"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home" (Twyla Tharp)

Assignment 2 - SBA Diploma Distance Course

Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'

Assignment 2 for the course saw us continuing in graphite work - we began with a few tonal exercises, including shading spheres and cylinders to show light source.
I then moved on to the main requirement which was once again a continuous tonal study - to be more complicated and detailed than the first - reflecting our understanding and skill in this medium.
I felt my first piece showed more of the mid tones in the Allamanda cathartica so when deciding on this assignment subject I wanted to find something with strong tonal contrasts, allowing me to work with stronger depth and tone, texture and form.  I spent a long time looking for subjects - the suggestion that it was a plant with flower etc., became a little difficult as we are now in Autumn in Western Australia and very few options appealed which included flowers.

In my garden I found a Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' with no flower, however had a wonderful seed head - to me, even more beautiful and complex than the flower.  I could see it would reflect the strong tonal differences - and to assist in making choices I often take a large sheet of white paper to place behind a plant while in the garden to determine if I feel it can translate well onto paper.  This branch with seed head certainly leapt out so I quickly did preliminary sketches and tonal practise to ensure I could achieve the result I wanted.

Work in progress

Once the drawing was complete and transferred onto watercolour paper,  it then took many long hours of tiny graphite ellipses delivered in feather light strokes - but I loved the branch and seed head so I was happy to spend so much time on this subject.  .

All images © Vicki Lee Johnston

I think that's key to a positive outcome - if you enjoy looking at it for hours, chances are others will enjoy seeing it for a moment on paper.


  1. Its a great piece of work Vicki and I'd rather draw the seedhead too.The poem is so beautiful xxx

  2. Vicki, I enjoyed reading the process you went through to choose your subject. I agree that magnolia seed heads are as interesting as the flowers,or maybe more so. You did a fantastic job of depicting the thick. leathery, glossy leaves, knobby branches, and cone-like seed head. Great work!!

  3. Thanks so much for your nice comments Claire and Janene xx