By Canopy Team on October 5, 2021
She has loved trees and nature all of her life, yet Patricia Larenas has gained all new reverence for Palo Alto’s majestic great oaks as she’s been drawing their portraits these last few months. Since joining Canopy as an artist-in-residence in June 2021 (read more), Patricia has completed portraits of Lucy, a 250-year-old valley oak in a residential neighborhood of Palo Alto (at the corner of Castilleja and Sequoia avenues), and a blue oak on El Camino Way. Still to come are drawings of a black oak and a coast live oak.
“We have these incredibly ancient beings living among us in our urban areas. It’s incredible that such beings can live among us, with so much going on around them, for a couple centuries,” Patricia says. As she set up her easel to draw Lucy — so named by a former owner of the residence where the regal tree lives — Patricia realized the tree is quite a local celebrity. “People would stop their cars and take pictures of her. The current owner said she’ll see people come and hug the tree. And when people saw my drawing, they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I know where that one is.’”
Patricia gifted her portrait of Lucy to Canopy to help with fundraising. In June 2021, during Canopy’s “Planting Hope, Growing Resilience” event, Montse Suarez won the drawing for the artwork. Montse told Maika Horjus, Canopy’s senior development specialist, that she and her family are moving back to her native Spain, so she is happy to bring Lucy with her as a reminder of the beautiful oaks of California.
Patricia recently completed drawing a blue oak on El Camino Way, on a corner of the busy street. “It has grown between the sidewalk and a parking lot, in just a strip of soil—although of course its roots reach beneath the parking lot,” she says. “There’s a street light that looks almost like the tree is leaning on it, or it is digging into her side.”
Drawing in colored pencil and watercolor pencil, Patricia included detailed, botanical-art renditions of a leaf and acorn from each tree. She visits the trees several times to do sketchbook studies before drawing the final art. Her pieces for Canopy are “tighter, a little more precise than some of my work,” she says.
After talking with Indira Selvakumaraswamy, Canopy’s volunteer engagement manager, and learning that Canopy is undertaking an update of Palo Alto’s 1997 count of the trees, Patricia decided to focus on four great oak species. The new survey will help us understand how the urban trees are faring after a little more than 20 years. “It’s so cool to be doing the count again to see what’s happening with the trees,” she says. “That data will be important.”