Adventures with the Drayers – Hoyt Arboretum

Event date: September 24, 2022

Fall Leaves Botanical Illustration class

I hadn’t even heard of Hoyt Arboretum until Facebook suggested this class to me. Imagine my delight to read about this “living museum”, a free botanical garden “founded in 1928 to conserve endangered species and educate the community”, with 2,300 species of trees and shrubs from six different continents.

Map of the Hoyt Arboretum

We had never been before, so it was yet another adventure. As we drove up the very busy hill, we heard and saw chainsaws – turns out, there was another huge event that had been rescheduled to coincide with ours, “Arborists in the Arboretum“, which meant that there was nowhere to park at all!

After dropping me at the visitor centre, poor old George ended up parking right back down at the bottom of the hill again, near the Vietnam Veterans memorial, and had to hike up and join us. Meanwhile, the class had to get going, so we started up the hill, too.

We managed to meet up between the two biggest of the three grey circles on the map, which represent three huge water tanks.

Because of the lateness of autumn, there weren’t many fallen leaves on the ground for us to gather, so we used our cameras a lot, just in case. I can always use reference photos later, anyway – so many of my illustrations are nature-themed, this class made a great deal of sense!

The instructor, Ruth Williams, explained the different structures of the leaves we were seeing – we learnt that what we call a leaf can sometimes actually only be PART of a leaf. I couldn’t quite hear everything she said, as she occasionally started talking before we could all catch up, but I looked it up later.

My bad illustration of leaf stuff

Basically, a leaf is a flattened, green part of a plant that grows out from the stem.
The blade, or lamina, of the leaf is attached to the stem of the plant by a petiole, which looks like a stalk (d). When a single blade is inserted directly onto the petiole, like (a), it is called a “simple” leaf. The edges of the leaf are called margins, and they can be lobed in several ways: crenulate, rounded like an oak leaf (e); dentate, teeth sticking straight outwards (f); or serrates, with the teeth pointing towards the tip or apex of the leaf.
In pinnately lobed leaves, the indentations are even all the way along, and can kind of look like lots of smaller leaves (c), whereas in palmately lobed leaves, the indentations match the major veins that spread out like fingers from a palm (b), for example, the classic maple leaf shape.

In the case of a pinnately compound leaf, the little green blades are called leaflets. You can get leaflets on leaflets – these are called bipinnate and tripinnate, but we were too far away to learn exactly how to identify them, but we did understand that ferns would qualify. I found this unattributed screenshot on the old Google that explains it quite well.

I don’t know where this came from, but it’s helpful.

So after we had gathered our models and caught our breath, we set up and started learning basic watercolour techniques.

The light in the workroom wasn’t great, so it was hard to get photos of the process, and we somehow managed to buy a palette of watercolours that were more like eyeshadow – very glittery, and not much coverage. I should have listened to Amanda and borrwed some of hers – she had an amazing assortment of palettes!
I was absolutely amazed with what George, who only came along to help me with the difficult footing, ended up producing – I think we have found his new skill!

As for mine, it ended up looking much better in the photo than it did in person. I am still very pleased with my first foray into watercolour!

The class got me going enough that when we got home, I needed to continue, so I put together a still life with the stick and pinecones I brought home, and spent a couple of happy hours sketching them.

If I can find a waterproof way to print them, I will print some copies and practice colouring them with the watercolours. In the meantime, I have to work on business admin, so this project is on hold until I get some better watercolours and have some time to paint.

I printed a test copy on my home printer (which didn’t recognise the page size, hence the strange print layout), and it worked very well! Look out for more digital linework/watercolour combos from us down the track!

Published by Drayer Ink

Artist, designer, ideas person

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