Archive for Wildflower Illustrations

Anything but Plain

Anything but Plain . . .

Why mow this pretty lawn . . . It’s in bloom! (photo taken 09 25 2012)

One immigrant wildflower of the West Village arrived on the western hemisphere with the earliest of the European colonists. The presence of this plant along the margins of their settlements inspired neighboring natives to call it White Man’s Footprint. Lawns and sidewalk cracks everywhere today sport the bigfoot oval leaves and stubby green spikes of the common Broadleaf Plantain, Plantago major.

A flowering Broadleaf Plantain displays its distinctive footprint. (photo taken 09 28 2012)

Another relative in the Plantain family is, to my eye, one of the most attractive of the naturalized wildflowers. The bloom of this plant is neither colorful nor large, and it is not rare or secluded. What it does possess is the slender grace of its basic form, the geometry of its flowering, which combined provide the primary source of its beauty.

The species I praise so highly is the Ribwort Plantain, more commonly known as English Plantain, Plantago lanceolata.

The leaves of this perennial plant are, as its Latin name states, long, narrow, and pointed; a spike unlike its curvy broadleaf cousin. Clusters of these form a tight rosette that can be either prostrate or bushy, depending on the surrounding environment. The leaves tend to grow more thickly and upright in consistently moist areas.

The flowers top tall, smooth stalks that spread outward on a slightly curved trajectory. A brownish spike resembling an inverted sugar cone shoots out miniscule white stamens that look like a lit sparkler frozen in time.

The subtle, yet beautiful, bloom of the English Plantain is carried by the white stamens. (photo taken 09 25 2012)

The sight of one of these plants always reminds me of Albrecht Durer’s intimate watercolor: “Das Grosse Rasenstuck” (The Great Piece of Turf). The blooming English Plantain creates a pretty still life wherever it grows, the reason why I love this plant so, and why my lawn will always be left to nature.

A great piece of turf: English Plantain. (photo taken 09 11 2012)

–  rPs 09 28 2012

Postscript: view an image if “Das Grosse Rasenstuck” by following this link: http://www.artofeurope.com/durer/dur21.htm

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Seaside (Goldenrod) Still Lifes

Seaside (Goldenrod) Still Lifes . . .

I took a walk along the Hudson River shortly after completing my preceding post – “The Quest for the Goldenrod” – and discovered the pilings of Pier 45 and Pier 46 are supporting numerous boughs of Seaside Goldenrod  (Solidago sempervirens) gone to seed. The sight of these graceful stems sporting cranberry-tinted leaves tipped with fluffy ash gray cypselae, the distinctive seed parachutes of Asteraceae family members, provided me with several new studies for future still life drawings. Here are a few of my favorites:

Seaside Goldenrod study #1 (photo taken 10 28 2011)

Seaside Goldenrod study #2 (photo taken 10 28 2011)

Seaside Goldenrod study #3 (photo taken 10 28 2011)

The above images are similiar in composition to the scene that inspired my post “Wildflower Art: The End of Summer” back in September. The progression of the fall season is now well underway and each of the three compositions display the emergence of warm color and worn texture, signs of another waning  wildflower growing season in the West Village of Manhattan.

– rPs  10 31 2011

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Wildflower Art: The End of Summer

Wildflower Art: The End of Summer . . .

There is a beauty in the forms and colors of nature that can rarely be equaled by conscious human efforts. Take for example the following composition:

Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) flanked by Calico Asters (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) beside the Hudson River near Pier 54. (photo taken (09 17 2011)

Here a single stem of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) stands fully budded, gracefully curved, flanked by two strands of Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) already beginning to bloom. The two pilings encrusted with barnacles at the top and the slate gray strip of sea wall along the base frame the photo in an artful way, perhaps, and add contrasting cool colors, certainly, yet it is the natural symmetry of the living things growing together that held my eye long enough to inspire me to photograph the scene. The image was taken beside the Hudson River near Pier 54 as the sun was setting on September 17, 2011.

Both wildflower species I found rooted on the western edge of Manhattan are bellwethers of autumn, which begins in just a few days. Signs of summer’s passing are already visible in the fine details of the big city picture: the tangled undergrowth of courtyard gardens has begun to thin out; brick walls are beginning to show through the ivy; a few tree top leaves are tinged with savory sanguine color. What I discovered on an evening stroll is an especially vivid living symbol of that temporal change in progress: the city and nature intersected, composed by coincidence in a symmetric, aesthetic way emblematic of the season. Separate elements, which when combined transcend the individual and fulfill a working definition of . . . (wildflower) Art.

