahmanyam, All rights reserved.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Among Giants: A Poem

This past weekend, I took a hike down Flagler Trail near the town of Geneva, FL. At the end of the trail close to the river, I came upon some majestic old Live Oak and Baldcypress trees, festooned with mosses. As far as orchids go, I did find a few Dendrophylax (Harrisella) porrectus plants growing in one tree in the area, although I'm sure if they're in one tree, they're in others as well. As I explored the area, getting lost among the trees, I could hear every-now-and-again the cry of Bald Eagles flying overhead.
I ventured close to the edge of the river and saw a historical marker, which said the following:

King Philip (Emaltha) and his son, Wildcat (Coacoochee), together with about 200 Seminoles, had a settlement here, which they felt threatened by the army camp at Lake Monroe in 1836-37. The resulting conflict at the camp on Feb 8, 1837, changed the name of Camp Monroe to Fort Mellon (Sanford). Later names for this Indian settlement were Cook's Ferry, Bridge End, Osceola, and now Osceola Fish Camp. The nearby shell mound was examined by anthropologists Daniel Britton in the 1850's, Jeffries Wyman in the 1860's, and Clarence B. Moore in the 1890's.

A similar plaque at the trailhead also noted the fact that after the attack on Fort Mellon, the Seminoles were driven from the area.

The events and sights of this day inspired the following poem:

Among Giants
by Prem Subrahmanyam

I walked
among the giants today.

Their hoary heads shaking, filled with memories of the ages.
Their long beards trailing through the air.

Their buttressed knees reaching down into the sands of times gone past.

I heard an eagle's cry,

cold and piercing

I heard the branches sigh

in a wind passing down from ages past to years yet uncounted.

I stood
upon the brink and saw the ruin of a nation

only the hills remember their names, etched in blades of snowy white

I wandered
to a time when another stood here as I do now.

He heard the eagle's cry,

wild and free.

He heard the branches sigh

in a wind passing down from ages past to years yet uncounted.

I wandered further

to a time when no one yet had marked this place

wild creatures strange and powerful

laid down in the dust to rise no more

only the hills remember their names, their bones encased in tombs of stone.

They heard the eagle's cry,

strong and new.

They heard the branches sigh

in a wind passing down from ages past to years yet uncounted.

I wandered even further

to a time when I am no more

a shadow that briefly darkened the hills and is remembered no longer.

On that day another stood here as I do now

Did he wander to my time and further back,

regarding those who stood here as he does now?

Did he hear the eagle's cry,

fierce and undaunted?

Did he hear the branches sigh

in a wind passing down from ages past to years yet uncounted?

Their buttressed knees reaching down into the sands of times gone past.

Their long beards trailing through the air.

Their hoary heads shaking, filled with memories of the ages.

Among the giants today

I walked.

© 2008, Prem Subrahmanyam, All rights reserved

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