My first encounter with our Natal Protea simplex was a delightful surprise. I came across a copse of them at the top of Empati mountain when I first started trail running a few years ago. In my amateurish ignorance, I thought that Proteas could only be found growing in the fairest Cape. Now I know better as my knowledge (although still amateurish) has improved somewhat through my mountain excursions and enthusiasm for our indigenous flora.
Hiking in the Drakensberg has also led to many happy Protea discoveries and these Natal ‘sugar bushes’ as they are commonly called, have come to have a meaningful significance in my life. They pop up from time to time, weaving their way through my ‘story’, with sometimes an uncanny synchronicity and serendipity. I find myself always looking out for them when out in the bush or climbing mountains.
The world of flowers and all things botanical is a fascinating one. The more I learn, the more I realize just how little I actually know. Proteas are no exception. I have only just discovered that what one would think are the petals making up the frame of one flower – are in fact modified leaves! These ‘bracts’ as they are also known, act as a support for the inflorescence of many many long thin often hairy flowers, all massed together in the center. These flowers are at first closed and curved over towards the center. They open from the outside towards the middle, and as they open, the central mass loosens up and the flowers fluff out sometimes like a messy pom-pom.
I have drawn many Proteas over the years, but lately I have been itching to paint them. Creativity for me is like that. I can leave something for ages until suddenly, out of the blue, the bug bites once again and I am filled with an all consuming urgency to ‘create’ something. This time it has been my paint brushes beckoning and winking at me coquettishly from their jar on the shelf!
Inspired by the stunning display the Proteas have put on this Summer, and pouring over the many photographs I have taken, I decide I need to paint them. Canvas? – no, board? – no. The jar?The jar! The glass jar it is. More decisions, oils or acrylic? I prefer oils as they dry slower, giving me more time to manipulate the paint. After researching my new found medium however, I decide begrudgingly to use acrylic. According to the ‘google guru’ I have consulted, acrylic adheres better to glass.
Creativity is an act of faith. Whenever I start a new creative project, I almost always go through the same thought process. Thoughts like – “I can’t wait to start, this will be fun”, to “Oh help, this is a lot harder than I thought!”, and even “should I even bother to go on!” Then, slowly with persistence and blind faith, I start to feel my way through – allowing my intuition to take the steering wheel, or rather ‘the brush’ in this case.
Slowly but surely it begins to take shape, and I begin to see a way through. Yes, sometimes it doesn’t quite work and sometimes I may have to go over an area more than once. Mostly though I get to the end, and there it is! The thrill of having created something pleasing and beautiful, the feeling of contentment mingled with the surprise of having pulled it off, is pure bliss.
So to it was with my Protea painting. Doubt at first as to whether I could make it work – the initial enthusiasm turning into panic as I discovered technical difficulties in working on the transparent glass. I had to resort to much layering – which gave it a lovely depth in the end. Then getting used to the acrylic drying so quickly as I worked.
As always with creative work though, I come away richer for the whole experience, whether it works or not. For as in life, art is an act of courage and faith. One has to dive right in. It is a process of feeling your way through the messy bits and then the empowering that develops through that experience enabling you to create your own beautiful and original ending.