Monday, December 9, 2013

Outrageous Trees and Vines, and a Recipe

There's a trail on the mountain that I rarely go on in summer because it's so full of poison ivy.  So today I saw it for the first time in a while, and most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, exposing vines and lianas that looked like they belonged in a rain forest.  They also looked more like ceremonial objects than things growing in the woods.  At top left is the ruin of an old chimney that sits near the beginning of the trail.  I had decided to draw ruins today, but soon after the chimney, the astonishing trees with their braids of vines took precedence.  The three on this page are trees with their vine wraps.  On the first of the three, vines had choked the tree so that it grew with little dents where the vine was.

The drawing to the left is of a straight pine tree from which hung a braided series of medium-thick vines, possibly bittersweet or honeysuckle.  The one to the right of it had some lapped vines and then a strange drape of thin vines.  The straight young tree (1100) looked like it was in conversation with the vine that twined up its trunk and the grape vine that hung down from its top branches.  On the far right a small vine was curling around a heavy grapevine.

Back at the house, Jesse was sleeping while entwined with the fringe on his favorite livingroom sofa throw.

The color on the tree and vine drawings is from watercolor that I made out of clay collected around here.  If you have any orange or reddish brown soil, you have iron oxide in your soil, and you can make very nice paint from it.  Here's how I made the brown.  I collected about three cups of clay from a cut away place along a trail.  You can tell clay-ey soil from more humusy soil by how well it holds together.  The tiny, flat particles of clay slip and slide over one another and lend a plasticity to clay that is absent from the more crumbly humus. 

Okay, so I took the bag of clay home and filled a spaghetti sauce jar about 1/4 full of clay and filled it up to the top, almost, with water.  I stirred the mixture thoroughly.  Then I watched the swirling particles of sand swirl and settle on the bottom of the jar-- about 30 seconds.  As soon as the swirling had stopped, I carefully poured just the colored water through a strainer into a second spaghetti jar.  I threw out the rocks and sand that were left on the bottom of the first jar and let the second jar settle.  (When I strained the colored water, I removed floating debris, sticks, leaves, etc.)  This process of separation by weight instead of particle size will leave you with only the smallest particles, the pigment, and a small amount of clay.

After anywhere from 15 minutes to maybe overnight, the water on top of the settling jar should be clear or almost clear.  You then carefully pour that out (not down the sink) into the ground.  The pigment is the residue left in the jar that has settled out of the colored water.  Pour the wet pigment out onto a few sheets of newspaper and let it dry somewhat.  As it dries it will curl up and you can easily peel it from the paper.

Take the dry or damp pigment from the newspaper and place it on a sheet of glass.  Use a spice muller or a spatula or a paint muller if you get serious about this) to grind the pigment with a little water (some people prefer distilled water) and about 1/4 its volume of gum Arabic solution.  (You can also use a mortar and pestle for this grinding.)  When everything is smoothly ground, add about 1/4 teaspoon of honey to draw moisture from the air and keep your paint easy to re-wet.  The gum Arabic does just what it does in ink-- it glues the pigment to the paper.  Test your paint with a watercolor brush on white paper.  If it looks streaky or has big particles in it, try levigating it (the first step that you did above) again or grinding it some more.  Store the paint in those seven-day plastic pill containers, but let them dry out before closing the tops to avoid mold.

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