Friday, April 12, 2013

Wildflowers in Watercolor with Pamela Glasscock

By Tom Greco

Hooker's Fairy Bells (Disporum hookerii)
Pamela Glasscock paints with a great amount of attention to detail, capturing each delicate feature of her wildflower subjects with skill and patience. Yet there is far more to her magnificent paintings than botanical accuracy – there is a story hidden within each image that reflects the people and places involved along the way to its artful transcription into watercolor.

Her subjects come from diverse sources: from local gardens to wilderness areas on the other side of the world. These varied sources of inspiration lend a subtle degree of personality to each flower, a sense of character furthered by Pam’s own lens of observation.

Shooting Star
Though it is important for Pam that her flower portraits are botanically correct, she does not measure petals and leaves as a scientific illustrator might. “What I’m trying to get at is a sense of life,” says Pam, “and to recreate the experience of looking at the actual flower.” To this end, Pam’s art captures flowers at various stages throughout their lifecycle – not just at the peak of their bloom. This adds an element of complexity to her multiple flower compositions, which contain patterns and themes that may not be perceived at first glance.

Detail: Hound's Tongue
(Cynoglossum grande)
Works like these typically originate with Pam choosing a particular flower of interest, and capturing it on a spacious piece of watercolor paper. At this point, what might eventually occupy the rest of the paper may be far from solidified in her mind – perhaps difficult to imagine given the incredible complexity of the end product. “It’s important to me to have that uncertainty and suspense about what is going in next,” says Pam. “You want to be surprised yourself and you want the people looking at the work to have the same feeling. Not planning out the whole composition ahead of time gives a sense of adventure, and even danger, to a long and meticulous process.”

Pam’s primary artistic focus has been on wildflowers for the past 10 years. Her artistic roots stretch back to silverpoint drawing as an independent project in college, which she continued for ten years in New York before beginning to experiment with watercolor under her own tutelage. Watercolor has been her preferred medium since: “I’m really interested in watercolor drawing because of its immediacy and simplicity,” says Pam. “It is all about observation.”

April/May Grasslands and Open Woods
For her most recent project, A Pepperwood Anthology: Wildflowers in Watercolor, Pam visited the preserve multiple times during the spring of 2012, when Pepperwood’s bountiful wildflower displays were at their peak. 

Pam's paintings will be on display at Pepperwood’s Dwight Center for Conservation Science Gallery during our 5th annual Wildflower Festival on April 21, 2013 from 9am to 4pm, and by appointment through May 5, 2013.

Pam will also teach a class on painting spring flowers in watercolor at Pepperwood on May 5th. Please click here for more information!

Seasonal Changes of Pepperwood with Bill Gittins

By Tom Greco

Pepperwood December 17, 2011 Solstice (11x14)
If you went looking for Bill Gittins on any equinox or solstice in the past year, you would have found him at Pepperwood with a canvas and his oil paints. As a Pepperwood Steward, Bill has been leading a plein air painting group of four artists, who have just completed a project entitled “Seasonal Changes of Pepperwood” that will be featured at Pepperwood’s Wildflower Festival on April 21st. This collection of paintings captures the changing seasons near the Redwood Canyon section of the preserve, and beautifully illustrates the ancient connection between science and the arts explored by the likes of Galileo and da Vinci.

Pepperwood March 12, 2012  Equinox (11x14)
Bill Gittins has lived in Santa Rosa since 1973 and began painting in the mid 80’s. Basically a self-taught artist, Bill began with watercolors and acrylics before finding favor in the complex texture of oil paints. His vibrant landscapes truly capture the spirit of Sonoma County: “There’s such a variety,” says Bill, describing the abundance of subject matter in our region. “There’s the coast, old barns, vineyards, hills, back roads.  A lot of my paintings were done on back roads,” explains Bill, referring specifically to Riebli Road, a unique and winding road in north east Santa Rosa close to where he used to live.

As to his preferred painting style, Bill enjoys experimenting with different color palettes, often choosing to represent an object in a different tone than may be initially observed by the eye. “I prefer a looser approach than realism,” says Bill. “I like things with a lot of color. If I go out in the field and things are dull, I like to brighten them up.”

Pepperwood June 22, 2012 Solstice (11x14)
Bill first visited Pepperwood when author and longtime Press Democrat writer Gaye LeBaron gave a talk at the Bechtel House, while the Dwight Center was being built. He really enjoyed the sweeping vistas and rolling hills – and wanted to paint them! To get an opportunity to paint on the property he enrolled in an art class being held at the preserve and then took “Bio 85: Natural History of Pepperwood,” a two-semester class offered in conjunction with the Santa Rosa Junior College that constitutes the first step to becoming a Pepperwood Steward. He has been a regular at Pepperwood since, creating spectacular renditions of preserve landscapes and generously offering his assistance at classes, hikes and events.

