Olives and mark-making

I remained intrigued by the shapes, surfaces and tones of the gnarled olive trees growing amid limestone blocks in Mallorca’s mountains.  I was reflecting on a workshop I had attended with fellow artist blogger, Outside Authority, led by artist Oliver Lovley, where we concentrated on building shapes with different pencil marks.  Searching for guidance I found this sketch, on the News Illustrator Facebook home page, owned, it turns out, by Richard Johnson, field artist and journalist for the Washington Post.   His draughtsmanship is beautiful, skilled and illustrative.  I used a photograph taken in Mallorca and sought to emulate his mark-making technique for this drawing.

Here is another, earlier attempt done standing in the shade on one side of the road, looking at a tree apparently grafted onto a stump leaning over a fence.  The picture is on a much smaller page and more textured surface and I resorted to brushed water to merge the marks, which sort of missed the point of the exercise.

In the English Midlands, trees are mundane by comparison.  Here are three sketches of the same fallen log, eaten from inside by a fungus erupting in strange black fruiting bodies.  These too were undertaken with Oliver Lovley’s workshop and Richard Johnson’s technique in mind.


Olives and ink

The roots of the olive trees gripped the limestone and the limestone blocks grew into trees.

I drew this in ink dripped on the paper.

I shaped it with a stone and stick.

I hoped it would dry quickly while I drew but the afternoon was drawing on and the sun was no longer hot.  I placed it flat to photograph it.  The movement disturbed the ink, the pigments merged and the tones were lost.  I rebuilt it, applying more wet ink, keeping it flat and still in the sun.

However, my time was done and I needed to walk back up the steep path.  I wedged it between two pages with the thought it might leave a print. Instead, the paper adhered to the drying ink.

With hindsight, I should have ripped them apart, leaving torn paper stuck to the ink for another layer.  Instead I separated them carefully and wiped of the excess ink.  Its looks like this now, waiting to be drawn on again.



My wife is practicing the flute in the room above my head while I make this post. A year ago, I bought her a handful of lessons and a flute, and I think this ranks up near our assorted children and a time-wasting dog as a positively life-changing event.  It helps, I think, that I set the bar low by learning to play guitar – she surpassed me within months.

On our holiday, I had a purpose.  I knew of a place where the olive trees grow gnarled and twisted among limestone, so that rock, trunk, roots and branches seem sculpted from the same stuff, a setting for scrawny sheep and goats gently clanging their muted off-key bells.

This was the first attempt, in black grey and flesh crayon on brown card.

Lowell Liebermann flute trio no. 1, moderato

Liebermann’s floating music perfectly captures the sense of walking up the steep path, sheltering from the hot sun to look north west across the valley at the opposing crags, then cresting the ridge to look the other way, south east, where the eroded mountains fall away to the plains, as the afternoon faded into rain.

These were drawn in graphite, pen and water and then coloured with conte crayon.


I used my holiday in Mallorca to think more consciously about using types of marks in drawing, rather than a style founded more in optimism than skill.

Here is a sketch from a platform overlooking a nature reserve.  It was started in graphite and then built in layers of watercolour and conte crayon, returning to graphite for final details.



kitesurf cafe

On the coast road south of Porta Pollenca, near Alcudia, there is a kitesurf shop staffed and populated by mad people, that is, people mad about kite surfing, all ages, men and women, sun-bitten and tempered by fighting their sails in the sea.

This was my destination on any cycle trip.  Here I could sit, eat ice cream, drink Estrella Galicia beer and look out on the bay and crags beyond.