Honoring the legacy of Luther Burbank―a new exhibition of botanical drawings by Sonoma County artists opens at Sebastopol Center for the Arts on Thursday, September 11, 2014
Framed in my room, I have a Victorian card with lovely hand-drawn lilacs inscribed “You are like a fragrant bouquet of lilacs. The thought of you, however far I stray, brings me back to my childhood hours.” How delightful to learn that Sebastopol artist Vi Strain has created a hand-drawn lilac that will be exhibited at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts as part of their “Legacy of Luther Burbank” exhibition opening Thursday, September 11, 2014 with a reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibition features fourteen Sonoma County botanical artists who have created glorious colored pencil drawings of plants they selected from the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol and the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. Botanically accurate portraits of fruits, vegetables, flowers and trees created through Burbank’s experiments all combine as a wonderful florilegium of Burbank’s important and enduring work in Sonoma County. By chance, I had the good fortune of meeting Vi Strain at the recent opening of Schroeder Hall and jumped at the chance to ask her about her work. Here is our conversation―
How long have you been doing botanical drawing?
Vi Strain: Since about 2006, when I took Nina Antze’s “Drawing Nature” class in Sebastopol, where we used colored pencil. I’ve always drawn though and it started when I was a kid in Wyoming. At Montana State University, I studied commercial and fine art, and I was on scholarship for my first two years. I was drawn to botanical drawing because I’ve always found wonder in nature and plant life. Over time, I’ve worked in almost every medium there is. I really like colored pencils because you can get every color you want and they aren’t messy, like oil paints are. I work primarily on Dura-Lar and use oil-based pencils. Faber Castells and Carn d’Aches are my favorites. They are very smooth, so I can easily do very detailed work with very rich and accurate colors.
What did you learn about Luther Burbank in the process of creating your lilac?
Vi Strain: In researching Burbank’s legacy, I read Jane Smith’s book, The Garden of Invention and I visited the Sebastopol Experiment Farm and also the Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. I found that he brought plants from all over the world and would take those various strains and, through cross-breeding, create a new plant ideally suited to our region, where it does not freeze in the winter time. His lilac is a hybrid French lilac (Syringa vulgaris hybrid). I’ve always loved lilacs and, when I went there and saw his blooming, I knew immediately that I had to draw them as I have such a long history with them.
The amazing color is what grabbed me in this lilac, it’s really multiple colors–it starts as a tiny, almost black, deep purple bud which opens into a red-violet and then turns into a reddish lavender flower. As they start to go, they fade into this white lavender. I enjoy taking it from the bud stage all the way to the spent blossom.
Tell us more about your technique.
Vi Strain: I work exclusively in colored pencils, some are wax and some are oil, on Dura-Lar drafting film. I do all my preliminary compositions and drawings on tracing paper. Once I settle on what I like, I outline it in ink on the tracing paper and put the Dura-Lar directly over that and start working directly on that. Each one takes hours and hours. In this case, I took the lilac all apart and really examined it, trying to find how the blossoms are attached to the stem and how the stem is attached to the branch and how the leaves are shaped and how their vein structure works. I study all of this and then connect all the dots from there. I also create a whole study sheet on just colors. I take a lot of close-up photos too because lilacs don’t last long and I will work on a drawing for months.
Your favorite lilac fix?
Vi Strain: The one at the patio of the Union Hotel in Occidental. It is ancient and a beauty.
Details: Opening Reception for “The Legacy of Luther Burbank” is Thursday, September 11, from 6 to 7:30 PM. The exhibition runs in Gallery II from Thursday September 11 to Saturday, October 25, 2014. Concurrently running is “Big Ideas 1950-1970: influences in modern ceramics,” which focuses on the evolution and contemporary re-interpretation of earlier groundbreaking ceramic works by 13 seminal artists. Sebastopol Center for the Arts is located at 282 High Street, Sebastopol, CA. Phone: 707 829.4797
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