Mullein, 22-1/2x27" unframed, mixed media (2015). By Brad Schwartz

This piece started as a graphite drawing based on reference photo I took in the Garden Springs area near Spokane. I've looked at and admired Mullein for several years. I find it interesting to see the differences in people's opinions about plants and weeds.

I'm guessing most people would consider this a weed. For the longest time I would have told you the same. I've done a little bit of research about Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) after seeing it all over the Spokane area and also finding it in some herbal tea mixtures I've purchased at the store. Mullein is also known as bunny's ear, flannel leaf, candlewick plant and hag taper1

A member of the snapdragon family, mullein has flowers that are flat and open, unlike the irregular “dragon faces” of snapdragons. Within the Scrophulariaceae family, the genus Verbascum consists of about 300 species native to Europe, West and Central Asia, and North Africa. Most are tall, stout biennials with large leaves and flowers in long terminal spikes. The species best-known among herbalists is the homely but useful common mullein, V. thapsus.1

I enjoy the symmetry and geometry of mullein as wel as it's may living (and dead) states. The symmetry and geometry reminds me of Vi Hart's mathematical doodle video where she inspects the mathematics found in plant world. 

This drawing started as a graphite sketch on a USGS map. I used some Ebony pencil to rough out the majority of the drawing but I wasn't very happy with it. I let it sit while working on other drawings and came back to it off and on again. I tried using some white conte/chalk to create some highlights and offset the drawn image from the green background of the topo map, but I still wasn't happy with how it was looking. So, I took a risk and attempted to use Inktense pencils to create a color wash in the background. I taped the paper down and colored some gradients and used a small watercolor brush to activate the colored pencil marks. Had the map paper been more substantial I think it would have worked out, but alas, still not happy and I didn't want to risk having the paper fall apart from getting too wet. I let the paper dry out and moved on to some other drawings in this series.

After the paper had dried out I decided I didn't have too much to lose and started using some chalk pastels to build up the background color and texture. I used earth tones to emulate the sandy gravel and rock that the Mullein plant was growing in. I liked where this was going now. I added more white highlights to the plant leaves to give them the soft look of the plant and added final detaisl using black and white pastel chalks to add shadows and highlights to the edges of the leaves.    

  1. Herb to Know: Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)