by Malgosia Halliop
I've been working on getting a better handle on coloured pencil technique recently, and the bulging fruit and smooth leaves of the cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata) felt like an appealing subject to work with in this medium. As Alan wrote in his sketchbook post of last week ("Pink Cucumbers in Toronto," August 27), the cucumber tree at the top of the ravine beside the Toronto Botanical Garden is one of perhaps only two remaining in Toronto. Although this particular tree grows fruit, since there are no other cucumber trees nearby, the tree can't get the cross-pollination it needs to produce viable seeds that could grow into more trees. It will remain alone here for the rest of its lifespan. I thought a drawing of this unusual native leaf and fruit should be included in our Wilket Creek exhibit.
I first did a preliminary drawing of the leaf and fruit on copy paper to establish the composition and proportions, then transferred it to Strathmore Bristol vellum. I kept the pencil outline on the final copy extremely faint, and started filling areas in with light layers of Faber Castell Polychromos coloured pencil, keeping the leaf veins light, establishing areas of shadow, and slowly testing the colours and how they layered together on a separate sheet before I used them on the drawing paper. There's something very satisfying to me about building up the colours slowly, using slightly elliptical movements to avoid making lines. The medium reminds me of my childhood, I admit, and maybe that's one reason I am drawn to it, but as the layers develop, the look of it changes completely. These artist quality pencils blend into rich saturated colours, nothing like the pencil crayons of my elementary school days!
I decided at the end to add the cast shadows to the drawing. I had a small lamp near my left hand lighting the subjects and drawing, and the shadows were quite stark. Cast shadows aren't standard to botanical drawing (often botanical subjects appear to be floating in the air), but I like them, and since I wasn't specifically trying to create a traditional botanical illustration, I decided to include them to give more depth and grounding to the drawing. After the drawing was finished, I cropped it into a square to better frame the shape of the composition.
This drawing will be part of the upcoming LUNA Toronto art show in the Weston Family Library at Toronto Botanical Garden this fall.