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A few days ago, I thought it would be exciting to see what a pine needle looks like under a microscope, and found some gorgeous photos of Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) needles, in cross section, from the lab of a Czech scientist named Josef Reischig. (His authorship heirs donated 384 pictures under CC BY SA 3.0 license as a part of Wikimedia Czech Republic‘s GLAM initiative.) Today is Pinus nigra’s day, so I began drawing. But my self-imposed rule of drawing a leaf a day has met its match; I’ve spent all the time I can manage and am far, far from being done with this one. That’s okay. Rules are made to be reconsidered, especially self-imposed ones. So here is the drawing so far.

If you care to see the reference photo, it is here.

Update from January 14:

Update from January 15:

Update from January 16:

Update from January 17:

Update from January 19:

Update from January 21:

Update from January 23:

Update from January 25:


When I decided to draw a leaf every day, I had a particular kind of leaf in mind. A particular class of leaf, anyway: broad leaves. Some would be compound, sure, but I’d basically be drawing A leaf or A FEW leaves. Then I opened up the field guide and it began with needle-leaved trees. Drat. Not what I had envisioned myself doing. I mean, how interesting is just one pine needle? So I was suddenly having to draw whole clusters of needles, with their hopelessly complex and irregular negative space. This seemed harder, somehow, than what I had planned on. More than I’d bargained for.

Well, some days I have drawn just one needle up close, or a few, like today, and wait ’til you see what I’m going to do tomorrow, but more often, with needles, it’s going to be a whole twigful, or more. And I know this is a good lesson, and I am glad that it is where the book started, and not just because, as I comforted myself at first, it meant I’d get the hardest ones out of the way by spring. The lesson is one I learn over and over when drawing: that what looks easy at first turns out to be surprisingly difficult, or if not more difficult than I’d imagined, definitely different. Once I look closely, the project isn’t at all what I’d planned. I’m sure broad leaves will also have surprises for me. In fact, I’ll be astonished if they don’t surprise me every day.

There’s always more there than I expect to see, and the more I draw, the more I notice to draw. It’s never easy. It’s always an adventure.

This one has a sweet 🙂 association for me: when we go to Bass Lake for our church’s family camp weekend, as often as not my daughter and I have the cabin called Sugar Pine.

I kept my marks light in anticipation of adding color, but it took a long time just to draw it with the graphite, so that was enough. I think for tomorrow’s drawing, in lieu of the next tree I will add the color to this one. It is the most gorgeous light gray-green, and the colors in the photo make it look even more like a sea anemone than it does here.

According to the Audobon guide, “Unlike most pines, this species often produces new shoots or sprouts from cut stumps.” The less typical variety, var. chihuahuana, is the one native to California. I think that must be the one pictured here, because it has three needles in each bundle, whereas the variety found in Mexico has five.

Trying a very simple outline. It is not easy.

This time the name is not a slur. The range of this species does coincide with a lot of Apache territory; hence the common name. Its scientific name is Pinus engelmannii.

Like a star . . .

Torrey pine needles are very long–typically 8 to 13 inches–and they are frequently used in woven baskets. With that in mind, as I looked for a large close-up photo of the needles, this one by Susan Beauchemin (second photo in that blog entry) caught my attention because of the subtle weaving in and out of some of the needles as they grow towards one another from different bunches. I used one portion of that photo as my model.

Torrey pines are native only to California, and are critically endangered, with just a few thousand wild trees, almost all in San Diego.

“The odor of crushed twigs defies exact description,” the Audobon guide says. “The scent has been likened not only to lemons and vanilla, but also to violets, pineapples, and apples.” I sympathize with those who have tried to identify the equivalent scents, as I imagine it is a task comparable to trying to identify the shades of whitish-green that appear in the closeup photos of these needles. The brain is so accustomed to interpreting what the eye sees that it’s hard even to know what color I’m looking at. And then to convey the blur behind the few needles that are in focus . . . Well. I’ll have many opportunities to practice.

P. jeffreyi is a native species here in California, though the person it is named for, Scottish naturalist John Jeffrey, brought many of the plants he found here back to Scotland, where I hope they are not invasive.

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