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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth De Cicco


We are finally getting a real winter!

One of my first painting subjects from the NYBG certificate program was the fruit of a Skunk Cabbage. Weekly assignments were based on different color groups, and the late summer fruit of skunk cabbage was an excellent dark subject with deep purples and greens. I left extra space on my watercolor paper hoping that one day I would be able to illustrate the flowers and leaves as well.

I tend to think of Eastern skunk cabbage as a harbinger of spring. I don't have many opportunities to see it because the range is just outside of the pine barrens. Symplocarpus foetidus is a member of the arum family, Araceae, so the flowers are on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. One of the first facts I learned about this species is that it is thermogenic. In other words, it generates its own source of heat, enabling it to flower in snow and ice. The rhizome is 30 cm thick and the leaves are quite large in the summer, so it is able to store enough energy to persist through the winter. I was thrilled to find some flowering last weekend when it was about 20 degrees outside. Other plants in the shade held their spathes tightly closed, but these two were open and ready for pollination. I didn't feel any noticeable heat, but they were one of the few things not covered in thick ice.

I did not have a notebook or a ruler to take reference photos for a scaled drawing. TSBA's Colored Pencil group meets monthly with a new drawing challenge to test different colored pencil techniques, so I may do a "practice drawing" of these fruiting skunk cabbages for the next meeting. February's challenge is to use mixed media. Greens are my least favorite in colored pencil because they take so many layers. This would be a good project to experiment with watercolor washes under colored pencil.

In other news, I added a new watercolor of Chicken of the Woods to my Gallery. It was intended to be a mixed media work with some colored pencil, but I really missed working with watercolor. I don't have many opportunities to use orange, so it was nice to try out all my Schmincke Chromium hues and Indian yellow with some earth tones.

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