— rPs 09 18 2011

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floral works of the West Village

floral works of the West Village . . .

The artist Marcus Fletcher stands before his "Sunflower #2" and "White Orchid" at Grounded, 28 Jane Street, New York City. (photo taken 06 11 2011)

Café culture has always been one of my “favorites” in the social networking sense of the word. The bohemian coffee shop with wood or concrete floors, a worn bookcase stocked with paperbacks, eclectic music on the sound system, and a few potted plants placed in various corners has always welcomed me, inspired me, and in many ways served as my public living and reading room.

The advent of laptops and personal digital devices has largely replaced actual social interaction with virtual communication. A café is now often a sterile, or at least standardized, space filled with wired people interacting with no one in the immediate room, yet there are some traditional aspects that still thrive: poetry readings, for example, and art openings.

So it was in early June when I noticed an attractive postcard announcement placed at the counter of my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, Grounded organic coffee and tea house, located at 28 Jane Street in the West Village. The card read:

Marcus Fletcher floral works

The green stem and golden petals of a sunflower still life hit me like a shot of espresso. I sat down with my drink, contemplated the reproduction of Mr. Fletcher’s painting, and began to think of myself in the third person for a moment. The coincidence of artistic subject matter, flowers, to be displayed in the favorite coffee shop of a neighbor, me, who has a writing project in progress, one devoted to wildflowers of the West Village, created one of those incandescent moments some call inspiration.

The event was added to my “must see” list and I attended the opening on June 11th. There I introduced myself to Marcus. He is friendly, relaxed, and fluent in the art of cafe conversation. He was born in Cincinnati, teaches the Spanish language when he is not painting.  As for his artistic philosophy, his creative perspective, I think it is best to let his Artist’s Statement for the floral works show speak:

“These pieces came about while working on some abstract pieces and looking at an iris that I painted in 2008. So, I wanted to do a series of them as a study/challenge and a change in subject matter. Working on these flowers has given me a contrast to the abstract pieces that I’m working on currently. However, I also feel that they also lend a needed patient approach to abstract work. And I feel that because of that patience, I’m achieving more balance and a little more movement in them (the abstract pieces) if I didn’t have the flowers to view as a contrast.”

Fletcher’s floral works series offers a moving take on the still life. His compositions rest on a base of flat color that contrasts with the nuanced depths of the flower form. The blooms themselves are no mere stiff and still portraits; he often paints stem and petal from odd angles – the rear, for example – sometimes with foreshortened perspective. These subtleties combine to create innovative images from a traditional subject; a new view that can be called Art with a capital A.

Grounded co-owner, Jen Greenberg, and her partner, Mark, can be credited for fostering a fine venue for organic tea, coffee, and sustainable local culture. Their ninety-minute seating policy, designed in part to dissuade virtual office workers, keeps things happening in the actual world. Come by, have a cup, and take a look.

Front and back view of Grounded coffee house's announcement for floral works by Marcus Fletcher. (photo taken 07 26 2011)

Artist inquiries: fletchml8@gmail.com

Grounded and Sullivan Street Tea & Spice Company: http://www.groundedcoffee.com/

– rPs 07 26 2011

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The (Impending) Winter Season

The (Impending) Winter Season . . .

Goldenrod gone brown and turned to seed beside the Hudson River. (photo taken 11 17 2010)

December 2010 has been consistently cold with daytime temperatures below freezing. This weather has brought to an end the first growing season documented by Wildflowers of the West Village. The flowering species of late summer and autumn have all at last surrendered to the impending winter. Even the Common Plantain, Plantago major, has succumbed; its lobed leaves now resemble deflated green balloons resting prostrate on park lawns and pinched between the cracks of red brick courtyards.

A few of the cold weather species have reappeared despite the frosts and fine layers of snow that have marked this festive garland string of icy days. One of these is chickweed, profiled back in June, which has begun to green the borders of sheltered lawns and tree pits in the neighborhood. Life endures, even thrives, even within the checkered microcosm of urban corners. The American city may not possess the wide swaths of indomitable nature like Montana, but Manhattan, as my own little investigation of the West Village has proven, has just as tenacious a natural world. One need only substitute a magnifying lens for a pair of 7×50 binoculars to see it up close.

