As I mentioned recently, I've taken on a challenge to embark on an illustrated series featuring inspiring parks and botanical gardens worldwide. Now, the moment has come to start the first leg of this journey, leading us to the vibrant landscapes of South East Asia.
Close your eyes, and let's embark on a journey to Malaysia (quite a lengthy one from Quebec—more than 14,000 km away!). Our destination today is situated on the northwest coast of the Peninsular Malaysia, overlooking the Malacca Strait and Sumatra: the enchanting Penang Island.
A destination that seamlessly blends lush rainforests and pristine white sand beaches is always a delightful choice, and Pulau Penang fits the bill perfectly!
Around a decade ago, I had the pleasure of visiting this island with my family. During our time there, we were fortunate enough to discover a hidden gem, a mystical garden nestled along the north shore of the island: the Tropical Spice Garden.
I've selected this unique location as the inaugural stop on my illustrated journey because it stands out in such a distinctive way, unlike any other garden you might encounter elsewhere.
This place left such an indelible mark on me that even after a decade, I still vividly recall it as a slice of paradise on Earth.
A SPICE GARDEN WITHIN A RAINFOREST
This extraordinary garden is a sanctuary nestled within a rainforest, situated in the midst of an ancient rubber plantation within a naturally formed valley on the north shore of Penang. It's not just a spice garden: it's a harmonious blend of nature, a tranquil haven designed to awaken your senses.
As you step in, the first thing that captures your eyes is the rainforest—dense, intense, a vibrant shade of green, and fantastically overwhelming. It plays host to a myriad of flora and fauna indigenous to Malaysia, showcasing an extensive collection of Malaysian endemic palm trees that will truly astonish you. From heliconias, pinang trees, taccas and luteas, to ferns, spathiphyllums, lianas, and gingers—the variety is immense. If you're a fervent admirer of tropical plants, this is a paradise that will delight you, and for those who enjoy sketching or drawing them, it's an artist's haven on Earth.
Malaysia and the Malacca Strait held significant importance on the spice route for centuries, and the spice trade is deeply ingrained in Penang's history.
In homage to this rich heritage, the owners of the garden chose to celebrate spices. As you wander through, you'll encounter a captivating array of cloves, nutmeg, peppercorn, curry leaves, lemongrass, gingers, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, and more—each of them are fantastic spice native to the region. The garden serves as a living classroom, allowing visitors to witness these spices in their natural habitat and gain insightful knowledge about them.
THE DRAWING CHALLENGE
Opting to illustrate such a place posed quite a challenge for me: with an abundance of diverse plants, the task of selection became daunting. Deciding which ones to feature among the myriad was no small feat.
Capturing the essence of a dense rainforest, where visitors find themselves enveloped in a sea of "big green," is indeed an unusual challenge. In such an environment, one can hardly discern anything beyond the lush foliage when gazing upwards and around. The intricacies of portraying this immersive experience presented a unique artistic endeavor.
Introducing depth and perspective without a distinct skyline and minimal buildings is undoubtedly a unique challenge. Yet, where's the fun in it if it's too easy?
Recognizing that one illustration wouldn't be enough, I opted to dedicate this initial piece to capturing the rainforest aspects of the garden, reserving a separate one for the spices (coming soon).
To be honest, I experimented with various techniques before settling on a combination of acrylic gouache, pencils, and adding fine details on ipad. The initial attempts might not have been resounding successes :) , but as they say, it's all part of the process—trying and learning from setbacks before achieving something that aligns with the envisioned outcome.
MY MUST-HAVE LIST FOR THIS ILLUSTRATION
Capturing the incredible sensation of being a minuscule figure amidst the awe-inspiring rainforest—where we appear so diminutive in comparison to the towering trees—was a key objective.
Incorporating the iconic plants of the garden was essential. While I don't aim for strict botanical realism, my hope is that they remain identifiable in their distinctive forms :-)
Highlighting a renowned and easily recognizable focal point of the garden: the grand swing (which I absolutely adored! Regrettably, a typhoon ravaged the original swing last year. Nevertheless, the garden has since reconstructed a new one).
And let's not overlook the beloved inhabitants of the garden: the endearing little langurs.
There's truly so much to share about this place; this can only be the start.
Sketching it transported me back in time, offering a taste of being there once again.
If you find yourself near Penang, don't pass up the opportunity to visit. It's a remarkable immersion into the natural world, and the garden extends beyond with workshops, sales, concerts, cooking and drawing classes, yoga sessions, camping nights, and a myriad of other experiences!
If I were closer, I'd make it a weekly destination.
For more details, check out their website: Tropical Spice Garden.