Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Catching up…

Time has been slipping by so quickly – which is what happens when you are busy!  In Florida, our busy season reflects an increase in population when our winter visitors flood the city and beaches.  So I’ve been busy on several other fronts, which leaves me little time for sketching and posting.  So…maybe I can catch up here!  Here’s an update if you’re interested.

Butterflies, gardens and nature journals
In November I was invited to speak at the 14th Annual SW Florida Butterfly Conference held at the EdisonFord Estate in Fort Myers, Florida.  I shared some inspiring journal pages from various artists on gardening for butterflies, with observations on caterpillars and nectaring butterflies.  I also included some images of early and contemporary naturalists as well as butterflies interpreted through an artistic lens.  I left feeling that participants were inspired to start their own nature journals, perhaps documenting their own butterfly gardens or just capturing images from their travels.  I was inspired in turn by the warm response and friendly comments, and learned quite a bit about butterflies!

Watercolor Pencil Workshop: Botany Through Art
Through November and December I had the opportunity to teach a workshop on watercolor pencils via nature journaling at the fabulous NaplesBotanical Garden.  We had a wonderful group of participants, each one adding a unique viewpoint to experience.  I love the mix of perspectives: a college science teacher, a pulmonary physician, artists whose specialties are acrylic and watercolors, a professional writer, and more.  Each of us sees the world in a slightly different way, and our journal pages are shaped by our personalities as well as our life experiences.  Each week was a joy.

Something different! 
I was invited to paint a ceramic piece for the annual Empty Bowls Silent Auction held in January.  For every dollar that they raise, the Harry Chapin Food Bank turns it into $6 worth of food for the local food banks in Collier County.  Painting on clay is a very different and challenging experience!  This is the third year I’ve done this, and each time I’m delighted with the variety and creativity of the ceramic pieces offered.

A twisted bald cypress tree at the edge of a cypress dome.
Back to the Fakahatchee
Our sketch group met for one more time in the Fakahatchee in January, choosing the same location as last November.  Last fall Ipainted a view of the Lake Gloria extension, edged by a cypress dome on one side.  This time I chose a lone cypress tree that caught my eye.  All the trees around were straight and tall, but this particular tree had such an interesting twist to it.  The morning sun caught each ridge of the delineated trunk.  What made this tree grow so differently?  Why the twist?  It seemed a striking testament to the will to survive and thrive, each curve and twist reflecting some event in its growth cycle.  Sort of like the scars, gray hairs and wrinkles we accumulate as we move through the events of our lives.  I could relate to this tree!

Environmental Art and the Food Forest
Later in January I was invited I was invited to share my sketch journals and give an introduction to watercolor pencils at a class at Florida Gulf Coast University.  After a slide show and short discussion we adjourned to the Food Forest to sketch.  This is an amazing place, and I cannot possibly tell you all about it here.  Look for more details in a future post.  I was so impressed by the groups of students in the class as well as the students who created and maintain the garden.  Let me say that if you are interested in gardening and what young people are doing with it, you need to read more or better yet, arrange a visit.  You can visit their webpage here, see the listing on the FGCU site here, and finally, check out their Facebook page for the latest news.  I appreciate Professor Mary Voytek for arranging this wonderful opportunity, and for encouraging and inspiring her class of artists and environmental studies students to explore their natural surroundings through art. 

Also in January
I had an opportunity to share my sketchbooks and talk about nature journaling at the Family 4-H Day event, Lehigh Acres.

I presented a Nature Journal Workshop for the FNPS Coccoloba Chapter at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve.  I met a group of friendly and native-plant knowledgeable folks who did a great job with just a few hours of introduction to a new media. I can only visualize how far they’ve taken their new skills and where they will take them!

A gopher tortoise emerging from his burrow.
And in February…
A group of us went to TheNaples Preserve to sketch.  I had a chance to meet and sketch with an online friend, and we ended up taking part in a promotional film clip for the Preserve.  The Preserve is an amazing place, a little patch of scrub and pines right smack in the middle of the city.  If you live in or visit Naples, you should visit this rapidly disappearing habitat. 

And now for March…
I started another Watercolor Pencil Workshop at The Naples Botanical Garden in March, which is ongoing through April.  We have another great group of artists of all ranges and backgrounds, and I’m enjoying this class as well!  There are old friends and new, and the Garden is at it’s flowering peak.  One of our challenges is that there are too many subjects to sketch!
Leaf demonstration in watercolor pencils at the Enabling Garden..
At some point I hope to get back to sketching more regularly.  I get so much joy from teaching and sharing what I’ve learned, though.  I just need a few more hours in each day…

Thanks for stopping in to catch up!