My daily hikes in search of wild plants have been put on pause as other nature activities engage me. One is botanical illustration of the wildflowers I have written about during 2010; images rendered in colored pencil I plan to post during the winter months. A second branch of activity is a series of book reviews of the print resources I have used in my ongoing wildflower research and writing. The third is an archival project. I have taken close to two thousand photos since I began to research and profile the wildflower species that call the West Village of Manhattan home. Some sort of order is called for here, so I have begun to file images by specie and by type (bloom, leaf, so forth), no small task. During this weeding out process (pun intended), I have already found at least six additional species that I have yet to write about. There shall be additional new profiles as well as some book reviews and essays on subjects taxonomical during the upcoming winter months.

So . . . Stay Bloomed!

Wildflower guides and other print resources to review. (photo taken 12 17 2010)

– rPs 12 17 2010

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The Yellow Centerline

The Yellow Centerline . . .

Stands of Yellow Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) paint the West Side Highway's median bright yellow. (photo take 06 08 2010)

The search for wildflowers within city limits leads the urban naturalist to the edges, the fringes, and the medians.

Median strips are one of the best places within a city to find wild plants in bloom. Variety and quantity are both possible because the green strips between roadways are often public, yet maintained only sporadically, two factors that allow wild plants to reach the flowering stage.

The borders I drew for the Wildflowers of the West Village contain two sizeable median strips. The first is located east to west on West Houston Street. The other one runs north and south between the frantic lanes of the West Side Highway.

I was exploring the middle oasis of the latter when I discovered scattered stands of plants about waist high with sharply lobed leaves that displayed the chalky blue and green coloration of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale. The upright blooms borne on sturdy smooth stems consisted of yellow gold florets supported by a ribbed calyx shaped like an urn. There were so many opening buds that the median had become a living yellow centerline.

My first reaction was to find a name for the colorful faces I was greeting for the first time. The quick reference I carry is Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson, the condensed version that is part of the Peterson First Guides series. This edition is narrow, perfect for the back pocket, and the species are arranged in color-coded sections, which is probably the single-best organizing principle for flowers.

My personal copy of Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson. (photo taken 10 06 2010)

Peterson and his books have been a part of my life since I was a grade school nature boy. He himself was a native New Yorker, born in Jamestown in 1908, and later a resident student in New York City proper. His body of work is extensive, earning him a rightful reputation as one of the greatest naturalists and outdoor artists of the Twentieth Century. Peterson is regarded primarily as an ornithologist and illustrator; his Field Guide to the Birds being the standard of the genre.  He authored, co-authored, and illustrated numerous other titles, including the vast Golden Guide series: little hand-sized books I read and reread, with images I contemplated so often and long I could, in some cases, see and read the pages in my mind’s eye.

I have not internalized my condensed version of Wildflowers to such a degree, so I flipped through my copy right there between the lanes of the West Side Highway. The yellow section lead me right to an exact match on the bottom of pages 52 and 53: the Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus.

As with most thistles, this one is a Eurasian immigrant from the extended daisy family. The basal rosette from which the plant rises, its toothed leaves, and the composite bloom of yellow florets all bear a close resemblance to its cousin, the dandelion. Both wildflowers are members of Asteraceae.

The Sow Thistle’s blooms are hermaphroditic and go to seed in the familiar form of white parachutes that take to the wind and spread far and wide. Like other ruderal species, the plant can take root wherever a seed lands, including the often neglected narrows of roadway medians.

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Close-up of a Yellow Sow Thistle bloom, which is a composite of hermaphroditic florets. (photo taken 06 08 2010)

The cruciferous look of the sow thistle’s leaves advertises its edibility. Serve fresh with balsamic vinegar for a mildly bitter salad green akin to endive. When steamed, the flavor becomes closer to Swiss chard. As with most wild greens, the younger leaves near the top of the plant possess the most palatable flavor and texture. Those near the bottom, although more substantial in size, become stringy and bitter with older age.

An individual Yellow Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) stands in Hudson River Park. (photo taken 08 16 2010)

– rPs 10 06 2010

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