Botany House Bromeliads

I had a few hours free yesterday (Wednesday 4th) to do some drawing. I desperately wanted to go on an outdoor sketching excursion – all of my recent attempts have been foiled by miserable weather. Predictably, it was pouring with rain, so I trudged on through the woods to the University’s botany house – part of the biology department.

A banana plant

It was a welcome sight on a damp day in March. Once inside, my glasses immediately fogged up in the warm humidity. It’s packed with tropical plants. There are bananas, ginger plants, cycads, figs, cacti, Nepenthes (pitcher plants) and lots of different bromeliads, including Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss) which hangs down in dense fronds. I forgot to get a good photo of the Tillandsia, so here is one I found from circa 2015:

This photo from five years ago, when I was younger and thinner
A Bromeliad sp.

It’s a perfect spot to sit and draw – warm, relatively dry, and there’s a sink to top up water for washing brushes. I even found a nice wooden chair in the shed, to sit on. Luxury!

My drawing gear – I brought along some watercolours and water soluble coloured pencils for adding colour. Also pictured: my coffee flask (decaf for Lent!).

I spent some time drawing but I was pretty disappointed by my efforts. I managed a half – decent sketch of a small fig tree and a very hasty, awkward, standing-up drawing of a cluster of bromeliads, just to capture some of their colours. The way the greens go from blue-greens through to yellow-greens and contrast with dark purples and flashes of pink and red makes me almost delirious. I particularly love the combination of green with purple.

Bromeliad sketch. Watercolour, pencil, water soluble pencils and acrylic
A photo of the bromeliads I was drawing. Most bromeliads are epiphytes and grow on the branches of trees, a long way from the ground. Pineapples are bromeliads too but they grow on the ground. A very diverse plant family.

My short stint in the glasshouse wasn’t hugely productive but I had enough material to get started on a couple of bromeliad-inspired paintings. I’ve experimented with abstraction lately, and found it extremely exciting and rewarding. So once my daughter was tucked up in bed I got started on a pair of small paintings.

I started off scumbling greens and pinks (mostly hooker’s green, alizarin crimson, and quinacridone magenta) to get some background colour. To create an interesting texture I also attempted to ‘print’ areas of colour from my paper palette. This was not terribly successful, I think I need a less shiny surface to print from – the paint just beaded up into droplets. I painted these colours onto two small, square canvases (20cm x 20cm). To one of them I then added thicker paint to describe shapes that were abstracted versions of the bromeliad leaves that I had sketched earlier. I’ve declared the first of these paintings finished. The other is still in it’s initial stages, once it is finished I’ll post some pics of the pair of them on instagram (My instagram can be found here.)

Bromeliad. Acrylic and coloured pencil on canvas. 20cm x 20cm
Bromeliad… Work in progress
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