More on Camera Close Ups: Looking at Flowers

July 4, 2010

Some more about how I feel about plants.


Left: Another unknown flower. Look close at the little pod like things that are beneath the blooms. The blooms come out of these veiny enclosures.

That garden I toured a couple weeks ago had a lot of interesting plants. I took several close up photos of hasta beds (and other ground cover) to use as textures for various digital projects I'm working on.

Note: these types of textures can be used at varying degrees of opacity and in different modes which can change the color and aspect so completely that you don't even realize you're looking at plants! They are useful to have around and I recommend that if you carry a camera you start your own collection of interesting plant patterns. Screened back they are also lovely as backgrounds for text when making quick greeting cards for friends. And they make great additions to any collage elements pile!

There's something else I have to admit to, however, plants sort of creep me out. I know we live on this big blue marble that is just the gem of the universe (and believe me if I were a marauding alien from another galaxy this is exactly the planet I would be drawn to and want to come and dominate—it's the law of "bright sparklies" but more on that another day) and it is a gem because of the trees.

Some days, especially after we have had days and days of rain and everything green grows with a profusion that can't really be explained unless you're watching time-lapse photography, I feel a little claustrophobic surrounded by the trees! (Yes, the trees, who do great things for this big blue marble.) It's as if I can hear them grow, hear them communicate. And like polar bears, they view me as trivial and of little consequence (which frankly I am, but it's beyond humbling to be told that by a tree—OK I just flashed on the scene from Wizard of Oz where Judy Garland/Dorothy picks apples).

I have to literally shake the feeling off. Especially if I'm on a walk, or when I was tracking through weedy areas with one of my dogs.

I put this sense of claustrophobia down to a lot of things—first, I am claustrophobic (we can examine how I became so another day, or not). I can control it most of the time (CAT scans, not so much). I have no problem on planes, trains, automobiles, and most elevators. I don't do caves or submarines.

Add to this the creep factor, which my brother (older and beloved) used to increase, by making me watch reruns of the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, which frankly I remember mostly as two series devoted to the exploration of the existence of pod-people and O'Henry type plot twists where two folks end up with exactly what they want but now no longer need.

Pods-twining0111 Right: Close view of the post and vines.

It's that pod-person thing I still have going on (still worry about it; and the first thing I do everyday, when Dick walks in the door, is give him a hug and smell his neck!). And when I see a plant like this yellow thing, with its twisty tendrils twining around a pole, clinching as it does, along with pods from which the blossom emerges, well frankly, I become uninterested in drawing the plant, let along standing near it!

OK, I just flashed on that Lost in Space episode where the plants take over the people! Vague recollection of Dr. Smith having a cabbage where his hair should be. But wasn't there one that was even more ominous—see, I'm not the only person who feels this way.

I wasn't just highly suggestive as a child. My imagination still does not need much to run away with itself.

Let's not forget John Wyndham's book Day of the Triffids. (And while they are animal related and not plant related, there are of course the pods of Alien, after which I didn't view another horror movie for 10 years—or until Aliens came out. Now I'm sort of OK with that.)

When I am confronted with a flower or plant like this yellow thing, let's just say that my first response isn't "cool, let's draw that." My first response is "euoow" and a scrunched up nose. (And I usually have an abnormally high gross out level.)

I think my reaction also stems (no pun intended) from spending time in the tropics as a child—where you literally can see plants growing without time-lapse photography.

FlowerEmerging0112 Left: Flower emerging from the pod. Click on an image to view an enlargement.

For all these reasons, and many more that I won't go into today (or ever), I have to be won over gradually by plants. I have to be introduced to them more than once on average, before they interest me enough to sketch them. (This even goes for edible plants: though I have less difficulty with cucumber vines than any other such plant.)

I've found that taking close up photos of the plants with my little pocket camera allows me to look at the flowers later at my leisure. The photos erode the gross-out response and actually help me see points of interest. Then the next time I see that flower I find I'm more inclined to observe it in life, and even sketch it on the spot.

I find that this approach of taking a photo of something I find "difficult" to look at, and then "meeting it" as the photo first, works great with bugs as well. In fact, over the years it has worked so well with bugs that I have few problems with most bugs. (Very large spiders, still not so good.)

It's desensitization, like allergy shots. I frequently stop on my walks to look at bugs of all sorts from arrestingly beautiful dragonflies in brilliant colors to pale, soft-bodied maggots in road kill.

I imagine if I spent more time looking at plants, and less time looking at birds and bugs, and other fauna, my desensitization to plants would move along much more quickly.

The point is, if there is something out there that you're not too keen about, take a photo of it and look at the photo at home. Really look at it. Ask yourself some questions about the adaptations the plant, animal, or insect has made (or find someone who can help you with that). Then go find that subject in the "wild" again (under safe conditions of course, because poison ivy is after all still a problem, and some insects are deadly!) and see if you aren't more inclined to study and sketch it now.

What I've found is that the more I sketch something from nature, no matter what it is, the more wondrous I discover it to be. And that works out well for my journal page count. And if the photos help, well then that's a useful tool to get to that wonder faster.

    • june banet
    • July 5, 2010

    The plant pictured is a thunbergia (black-eyed susan vine). It also comes in a yellow-orange flower and a white flower.

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