I have been meaning to do this for a while, but somehow I was always in the wrong place at the right time of year. Recording the development of the lotus season from a single place in Zurich – the small pond of the Old Botanical Garden.
Set myself a working routine:
- Double check the sling bag for material completion every morning – a new postcard added and the water tank brushes are still full
- Go in every (other) day, take a short circle around the pond, see what is new or exciting
- Sit down at the chosen view spot. Observe and listen for a while.
- Then commit to finishing that one postcard view with brush pens within 45 minutes.
- Rinse. Repeat.
From the first buds down to the last blossom.
It sounds easy enough. Except most of the pond sits in the scorching sun all day long. I try to make it to the garden in the early morning before the sun is too high.
In the beginning everything is just a mass of lush green leaves unfurled. There are no blossoms to be seen. Or are there? The first blossom of the year is actually there already… gravitating towards the cooler center, under the shade of the largest leaves and looking almost fully green itself. If you were to squint a little, you’d see a speck of pink at the very tip of that first bud.
What really surprised me that day wasn’t finding the first bud, though. A few minutes into sketching my view, the trill of a blackcap followed by a low wing flutter swiping from the left, straight through the swaying leaves at eye level, had me putting the brush pen down and looking up and around again.
Where did it land? Did it just fly across on the way to a nearby tree? Was it really a blackcap or just a sparrow?
Somewhere among the swaying leaves a head of fluff shyly peeks out into the bright sun. Could it be?
Yes, right there, perched on one of the thick lotus leaf stalks somewhere behind that first bud I was painting is a male blackcap.
Blackcaps are a very common summer sighting in this garden. But I had never seen one perching from giant lotus leaves before. The bird sways and rotates fast on its perch, and is just as quickly gone. I close my eyes and do my best with a couple of brushstrokes.
“What a start to this season!“ I thought to myself.
It would be a couple of days before I could go back for my next view. The sky was a little cast that morning, and the first fully open blossom was just starting to fade.
You might notice that this card looks slightly different than the rest. I picked some Gasenshi postcards for most days, but today I went with a rich thick Kozo instead. The color is more natural than white, and it performed very differently. I could achieve really fine, delicate washes and it absorbed ink less quickly than I expected. Given these features I used color only in one area, and left everything else grey and black. It does stand out among the series. It turns out that this would be the only flower close to full bloom I would see, but I didn’t know that then.
This was also the day when I really started appreciating the reflections of certain elements, like that partially sunken leaf in the foreground.
Lotus leaves have one of nature’s most amazing water repellent designs. The next time I focus less on the blossoms and more on studying the ways in which water droplets and small pools form across their surface (top left in gallery above).
As the week goes by the blossoms open and fade in quick succession. A few soft pink-edged petals clustered on the surface of the pond. By now the empty green stems already outnumber the remaining buds (top right).
And all too soon, there it is. The very last blossom. Somewhat unexpected, floating mostly whole, attached to a half sunken, awkwardly-crooked stalk. A leaf that looks almost heart-shaped nearby.
After a series of morning views, I close the season in the golden hour, finishing my card just as the bells nearby toll seven o’clock, and the security guard warns me of the impending gate closure.
As I pass through the gates, I can hear the blackcap song once more. Celebrating the end of a season or luring the next one in? Probably just voicing the comfort of devolving to solitude until the sun rises again tomorrow.
To see the place I painted from and look closer at each card, have a look at the short video clip I put together over on my at https://instagram.com/mtenente