Story behind the art of Carrie Di Costanzo

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

Southern Catalpa 

Catalpa bignonioides
The Arboretum, Colonial Park, Somerset, New Jersey

The Southern Catalpa Tree is located at The Arboretum in Colonial Park, part of Somerset County Parks, in New Jersey. I did not initially see this tree when walking around the arboretum, not realizing that the property extended farther out. So it was a pleasant surprise to come upon it, as I was looking for a flowering tree. Most of the trees are identified with a label, but this had none. My guess was that this was a Southern Catalpa, from the large heart shaped leaves and the long seedpods, but I wanted to be positive. I checked with the very helpful Horticultural Department at Colonial Park and found that this indeed was the Southern Catalpa.


I did some research to remind me what the tree looks like in full bloom because the flowers had not yet arrived. The flowers are bell-shaped and white with purple spots and orange stripes. The combination of these lovely flowers and the large, striking leaves would make a very interesting painting. Flowers appear between May and July; so I checked the progress periodically. Finally, in June, the flowers appeared and I went to the arboretum to sketch. There was a very small window of time to do this, as these delicate flowers were falling fast and I was busy with other tasks, as well. The day was windy and that did not help, but I was able to do some loose drawings and take down the information I needed.


The composition is based on the branch I chose from the tree. It had one very large leaf in the front and smaller leaves throughout. I felt that this large leaf would move one’s eye right into the painting and up towards the flowers. The smaller leaves acted as a nice contrast to the white flowers placed in front of them.


I had recently begun painting in egg tempera and wanted to attempt a larger piece using this medium. The texture on the leaves was very soft and I knew egg tempera could achieve that effect. I did small studies of the leaves and flowers. Then, I began painting the large leaf first, working from light to dark and building up layers very slowly. Egg tempera is a medium that I want to explore with more paintings. It can be used to create soft, glowing areas while still maintaining detail.


Weeping Norway Spruce

Picea abies ‘Pendula’
The Arboretum, Colonial Park, Somerset, New Jersey

The Arboretum in Colonial Park, part of Somerset County Parks in New Jersey, is very near my home. This was the ideal location to find some interesting trees and observe them through the seasons. Over the course of two years, many days were spent walking around the arboretum to see what trees sparked inspiration. At first glance, the Weeping Norway Spruce did not interest me because I had in mind a subject with more vibrant color. But, eventually I began to visualize it painted on paper.


This would be a challenge, considering how many needles would be included and that I had never painted a spruce before. I am accustomed to painting the longer needles of pines and using those needles to show movement in the composition.  Here, the movement in the composition is shown through the positioning of the branchlets.  I began by sketching at the arboretum. A branch close to eye level was chosen and drawn roughly on tracing paper. More sketches were done including sections of the needles, the cone, and the main branch. My idea was to incorporate only one cone, which would be the focal point of the painting.


At home, all of the sketches were combined and taped on a large sheet of tracing paper. From there, a more refined and detailed drawing emerged. Because of the size and the number of needles in the composition, the drawing stage took a good deal of time, more so than any other painting; however this was necessary because I like to have every detail drawn out before the painting begins.


Watercolor was chosen for the Weeping Norway Spruce because I wanted a very delicate and detailed representation and felt that this medium would give me that look. In order to hold my interest and keep my eyes fresh, I found it necessary to take a few days to work on other projects in between painting this.


The process of choosing trees at this arboretum was a wonderful experience, as it helped me to appreciate the trees and gardens at Colonial Park. There will be many more paintings to come from this beautiful location.


Read more about this artist’s work: 20th Annual International


  • © 2016 Carrie Di Costanzo
    Catalpa bignonioides
    Fritillaria imperialis‘Rubra’
    Egg tempera on paper
    23" x 19"
  • © 2016 Carrie Di Costanzo
    Weeping Norway Spruce
    Picea abies‘Pendula’
    Watercolor on paper
    26" x 18"