The above sketches are done with:
6 x 9 inch Aquabee Super Deluxe sketch pad
Various watercolor pencils: Faber Castell Aquarelle and Albrecht Durer, Derwent Inktense
Mechanical pencil
Micron Pigma 01 black ink pen

Click on any image to view larger.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fall in the Fakahatchee

You can click on any image above to view larger.
Last Saturday, we met at the blue Harmon Building on Janes Scenic Drive within the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.  From this starting point, we could choose a number of possible sketching locations.  Across the road is Lake Gloria, named after the wife of the former landowner.  The lake was created years ago when it was dug for roads and construction.
The door to the Harmon Building.

I chose to sketch the back extension of Lake Gloria, which formed a pond bounded by cypress, cattails, and a grassy area filled with blooming and seeding goldenrod.  A perfect day for sketching, with the sun warming my back, and a cool breeze ruffling the lake and my sketchbook pages.

Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies  flitted between Spanish needles, goldenrod and a tiny purple morning glory (Ipomoea triloba? ) straggling over the rocky ground below my feet near the lake’s edge.  A little blue heron kept vigil from a nearby young cypress tree, flying back and forth from the far edge of the lake to the tree, keeping an eye on me.  Was I friend or foe?    
Little blue heron.

Black vulture feather?
Black vultures circled around and around in a distinctive kettle pattern over the cypress dome, and a pair of kingfishers swooped though the air playfully chittering to each other.  The heat of the sun brought out that unique earthy fragrance of freshwater lakes.  The clear blue sky slowly filled with clouds ahead of the oncoming front, breathing a gentle softness over the skin.  The light changed again and again within two hours, as I struggled to capture what I could.

November is filled with subtle colors here – the rusty sienna of bald cypress needles ringing the pond contrast with the bright greens of shrubs and grasses.  Cattail stands are silvery white, golden brown, and green, all at the same time.  The grassy space to my right was filled with a range of yellow, gold, and brown as tall stands of sturdy goldenrod alternately bloomed and went to seed. 

The pond’s surface changed constantly with the light and the wind – first a mirror to the blue sky, then the reflective browns and greens of the foliage around the edge, then tannin-stained clearness in the shallows, revealing rocks and the hulking shapes of gar fish and darting minnows.  Dragonflies floated on the breeze, moving aimlessly from cattail to rock to grass tip.

White pelicans!
In the early afternoon we were treated to a rare sight: a group of over three dozen white pelicans searching for a spot to land.  I learned from the ranger with us that white pelicans seldom come this far inland this time of year, usually preferring nearby coastlines.  We speculated that the upcoming front perhaps drove them this far into the center of the state.  Whatever the reason, it was an amazing sight, and the perfect end to a perfect sketching day!

The fall colors of the Fakahatchee, along the bank of Lake Gloria.
The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01, Niji waterbrush,
and Faber-Castell Aquarelle watercolor pencils.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


My Cassia shrub has suddenly started blooming like crazy!

 Keeping a nature journal and the subsequent quest for deeper knowledge led me to discover that this native is not as advertised!  I planted this about two years ago, and was thrilled to see it covered with flowers this fall.  The butterflies and caterpillars love it, and the bright yellow buds and blooms all over this five-foot rambling shrub lighten the heart. 

The right-side-up view.
As always when I sketch something, I start wondering about it.  I wondered what kind of caterpillars were on it – I was used to seeing the green caterpillars of sulphur butterflies, not these bright yellow creatures.  One thing led to another, and as I read more in depth about this shrub, I realized that I probably purchased one of the non-native Cassias.  After much reading, counting leaves, and comparing leaf shapes, I’m sure of it.  Apparently mislabeling happens quite often with some species, especially this one.

According to my reading, the Florida native is Senna mexicana var. chapmanii, and I believe the one I have is Senna pendula, which is discouraged as it can become invasive.  Yikes!   But it’s so beautiful…

A side view of the bloom.
Cassias go by many common names: Yellow Candlewood, Rambling Senna, Christmas Senna, Golden Shower, Christmas Cassia, and Bahama Cassia, and (of all things) the Scrambled-egg Tree.  The terms "cassia" and "senna" are often used interchangeably, since these plants were once classified under the genus Cassia.  They reside in the very large bean family, Fabaceae (also Leguminosae), which is the third largest plant family in species behind the orchid and aster families.  The bean family contains immensely important species used by humans for millennia for food, forage, fertilizer, flowers, and clothing dyes. 

Its yellow color is related to diet.
Cassias also provide larval and nectar food for several species of sulphur butterflies in Florida: the Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Orange-barred Sulphur.  The caterpillar I found munching away is an Orange-barred Sulphur, and interestingly enough, its yellow color derives from eating the bright yellow Cassia buds and flowers! 

