Thymus vulgaris – a botanical art project.

Have you ever really looked at Thyme when you are using it in cooking? I bet you haven’t!

I have been asked to paint a botanical picture of Thymus vulgaris. Note the correct way of writing a binomial scientific name correctly; all in italics but with the capital letter at the beginning of the first word only.

My heart sank when I got the email asking me to do this particular plant. Imagine, all that ‘tiny-ness’! How on earth was I going to create a beautiful picture from this subject, one in which the viewer wanted to take a second look. The picture still isn’t painted yet, so the result will not magically appear at the end of this blog. However, I thought you might be interested in both my thought processes and my work progress.

I eventually got a plant that said it was Thymus vulgaris.

Thymus vulgaris

In actual fact, I got three – all of them different. I knew that the leaf had to have a furled edge; two of them had furled edges. When the flowers eventually started to appear I knew that the stamens would be protruding from the tube created by the four petals. One of them did not have protruding stamens as they remained just under the fused lip of the petals. The last one did all the things I expected it to do. Or did it?

When the last plant had flowered for a while, some of the flowers didn’t have visible stamens. After much research I discovered that in fact the same plant can have flowers with all the reproductive systems in place, but some flowers are sterile as they only have a style and stigma. Whew, what a relief. I now had a suitable subject. Do you like it? But where to start!

A quick look at the leaves

As you now realise I had to do quite a bit of investigating in relation to this plant. It helped me get to know it so that as I observed, researched and sketched, thoughts for my final composition began to be a little clearer. I also found that although it was a challenging subject (apparently I like challenges). I also really began to appreciate the plant and wanted to include things in my picture that would tell others about the plant. However, one of the challenges is that there were to be no dissections! That is often how I show others of what a plant is comprised.

Botanical art is an exciting subject and it really helps you to observe things around you. So we start off with the leaves. Have you noticed anything strange about them. Have a look at a real one, rather than my pictures.

Trichomes on the leaf

You will notice the appearance of little dents in the surface of the leaves. This is the same ones under a microscope. Do you see the little dents are in fact Trichomes, a special type of hair that produces aromatic oils. The oil is the part that smells so good when you crush the leaves before adding them to your cooking. But see if you can see where else the hairs are and the oil is:

Trichomes on the flower bud
Trichomes on the flower

Every part of the plant can be used in your cooking as every part produces the aromatic oils. Exciting isn’t it?

But what about the parts that need to be included in my picture? Although I found this particularly interesting and wished I could include this information in my picture, this depth of detail was not needed by the client.

However for me, Thymus vulgaris had moved up in my regard from being a plant with lots of tiny bits that smell nice, to being a complex and interesting plant. I hope I do it justice.

A Flower spike

 

 

I decided to do a whole lot of sketches in my sketch book. This helps hands to get to know the painting of the plant, the size at which I am showing it, the colours and hopefully an idea for the composition.

 

 

 

Me painting away with a magnifier on my head.

To see the plant I needed to use a magnifier, which lead me to enlarging the flower spike for everyone to marvel at the detail of the individual flowers.I did three spikes before deciding which one to use for my final composition. You can see by my clothes that the weather was a lot colder when I started this project!

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I now had a better idea of which sketches I wanted to include in my final picture. I wanted to show the flower spike enlarged so that the flowers with their magnificent coloured anthers were clear. I also knew that I needed to give a suggestion of the surface texture of the leaves, front and back as well as the growth habit of the plant.

A trial composition,
Final composition
The final painting started.