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Botanical Art Worldwide: America's Flora

Bigleaf Maple

Acer macrophyllum

I spend every day surrounded by these magnificent trees. After a wet spring, their leaves can grow to 12 inches across with equally long petioles. Though beautiful to me in all seasons, my favorite is winter. After the leaves have fallen, the branches are revealed, hosting thick blankets of club moss, liverworts, lichens, licorice ferns and the occasional raven.

I worked on this painting on and off for about two years. Starting with a rough compositional map, I wanted to begin with the bright pink, coral, and ochre buds. However the buds expanded so quickly, I didn’t have time to finish and had to scrape them off. I revised my compositional map, and began again by painting a raceme of the sweetly scented flowers. The raceme was the most challenging part of the entire painting. Describing 40 or so tiny pale green flowers, while keeping the light and shadows logical caused me many headaches. I kept getting too dark, and had to sand off several false starts. 

I knew I wanted the main focus of the painting to be a monumental autumn leaf in its gorgeous sepia and violet tones. I finally chose the “right” leaf from a pile of about 60 that I had picked up on various walks, but I used a more sinuous petiole from a different leaf.

My plan was to have a high contrast area of tight detail in the center of the leaf to serve as a focus. The center would transition out to softer, less detailed swathes of color out into the leaf lobes. The leaf took me 6 weeks of working every day. Working standing up, I felt less constricted. It was large enough to allow me many large sweeping areas of transparent dry brush. Parts of the leaf have one layer of transparent dry brush and other parts 60 or 70 layers. I spent many happy hours lost in the leaf layers trying different color shifts.

I see these trees very differently now, and appreciate them even more.

I have yet to paint its pink and ochre buds successfully, but maybe next spring.


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Read more about this artist’s work: Out of the Woods


Acer macrophyllum

Bigleaf Maple

watercolor on vellum

26 x 19

©2017 Jean Emmons

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

All artwork copyrighted by the artist. Copying, saving, reposting, or republishing of artwork prohibited without express permission of the artist.

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