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Autumn is my favourite season...weird I know but

Autumn is my favourite season...weird I know but

Autumn is the transition from warm summer months to the cold weather of winter, and its related status as the season of the primary harvest, has dominated its themes and popular images.

To me Autumn is about the brightly coloured leaves that contrast with the lush green foliage which surround them and are scattered across dried cracked earth in an abundance.

Autumn in poetry has often been associated with melancholy which is what most people seem to associate this time of year with. The possibilities of summer are gone, and the chill of winter is on the horizon. Skies turn grey, and people turn inward, both physically and mentally, but it doesn’t have to be seen that way. It’s a time of great beauty and well for me anyway, there is a lot to appreciate about this season. Its not too hot and its not too cold and the transforming of colours can be seen as a great thing of beauty. The ripening of many grains and vegetables happen in Autumn so it’s a time of abundance also. That’s why it is celebrated in many countries as a Harvest festival.

Autumn is also associated with Halloween which although it doesn’t fall at the right time of year for us in New Zealand, we still acknowledge Halloween with pumpkins, scarecrows and hay-bales etc.

So why do the leaves on trees turn to reds, gold's and oranges in Autumn? For years, scientists have studied how leaves prepare for the annual show of Autumn colour. The molecules behind bright yellows and oranges are well understood by scientists, but brilliant reds still remain a bit of a mystery.

Cooler temperatures and less daylight hours, mean that leaves stop producing their green-tinted chlorophyll, which allows them to capture sunlight and make energy. Because chlorophyll is sensitive to the cold, certain weather conditions like early frosts will turn off production more quickly.

Orange and yellow pigments which are called carotenoids and are also found in carrots, shine through the leaves' washed out green. The yellow colour itself has been there all along through summer, but you don't get to see it until the green starts to fade away. The red colour though, comes from something called anthocyanins, which unlike the  carotenoids, are only produced in Autumn. Anthocyanins are also what gives the red colour to red apples, strawberries and plums. On a tree, these red pigments beneficially act as sunscreen, by blocking out any harmful radiation and shading the leaf from any excess light. They also serve as antifreeze, protecting the leaves cells from freezing too easily. They are beneficial as antioxidants. Trees produce them in response to stresses in the environment like freezing cold, UV radiation, drought, and fungus, however red leaves are also a signal of distress. If you see leaves of a tree turning red early then you can be sure the tree is most likely suffering from a fungus or even a shock from being smashed into by a vehicle or other tree falling on it.

autumn coloured leaves on a black background by Collette Fergus

Over the years I have painted many artworks with Autumn leaves in them. When I go for my morning walks I am mesmorised by the rich intense colours and always come home inspired to paint more. The deep rich reds teamed with warming orange and highlighted with bright yellows and shiny gold's is a wonderful combination to play with. I use crackle paint to achieve the dried earth effect beneath and a matt varnish to contrast with the high gloss on the leaves. 

Posted: Wednesday 3 March 2010


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