The finest way to draw–Bluegray tanagers sketched from a comfortable hammock on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Right on the other side of that railing is a fruiting tree. Note the pink toenails- on the artist, not the bird. But where is my drink with the umbrella?
I don’t even know where to start, but let me do a short show and tell. It was a terrific trip and I got a lot of photos and sketches, as well as ideas for projects and a series of paintings or two. I like that sort of trip, with lots of think time. I actually spent many hours just looking at how light affects the understory: watching patches of sunlight break up and move around the forest floor, highlighting a seedling here, a root there, a liana’s curve, a foraging agouti, a nephila in its web.
Oh, that Nephila in its web!
A warm patch of sunlight on the forest floor lingers briefly before vanishing or moving on.
If you think about it, plants in the deep shade of a tropical rainforest floor don’t get much sun, and these ephemeral patches of moving light may be all they get. A sunny day is required (and there are a lot of rainy days in the tropics) but the light is filtered through the canopy, broken in pieces by vines, leaves and branches- a tight basketweave of shadecasting biomass. As the sun moves through the sky, the patch works its way across what’s beneath. That young Dipteryx sapling might get a few minutes of sunlight sliding across it once every few days. Dipteryx trees are forest giants when they mature, but if they are in deep forest, they start out growing VERY slowly. A seedling just five feet tall with a stem of an inch in diameter might be ten or twenty years old.
Sunlight=growth. This tree seedling is lucky enough to have rooted earlier in what was later to become a light gap. Luck plays a major role in the life of a rainforest tree.
If a big tree falls and opens up a light gap for the seedling, the Dipteryx can grow with amazing speed and reach canopy size quickly. This is how the forest regenerates itself, fascinating stuff. But from my point of view, the patchy light in the forest understory made beautiful patterns, ever so lovely to look at and so much fun to draw.
Watch this drawing being made in three video clips: