Estelle DeRidder's Story Behind the Art

 
Fuller's Teasel
 
I am extending my sincere appreciation to the ASBA and the ‘ Following in the Bartram’s Footsteps’ exhibition committee for all the hard work you put in to gain exposure of this exhibition.
 
Sharing the stories behind our artwork is a wonderful opportunity to attract interest in the exhibition, add to the value of our work and contribute toward a growing awareness and appreciation for the contemporary botanical art genre. I am particularly honored by the opportunity to participate in this exhibition since it is my debut into the American Botanical Illustrator’s world.
 
Why did you choose to enter the Bartram exhibition?
 
Bartram’s Garden is one of only a handful of identified prehistoric locations in Philadelphia.  Archaeological evidence has been found that the Garden was occupied seasonally by Native Americans as early as 3,000 BCE. Objects found during digs include stone artifacts, flakes from tool production, and fire-cracked rock. The variety of plants that were cultivated in the gardens for specific purposes like food for man and beast, entertainment, life’s functions, decorations and medicines all influenced me to want to be a part of this exhibit. It promised to be an exhibit with a very definite destiny; one of education and providing information to those who are not so acutely aware of the importance of gardens in our lives – whether of a distant past, present or future.
 
Why did you choose this specific subject to portray?
 
As a handweaver, the Dipsacus holds a special place in my life. Considered by many as an evil and invasive ‘good-for-nothing’ weed, I try to never pass up the opportunity to point out that prior to the great Industrial Revolution the seedheads of the Dipasacus were used to card the wool in preparation for spinning and weaving of fabric. In Dutch the common name is “Kaardenbol” which translates into English as “carding ball”. Purist handspinners and weavers still prefer the teasel to card wool as the spines on the teasel will break before it tears the wool threads apart like the mechinised steel rollers do. In addition to this very vital role in the waver’s trade, these seedheads have made a place for themselves in dried-flower arrangements, as well as whimsical little hedgehogs and such at craft markets.
 
What do you know about this subject as it relates to the Bartram’s?
 
I have no doubt that the Dipsacus was all but frowned upon in the Bartam’s gardens, as it is, and certainly have, in the past, been used for a numerous needs.
 
How would you describe the artwork so that someone who hasn’t seen it could visualize it?
 
It is an enchanting, single seedhead enlarged. The seedhead is portrayed on the end of the stem. The inflorescence is ovoid, with a basal whorl of spiny curvaceous bracts. The dried head persists after flowering, with the small (4–6 millimetres (0.16–0.24 in) seeds maturing in mid autumn.
 
Is there anything you'd like to comment about regarding the color, composition, media or technique you used in the work?
 
Many, many artists have portrayed the Dipsacus very successfully in a great variety of ways. INITIALLY, and I humbly  mean INITIALLY, this particular seedhead neither challenged nor intimidated me. I saw the grace and elegance of the dry curling bracts. It reminded me of Rudolph Nureyev’s leaps across the stage: strong, deliberate, supportive and yet elegantly lyrical. It is a structure like none other.
 
As warming-up excercises I doodle my specimen– sometimes on large 22” x 40” newsprint with a large felt tip pen or brush, sometimes smaller. This doodling can last from 5 minutes to several days. These are loosely drawn, very fast lines with movement and emotion. It opens up the specimen to me and provides a ‘getting acquainted’ period. This particular specimen is still providing me with renewed contemplation and information every time I ponder it.
 
The composition, Line, Value, Negative Space Usage were all elements of no-brainers for me. Placement within the frame didn’t leave many options.
 
Size became a step-by-step process: always larger. The main challenge came after I saw, with the help of a microscope during my first microscopy class while enrolled in the Certificate Course at the Denver Botanic Gardens School of Botanical Illustration, how the seedhead is constructed out of many, many little individual seedpods. The actual specimen is 3.55” tall and I wanted to be sure that I was familiar with the basic construction, shapes, directions and textures of each little pod before I started painting it, because I enjoy the painting process and do not want to be concerned with fundamental construction and/or corrections.
 
I drew it as I saw it – which turned out not to be a sustainable approach, since I got lost and had to spend too many hours trying to find where I left off. 
 
I constructed it a la Fibonacci – which didn’t work out either. Mr. Fibonacci never, ever indicated what happens when his numbers have elongated extensions, overlap between 3 and 5 other forms and curve along the ovoid shape with a basal whorl of spiny bracts – all at different angles.
 
I took many pictures and tried working from that, but the pictures flattened out and did not portray the depth of the individual seedpods and the delicate changes in color which happened at the individual angles.
 
So after about 2 years of experimenting, I constructed a viewing frame out of an index card with a 5 mm square window cut in the center. A corresponding frame cut out of matt board was then placed on the paper with a 1 cm drawing frame. Working with two powerful magnifiers I “mapped” the specimen out as I observed it, carefully overlapping the sections for reference purposes. After about 1 year this turned out to be a viable approach to controlling the overwhelming amount of information.
 
It became a game: I gave the starting points (every morning) a name rather than a number. I had “Fishface, Bigmouth, Gaping Abe” and so forth for the full-frontal views and “Cat eyes, Mad aunt Millie” etc. for the first sections in perspective.
 
I had so much fun doing this, I think I’ll draw another Dipsacus at some point in my life and name each little pod after someone I actually know – then leave the key to the names in a time capsule buried in the garden to be opened only after my death.
 
What would you hope people would notice or appreciate when they view this work?
 
It was my intention to show the elegance of the dried plant – the elegance amidst the sharpness of the thorns, and an education about the strength of elegance and the power of contrasts.
 
Did you face any unique challenges as you worked on this piece?
 
The first color attempt was in watercolor after I was confident of the structure and botanical accuracy. I wore out 4 Kolinsky sable brushes before I had 1” of the top done.
Colored pencil and 9H graphite sharpened to a needle point on a sanding block after each stroke, and working “on point” (thanks for that term, Libby Keyer) was the only way for me to achieve the delicate appearance – which is very deceiving: the extensions for the individual little seedpods are all but delicate; they are fierce and strong, very sturdy and sharp passageways for the seeds to get out, and for the finches to cling on to in order to get to the ripened speeds.
 
How does this piece relate to your body of work?
 
The Dipsacus style follows the portrayal of two pieces that were included in the 2012 publication “Denver’s Canopy” in honor of Dr. Moras Shubert’s 100th birthday and 1 piece that was on display during the Denver Botanic Gardens’ exhibition of medicinal plants at a local hospital during the Fall of 2012.
 
I am a strong supporter of eco systems and the interaction between different species – how the one depends on the other in the chain I see as life.
 
How humans found a valuable use for the Dipsacus seedhead, how the roots stabilize the soil – how the leaves collect water and may be partially carnivorous to sap-sucking insects – how the seeds are an important winter food resource for the Goldfinches are all very good and valid reasons for this plant to be brought into the lime light, in my opinion.
 
The academic training I’ve had at both the Denver Botanical Gardens’ School of Botanical Illustration and the resulting Certificate of Completion 2010, and the Society of Botanical Artists (London, U.K.)’s Distance Learning Diploma Course  with a Diploma (Dist.) 2012 have prepared me well for following my convictions, respect and placing value on the interactions and inter-dependence of all Life as we know it here on Earth.
 
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  • (C) Estelle DeRidder