The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
and Daniel Smith watercolors.

For more online reading:
Floridata on the Cassia species I believe I have. 
From Heuristron, Orange-barred Sulphur emerging from its chrysalis.
Fact sheet on another non-native Cassia from the University of Florida IFAS Extension

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where are my images?

When I linked this blog to my Google profile, some of my images disappeared from this blog.  No warning, no display box, no choices to make.  So please bear with me while I begin the laborious process of  re-connecting my images with the appropriate blog post. 

I'm not sure why this happened, when  I researched it I found that other had suffered in the same way.  My photos are still showing in my Google profile, but just not linked up to Blogger.  I'm sure Google has lost many bloggers and received many irate communications.  I may move to another blog site, but for now will try to repair this one.  Thanks for your patience!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pipevine and Polydamas

Even a month and a half later, both pipevine and caterpillars are still going strong!

This pipevine (Aristolochia species) isn’t one of our Florida natives (we only have one that I know of), but I enjoy seeing the swallowtail butterflies fluttering around it.  Why would pipevine attract swallowtails?  It’s not the nectar, although the very odd, weirdly-but-possibly-pipe-shaped flowers seem like they would hold pools of delicious nectar or pollen.  It’s the leaves, especially the soft young leaves at the ends of the new vine tips. 
As you’ve probably guessed by now, pipevine is one of the larval foods for swallowtail butterflies, in my area attracting the Polydamas swallowtail, Battus polydamas. 
The pipevine
A series of posts (or even books) could be written about this unique species.  I’m fascinated by every part of it, from its strange blooms, to its intriguing seed pods and heat-shaped leaves.  This species grows from seed easily, and is now reseeding itself nearby (I see the tiny vines starting in several places).  The leaves are a symmetrical heart shape (cordate to botanists) with slim petioles. 
The blooms give the plant its common name of pipevine or Dutchman’s pipe, as they are thought to resemble a curved pipe stem of a Dutchman-style pipe; think of Sherlock Holmes and his ubiquitous pipe. The flowers are fleshy and curvy, the colors a gradation of pale green near the stem with intricate burgundy patterns over pale yellow or cream on the lips.  The flowers on this vine are about 3 inches by 2 inches, but variable in size, like the leaves.
Young pipevine leaf.
The seeds are spread by the open seed pods, which are shaped like parachutes complete with suspension lines!  These tiny parachutes hang upside down, waiting for the wind or a passerby to jostle the winged seeds out of their nest.  Once out, the winged seeds float to the ground, hopefully to fertile soil.
Pipevine seems to thrive on little care.  Also called calico flower and birthwort, its been used in herbal remedies for childbirth ailments, arthritis, edema, and as a disinfectant.  Pipevine contains the toxin aristolochic acid, which is what gives the swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies their survival edge, as they become both toxic and distasteful.    
Some Aristolochia species are invasive, so don’t let me encourage you to plant these everywhere!  
Wingspans of the butterflies in my yard are about 3 to 3.5 inches wide.
The Polydamas butterfly
Also called gold-rim swallowtail, the Polydamas butterfly is the only tail-less swallowtail in the eastern United States.  They are a tropical species found in peninsular Florida, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.  Occasional strays may wander as far north as Missouri and Kentucky.  Once of our black and yellow butterflies (a tropical adaptation?), the upper surface of the wings is black with yellow bands along the margins.  The underside of the wings is black, with yellow spots on the top wing and bright orange to red spots on the bottom wing.

The black, brown, and orange caterpillars emerge from small yellow eggs and begin their gastronomical   From there on, it’s all about eating the tender young pipevine leaves until it’s time to create the chrysalis.  The chrysalis may be brown to gold or green – but I’ve noticed that the green ones turn brown right before the butterfly emerges.  I’ve been waiting to post this, as I keep hoping to catch one in action as it emerges, but they’re too quick for me!  Be sure to watch the two YouTube videos from the links at the bottom for a close-up view of the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis and then to butterfly – very cool!
Caterpillars are brown to black in color.
adventures by consuming the egg shells.
The sketch was done in my
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
and Daniel Smith watercolors.

The top wings are black with golden rims.
For more information on the web:
 University of Florida, with photos of eggs, caterpillars, and host plants.  
Wikipedia on swallowtail butterflies in general.  
Biokids from University of Michigan on swallowtails in general.  Brief but concise paragraphs covers many aspects of butterfly life.  
Butterfly fun facts, photos and facts about polydamas or gold rim  and photos of the osmeterium of different swallowtails.  
Floridata. About pipevines.
Heuristron, with photos here for butterflies   and here for pipevine photos.  
YouTube video from caterpillar to chrysalis!  
YouTube video from chrysalis to butterfly!