Seussical Inspiration: Cornus Kousa

Posted September 13, 2017 by Kerry McFall

When I read Dr. Seuss as a kid, I used to think the guy was crazy.  Fresh off the Bookmobile shelf, I flipped through a couple of his easy readers and quickly concluded that most of his books were filled with drawings of impossible plants and animals.  None of them looked like anything that grew in Klamath Falls, Oregon, (or even Eugene which was the cosmopolitan center of my small universe), and were therefore unworthy of being taken seriously.  Even his words were silly.  Fine for little brothers, maybe, but far too childish for my 3rd grade level of sophistication.  Besides, my mother disapproved of the Cat in the Hat… duh, he was naughty.

A few decades later, I have decided that my 3rd grade self was a conceited little snot, and my mother was an uptight troll.  And Seuss was a genius.  And his art was Inspired, and inspiring.

Painting of berries

“Kousa Dogwood Berries”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Every now and then in my wanderings around the world, I believe I have discovered some of his inspiration for those crazy plants.  The critters still mystify me, but the plants aren’t silly at all – they are REAL!  Take the above drawing for example – doesn’t this plant just take you back to  some of the illustrations in Seuss’ landscapes?  I’m not sure which book this reminds me of… but I saw this tree on my Sunday neighborhood stroll and fell in love with these crazy berries.

Kousa Dogwood Berries, photo by Kerry McFall

I consulted Google and decided that these must be Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), native to China and Korea.  It took me several days to work up the nerve to start this painting/drawing because I needed to figure out how to get the berry details right… which I didn’t quite manage because the final doesn’t do justice to those bluish berries, but I almost got the green and pink ones.  For my art geek friends, here are some of the stages as a work in progress:

Pencil and watercolor layout, then yellow highlighter for leaf veins – an unfortunate choice as it turns out, because it kind of overshadows the green watercolor of the leaves.  Lesson learned. Then more watercolor under crumpled plastic wrap for background texture.  Finally brown, black, and white ink, and a bit more colored pencil.  If I need an illustration for a fantastical story about soccer balls on a stick, I’m halfway there!

And for the record, I like to eat cake in the tub!

Cake In the Tub, by Dr. Seuss