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Review of Lee McCaffree’s Plant Texture Class

by Patricia Van Osterhoudt

(left to right) Lori Fields, Arillyn Moran-Lawrence, Cristina Baltayian, and Gayle Uyehara gather around Lee McCaffree (seated) while she demonstrates a technique.

(left to right) Lori Fields, Arillyn Moran-Lawrence, Cristina Baltayian, and Gayle Uyehara gather around Lee McCaffree (seated) while she demonstrates a masking fluid technique. Photo by Clara Josephs, © 2013.

Hairs, dots, indentations! It’s enough to make the hairs on your neck stand up and salute! Who can count the hairs on a lime green Icelandic Poppy stem or the odd shaped rectangles on a peanut shell, and more importantly, why would one want to? This is the question all botanical artists wrestle with in the process of drawing and painting from nature, and it is one Lee McCaffree skillfully guided fourteen artists through in a two-day workshop on November 9 – 10, 2013 at the Environmental Nature Center (ENC) in Newport Beach. The classroom is in a LEED Platinum building at the ENC; the space is light and airy, perfect for botanical painting.

Through Lee’s expertise as an artist and teacher, we were encouraged to experiment with several specimens including peanuts, dry grasses, pussy willows, and various types of bumpy leaves. We began with careful observations and then did tracings for form, shape, and texture. From these we did graphite drawings as a reference point to come back to often during the actual painting. Lee continually stressed the importance of an accurate drawing for a successful painting. In the painting process we mixed color and did washes staying within the lines of the pencil lead, which all built up to texture. Many of the artists used color pencils as well. Most importantly, Lee encouraged everyone to move along rather than dally over any one particular part so we could “get the feel” for various types of texture. That nudge kept us all going!

Throughout the workshop, Lee consistently demonstrated the techniques she wished us to attempt. During the demos, she made comments such as the “importance of letting each layer of paint dry so that after several layers the light from other colors could shine through.” Later as we painted and drew, she consistently came around to each student giving constructive and creative comments that helped us move to a new and improved place. As she circled back to see our progress, she made very encouraging comments such as, “Great, see how much better that shading looks now!” As we worked side-by-side with our attention focused completely on the subject at hand (peanuts in the shell), Cristina Baltayian looked up and quietly stated, “We are the Peanut Gallery!”

In our final critique, as each artist laid her many paintings and drawings on the end of each table, Lee asked, “What did you like and not like about creating your art?” Overall, we had a general feeling that we were encouraged to try new and more challenging subjects having learned the techniques for how to get there. I always think of the botanical workshops as “a booster shot,” and I certainly got that from Lee!

A special thank you goes out to Leslie Walker, Deb Shaw, Clara Josephs, and Diane Daly for organizing this fantastic workshop!!

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