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

Hawthorn Branch with Lichen

Crataegus succulenta var. macracantha
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, Minnesota

When I was thinking about which trees to consider for the Out of the Woods project I thought about the types of trees that I’ve felt most connected to and drawn to over the years: these are birch, hawthorn, Russian olive, Mountain Ash and generally, pines, for all sorts of reasons. When I took my list to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to see what would inspire me, I wasn’t sure what I would find as I had waited so late in the season to look for a tree. I knew the leaves would be gone and the submission deadline was only a few months away, but I had to try.

 It was a windy and raw day at the end of February with little, if any, snow on the ground. We had had unseasonably warm days up until then, and I had forgotten to check the weather or to wear a coat. Luckily, there was a hat and a blanket in the back of my car and I bundled up as best I could, wrapping myself in the blanket. Carrying my paint box & bag, a folding stool & camp table (I always over pack) and my phone to take lots of pictures, I trudged along to visit with each species that I had mapped out on the handy-dandy Arboretum map. As I was sketching, making color studies and taking measurements of my first tree, a beautiful Heritage River birch, the wind whipped my blanket around so much I found myself fighting through the cold to get the information I wanted. When my nose started running and my fingers had gotten pretty numb, I realized that I had to give up on my sketchbook entirely and I settled on just taking photographs and getting as much information as I could before the staff found me frozen under a pine somewhere.

I found interesting and inspiring things about each species that I visited, and I found some trees that were new to me, but I spent the most time with one particular hawthorn tree. My connection to hawthorn stems back many years when I was a young, spiritual hippy making a circular quilt about the Celtic lunar tree calendar. In studying Celtic tree mythology I learned about 13 specific trees, their related lunar months and the magical characteristics they inhabit. My birthday is in the month of hawthorn and the idea of large thorns as a form of protection both physically and spiritually is intriguing to me.

When composing the hawthorn branch for my painting I knew that I wanted to use the one 9x12 inch piece of calf skin vellum that I owned. I also knew that I needed to work in the best elements of the tree and enlarge the scale 2x for the textures to be seen. I was inspired and awed by the hard, formidable thorns, small tomato red buds and the different delicate lichens that were persistently taking up residence on the bark. Some thorns were surrounded by lichen and some were gray and bare, and there was one thorn that sprouted a small bright red bud at its base. I wanted to include all these elements and spent some time arranging the composition to my satisfaction.

There are many contrasts in this piece, one between the sturdiness of the ‘host’ branch shooting across the painting side to side and the delicacy of the ‘guest’ lichen covering the branch over time.  The painting is strongly reliant on value rather than color, which reflects the cold leaf-bare time of year that it was, and allows the appreciation of the small amount of color that is present in the lichen, twigs, buds and bark. Also, there is contrast between the protective thorns and the offering of the delicious buds and lichen to deer that might decide to risk it. This painting is 99.9% watercolor and 0.1% gouache. I found that I wanted the “white” of the lichen to ‘pop’ here and there, and the color of the creamy vellum would only allow so much brightness, but I also found that I really needed to restrain the white so it wouldn’t appear obvious and a distraction.

The variety of textures and delicate structures are what I hope the viewer appreciates most in this piece and what is becoming indicative of my work. I find the small details and texture of plants both intriguing and challenging, and I find joy in bringing the viewer into my world.

Read more about this artist’s work: 20th Annual International
  • © 2017 Linda Medved Lufkin
    Hawthorn Branch with Lichen
    Crataegus succulenta var. macracantha
    Watercolor and gouache on vellum
    8.5 X 11.5