Look back

This little sketch was made in the late afternoon walking down a path through wood and bracken.  Huge limestone boulders in the gloom of the trees brought to mind the petrified carcases of trolls, as viewed by scared hobbits who had forgotten their family history.  I had walked too far down the path by the time this idea had come to me, so drew what I could see looking back at the wood.

The last sketch of the holiday.  Out on a long cycle ride, I had watched clouds build up and lightning flash across the distant mountains.   I was daunted by the spectacle and could find no way to express this.   Then I took shelter from the downpour in a vacant goat shed.  Cycling on to l’Albufera nature reserve, I drew the clearing skies on a bridge over a waterway on a small sketchpad with conte crayon and water.

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.



through mountains to the sea

The single road crossing the mountains on the north west side of Mallorca winds steeply uphill.  Just as it reaches the plateau there is a gate signed Vinyes Mortitx.  That path twists through groves where roots of limestone grow into olive trees and holm oak.  The route climbs to the top of the ridge and looks down onto the sea.  Here, patches have been cleared and ploughed, fields ringed by rocks.  A square of pink stone within posts and lintel of grey looked like a door, or a shrine.

My most recent post linked conte crayon drawings on brown paper to water colours done three years before in the same location.  The drawing above used all these tools: limestone blocked in heavy crayon strokes, watercolour layered over this resist, more crayon to build texture into the trees and vegetation in the foreground, white crayon to lose the demarcation between painted sea and sky.

That previous post brought its own harvest of comments and discussion on the challenges of drawing, and of abstraction versus representation.  The most interesting drawing turned out to be the one I had liked least, the first attempt on that day abandoned as a failure.  Now I look at it (shown again below) with others’ eyes and see its abstraction, a strong blue against a shape made largely of unadorned paper, a patch of white and strong black lines on the foreground.  If I could have seen the power of those elements at that time, I would have been more purposive, drawn just those and stopped.

Let me say, thank you for your insights.

brown paper

In a limestone gorge leading to the sea, my idea was to abstract rather than represent, using simple crayon marks on seawhite kraft brown card.  I found this almost impossible.

The drawings of Welsh megaliths by Rose Davies offer an idea of what I would have liked to have done.

I have drawn this same gorge, leading to a cove, in watercolour five years ago, in this link, and also this.