20 x 18 in | 50.8 x 45.7 cm
Most of the thousand species of Rhododendron are small shrubs. I remember as a child being fascinated with their brilliant flowers just at eye level. But since I’ve grown a few feet taller I usually admire their flowers from above. That is, I did until I went hiking in the Smoky Mountain National Park where giants live. Here the Rhododendrons towered over us as we hiked. This painting therefore represents an unusual perspective for these plants—looking up from underneath. Huge trees and the famous Smoky Mountain mist provide the background.
The leaves Catawba Rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) are so dark green and leathery that I have never observed their veins before. But from the perspective of looking up into the sun the veins were revealed as darkened stripes with lighter patches between. I first painted the leaf with a dark green and then repainted the patches between the veins with a lighter green. Notice none of the leaves have bites taken out of them, probably because they are poisonous to deer. The roundish holes chewed in some of the leaves suggest that some insects have stronger stomachs than deer.
Long lengths of bare twigs are visible because the leaves are clustered in whorls at the ends. I made sure that a short segment of the larger branch was included in the painting because I wanted to show how the bark becomes scaly with age. I enjoyed making this bark with a painting knife, one of the many occasions when I’m glad that I paint with knives. This scaly bark would be difficult to make with a brush. While I am on the subject of the twigs, notice that the ends of the twigs are green. This is the new growth. Twigs grow about six inches per year, which is not very fast, a realization that increased my respect for these giants.