Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Looking at the Longleaf 

Pinus palustris
Mobile Botanical Gardens, Mobile, Alabama

Since moving to Alabama I have come to relish the Longleaf pine and the ecosystem that it so beautifully supports and represents.

It is such a wonderfully elegant and iconic feature of the southern landscape. It has been a constant and continuing joy to have been able, over the last two years, to investigate and to discover by drawing, painting and observing, the seasonal transitions of the many aspects of the Longleaf universe.

I find creating a chronological study board of the plant I’m planning to eventually present as a final study is an exceedingly helpful technique. And a great resource once it is complete. Ideally, I like to discipline myself to take, at a minimum, one complete growing season to study the plant in question in the field, in-situ. (I do not, under any circumstances work from photographs). While the time involved in this level of effort can be considerable (just getting to the plant can sometime take hours) my experience tells me that it can be enormously rewarding. For not only is it a chance to investigate the intricacies of a plant in the field but an opportunity to explore a different medium and different executional techniques and to experiment with certain effects as you document a plant. Over and above all is the satisfaction of being in the field, and observing the plant in its habitat: the way the wind catches the leaves and petals that shape its form; the way in which the pollinators interact with the plant. It all goes into a greater understanding of the subject, adding depth and dimension to the final outcome - the finished botanical work.

The study boards that I try and complete are 22”h x 30”w and the paper I use is 300lb. Fabriano Artistico. I carry these into the field with a foam-core backing in a clear bag for protection (although it is almost certain that some little insect will wrestle its way into the composition and leave its mark). My style generally is to document the chronology with a combination of loose and very fine, tightly controlled detail to carry the narrative of the plant, designing, together with my notations, the arrangement of all the elements as I progress.

In the case of the Longleaf Study Board, since time was a factor in preparing the final work for the exhibition, I decided to take a more controlled approach, carefully designing the board in advance of the execution - the result is what you see! 

Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual International
  • © 2017 Derek Norman
    Looking at the Longleaf
    Pinus palustris
    Graphite and watercolor on paper
    22" x 30"