Bill and the other painters, which include Marsha Connell, Phil Salyer and Dale Wiley began their inaugural landscapes of the “Seasonal Changes of Pepperwood” project on the December 2011 winter solstice. There had been very little rain that winter, so Bill’s paint brush recorded mostly gold colored hills, largely uncharacteristic of the season that is typically Sonoma County’s wettest. By his March expedition the green hues had returned, along with a herd of cows (part of Pepperwood’s grazing program) that also found their way onto his canvas. “What I discovered is that the dates of the solstices are really the ‘beginning dates’ of these seasons.  We should have painted at the mid-point between the solstice and the equinox.” says Bill.  

Pepperwood September 22, 2012 Equinox (11x14)
Bill’s art, along with that of three of the other artists, will be on display, and for sale, at Pepperwood’s Wildflower Festival, held on Sunday, April 21st from 9am to 4pm. A portion of any sale at the event will be donated to the Pepperwood Foundation. You can also view a more expansive grouping of Bill’s works during the annual “Art at the Source” open studio program (Studio 76b) during the first and second weekends of June, and then again at his studio during ARTrails, held the second and third weekends of October. 

For more information about Bill and to view is online image gallery, please visit Bill’s website,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wildflowers - Bloom Today, Gone Tomorrow

By Sandi Funke

Shooting Star - Dodecatheon hendersonii © 2007 Dianne Fristrom
Every year at this time I feel wistful. I gaze at of Pepperwood’s sprays of wildflowers and begin to hum the Al Dubin classic, Tiptoe through the Tulips or even Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven  with its hedgerows and all. I get the crazy urge to run through the fields and spin like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

As it turns out, my connection to wildflowers is reflected across countries and cultures. The Aztecs, who ruled a large portion of Mexico in the middle ages believed in a flower goddess called Xociquetzal (sho-chee-KEt-sal). Her name meant “feather flower” which probably referred to her sacred flower - the yellow marigold. Xochiquetzal was said to live in a flowery garden paradise and was married to the rain god Tlaloc. The moisture that Tlaloc created in the sky helped her flowers grow. The Greeks also had myths related to flowers. As legend tells, the fragrant flower Narcissus was said to have originated a conceited youth who loved to stare at himself by the water’s edge, which is where Narcissus grow.

Indian Warrior - Pedicularis densiflora
© 2003 Michael Charters
 But why do wildflowers come up this time of year and where do they go? Many of our wildflowers, such as our friendly bird’s eye gilia, are annuals which germinate, flower and die in less than one year or season. These species survive between generations by creating very resilient dormant seeds.

 The seeds can sometimes survive for years in the soil, and like Xochiquetzal’s marigolds, germinate when the rainfall, sunlight, and temperature are just right.  Many of these annuals flower for a few weeks or longer while others are here this week and gone the next. These very flashy wildflowers are known as “ephemerals.”

Other wildflowers native to our area are perennials and lucky for us, these individuals come back year after year. Their flowering is also triggered by weather and temperature.  Indian warrior is a beautiful maroon to pink perennial herb that blooms year after year. Henderson’s shooting star is a favorite of North Bay hikers with its dramatic thrown back hot pink to purple petals and apparent black stamens which produce pollen.

Leopard lily - Lilium pardalinum
© Tom Greco

We also have a number of perennial wildflowers that bloom from bulbs and underground swollen stems known as rhizomes. The star lily grows on rocky outcroppings and produces large clusters of pretty cream flowers in early spring.  A very common blue wildflower, whose name produces smirks when mentioned, is blue dicks. The leopard lily is a very showy, robust native wildflower that can grow over six feet tall on wet soils here at Pepperwood.
Star lily - Zigadenus fremontii© Michelle Jensen

So how can you best get out and take in this season’s boundless beauty? Pepperwood will again be hosting our annual Wildflower Festival on Sunday, April 21st. It will be great chance to go on guided wildflower walks and self guided hikes that will feature our spring wildflower display. If you can’t make it the Sonoma Ecology Center will be hosting several wildflower walks at the Van Hoosear Wildflower preserve in Sonoma.  Sonoma County Regional Parks will hosting wildflower walks at Hood Mountain and Shiloh Ranch and Landpaths will be leading a wildflower walk at Tolay Creek Ranch.