Sunday, June 2, 2019

Botanical Drawings (Plus Sketchbook Mutterings)

5/25/19 corncockle, iris, lupine (Staedtler Karat Aquarell colored pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook)
5/9/19 iris (Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelles, S&B Zeta sketchbook)

I’m not much into sketching bouquets – even back when I was using watercolors, I rarely painted florals – but I do enjoy making small botanical drawings.

Several weeks ago while taking a walk around the ‘hood, I turned a corner and was astounded by a huge garden of purple irises (at left) next to the sidewalk. The stalks were so tall that I didn’t have to squat to sketch – the flowers came nearly to my eye level! (I had almost taken that purple pencil out of my bag because I use it so infrequently, but I was very happy that I had it that day.)

After buying a couple of large bouquets at the farmers market to take to the cemetery on Memorial Day, I picked out a few of my favorite blossoms to keep, including a corncockle, a yellow iris and a lupine. On a very wet afternoon (hoping some part of the holiday weekend would be dry enough to visit the cemetery without getting drenched), I drew the lovely flowers on my desk (above).

5/29/19 peony fruits (Museum Aquarelles, S&B Zeta)
Finally, a few days after Memorial Day, we took a walk through the Washington Park Arboretum. We had missed most of the rhodies, but the park looked lush and green everywhere. I spotted an interesting plant with arrangements of three or four fuzzy pod-like things (at right). On the tip of each pod was a magenta coloring – the remains of petals, perhaps? A Facebook friend identified them as peony fruits.

Technical notes: For the purple iris and peony fruits, I had used Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles because that’s what I carry in my bag, but for the bouquet flowers, I had my choice of all my pencils at home. I used mostly Staedtler Karat Aquarells (plus one C d’A Museum Aquarelle in “heavy equipment” yellow) because they are harder than the Museum Aquarelles and therefore better for fine details. While the purple iris and peony fruits were sketched in my daily-carry Stillman & Birn Zeta, I used a S&B Beta at my desk for the other flowers. Beta’s surface sizing is definitely better for liquid media, even minimally wet media like watercolor pencils. Colors on Zeta don’t look quite as vibrant, and water sinks in quickly. Despite that, I wouldn’t want to use Beta as a daily-carry because the soft, toothy surface is not at all suitable for graphite or mostly dry colored pencil drawings.

For those of us who won’t limit ourselves to using only one medium, every off-the-shelf sketchbook is a compromise.

Irises in the 'hood!


  1. Nice floral sketches. It always helps when that pencil you've brought along finally comes in handy again. I have a very pinkish purple on my palette which I don't like and have yet to get rid of. Luckily I usually have watercolor pencils in my bag with two lovely purples.

    1. Yes, pencils are especially nice for those rarely used colors because you usually don't need much for small spots of flowers.


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