The Mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) is a shrub well known for its generous Pom-poms of blue, pink, or violet flower clusters, which burst forth from lush green leaves in July and August. This thirsty, shade preferring shrub is a common garden variety of Hydrangea, belonging to a genus of diverse cultivated and wild plants across the world.
In the fall, those pom-poms fade into a pale tea-stained umber and dry out into crisp petals as delicately veined as dragon fly wings, which remain on the branches until pruned off to make room for the next cycle of gregarious foliage. Some people wait to dead-head hydrangeas until the very dawn of springtime, feeling that those chiffon puffs add visual interest and a vintage charm to a garden in the cold weather. I’m one of those people.
In early February, when I was searching through my yard for my next botanical art subject, my eyes landed on our hydrangea shrub, still topped by puffs of spent blooms. It appeared in limbo, still holding on to its flowers as its pale old-growth limbs showed little leaf buds and the first suggestion of new leaves. As I approach, I look closer and take note that new buds appear in pairs, opposite one another along the stem. It seems that one bud is always larger than the other, as if it has a head start in its growth. And in fact, all over the shrub, buds are at many stages of development, some already unfurling nascent green leaflets with red violet veins.
I pulled out my 12.5X magnifying clip-on lens (serendipitously—I had it because I recently wrote about tools of magnification in the ASBA’s Botanical Artist magazine) and took a photo of one of the buds, a nondescript little knob measuring less than 0.25 inches wide. In the photo, the bud appears at 1.5 inches and reveals what might as well have been a whole new universe to me—a blue-green iridescent bean-shaped marble, with vague swirls of pink violet, emerging from a deep brown husk dotted by tiny sea green lichens.
The photo captures a particular interplay of light, shadows, and object; the bud glistens in diffuse late morning light and shows colors that are dependent on the time of day and the color of its surrounds.
I snipped off a few twigs with buds, to make sure I could reference the real thing, even as I would take inspiration and color choices from the photo enlargement. I began to compose an image that contrasted the bud against the other textures of its younger partner bud, spent flower petals, branches, and another bud a bit further along in its development into a leaf, all present in those exact states at one moment in February. The finished art celebrates a facet of hydrangea beauty normally inaccessible to the human eye, in what is usually considered its off season. I intend the artwork to represent the perpetual cycle of death and new life on dramatic display during winter, if you look hard enough.
The result is Hydrangea, 10 X enlarged. Color pencil, with watercolor wash under color pencil on foreground branch. Buy print