Sketches are made by fools like me

It’s startling to me at times how I can get so caught up in what I’m doing and ignore the obvious.
Today I spent some time at Descanso Gardens with my husband, enjoying the beauty of a spring (Valentine’s) day, and I took my time doing a very detailed line drawing of a magnolia twig. As I peered at it intently, something “clicked” and I realized one of the purposes of botanical drawing. When you observe something very closely – and I mean down to the 1/16 of an inch closely, you start to understand what the plant does. You begin to sense which way the twig will bend even before it does. You know where the leaf will come out of an axil, and what side it will be on. You begin to think, perhaps a little bit, like a plant. OK, that’s too new age, scratch that. You know what I mean. You begin to understand the plant intimately, becoming lost in its anatomy, its function and its beauty.

So, as I was fixated on this small twig, working slowly and methodically, I lost sight of the larger plant patterns that shared the same white space: the bare winter bones of the magnolia overhead, the tumescent buds, the rhythm of line and shape, the lost and found edges, the positive and negative spaces. While I was trying to capture nature with my pencil, Nature was impishy doing her own dance with effortless grace, as though to taunt me. But perhaps to lead me on, to keep practicing and to keep looking. I bow to you, Madame Magnolia. You win. Sketches are made by fools like me, but only God can use light to paint a tree.


  1. Hashi
    February 14, 2006

    Totally awesome.

  2. Lin
    February 15, 2006


  3. carole
    February 15, 2006

    “only God can use light to paint a tree” – I love that! It’s so good that you did notice, and manage to capture it. it’s a beautiful image.

  4. Terri
    February 15, 2006

    Karen I really enjoyed reading your insight into this process and seeing the twig on the page. I also liked the way you photographed the tree shadows over the drawing. Nice touch!

  5. Kate
    February 15, 2006

    Completely lovely…drawing and insight…

  6. Linda
    February 15, 2006


  7. glassgirl
    February 18, 2006

    Wow! I love that. I would have felt like tracing the shadows. Great insight too!

  8. Cully
    February 18, 2006

    We had the same impulse glassgirl! I would have traced those branches, or tried to catch them in watercolor lines. They almost look like it anyway. There’s a fire escape and a tree outside my window that some days throw a great shadow pattern. I’ve often been tempted to trace it out and then paint it there on the wall forever.

  9. Marie-Dom
    February 19, 2006

    An absolutely breath-taking sketch of that magnolia bud and twig. And your quote “only God can use light to paint” is very profound. Your experience was very Zen
    wasn’t it? Reminded me of what the author of “Zen Seeing Zen Drawing” (can’t remember his name offhand… age you know..LOL) always says.


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