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

Paperbark Maple

Acer griseum
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England, United Kingdom  

As soon as the 'Call for Entries' for Out of the Woods was published I knew exactly what I would paint, the Paperbark Maple. The Paperbark Maple is well named – the bark peels off in curly sheets leaving a wealth of fresh colors beneath, offering a wonderful opportunity to depict the complex surface.


I had previously made several 'bark' paintings (Eucalyptus deglupta and Luma alpiculata). In all my 'bark' paintings, including this one, I try to make the image completely accurate botanically but presented as a piece of abstract art – not immediately recognisable as bark. Presenting the image as a close-up, filling the page with no means of determining scale, emphasizes the detail and textures, and hopefully draws the viewer closer to the piece.  In fact, the scale is one-to-one, as my botanical work generally is.


The technique is fine, dry brush showing all the complex detail, peeling layers and astonishing range of color of the plant specimen. I hope viewers will appreciate the skill and expertise involved in producing the work, but more importantly that a piece of ‘botanical art’ does not have to be a simple plant centered on a sheet of white paper. It can be a complex, contemporary painting in its own right as well as illustrating some aspect of the original plant.


Usually I work with specimens from the Edinburgh Botanic Garden. However Edinburgh does not have any older specimens of Acer griseum, so the bark is not as mature and thus not as interesting as a subject for painting. I contacted Kew and found they have a much older specimen, so I went to see the tree at Kew, made some color swatches and took many photos to bring back to my studio. 


Working from photographs brings its own problems! In the first instance, the photos have to be taken from the angle and height (eye-level) the artist will be able to reproduce in the painting. This necessitates the use of a tripod, sometimes a box or ladder to stand on and usually a large piece of cardboard to create a background. Weather is important, especially when you travel to a distant plant and find it pouring with rain or worse, blowing a gale. Of course the photos are not accurate for color, so plenty of swatches and notes have to be included for future reference.


Lastly, I have chosen to isolate the image by matting with a wider than usual mat. This separates the painting from the frame, and as it will be framed in the USA, I am hoping it will all come together! 

Read more about this artist’s work: 19th Annual International
  • © 2014 Lizzie Sanders
    Paperbark Maple
    Acer griseum
    Watercolor on paper
    12" x 9"