This is the print of lino drawn on site when out walking then cut over the last week or so.
Somehow these dark grey trunks silhouetted against the winter afternoon sky brought to mind tombstones. The field sketch is below using conte crayon, charcoal and white gouache in tinted paper. Above, I tried to darken this with washes mixing burnt sienna with ultramarine or paynes grey, the watercolour scattering on the powdery surface. I have also turned down the exposure on the photo.
Below is the quick preliminary drawing, with the sun behind me. In reality that trunk is tiled with rich brown scales mortared in green. I need to have another try at capturing that.
This is an attempt to render tones in false colour; using a pink and pastel blue to represent mid-tones between white and black on black paper. It began as a dog-sketch, that is a drawing done in the time it takes for a spaniel to become bored waiting for me. I reworked it later at home.
Alongside drawing I am also trying to learn to play this Balkan love song on electric guitar (“Phirava daje phirava …”, first line of the verse which translates as “I travelled mother I travelled, I went to Tetovo, to see Mirvet, to steal her eyes”).
Tetovo it a town in Northern Macedonia. I realise I have been near there two decades ago, visiting my mother on her Balkan adventures (working for a non-governmental organisation, manning a polling station in post-war Serbia, smoking, drinking and playing endless cards)
Three sketches in conte crayon on black paper started outside and finished at home, stimulated by the recent life drawings of Rosie Scribblah.
Here are the original sketches, the first from my bike on the footbridge over the ford by the watermill, the other two on foot while my dog sat patiently by.
These drawings are a small respite, but with a pandemic uncontrolled by active choice of those with power, democracy devalued and the world moving to the tipping point for massive climate change, there seems small comfort in art. We are on the brink of knowing whether democracy can have a small win against careless self-serving misgovernment, a little step towards the next struggle, or whether the full force of devastation and destruction is to be unleashed on us at this time.
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.
This week I went drawing with a friend, who posts under the enigmatic name outsideauthority. We met in Cromford, a village in Derbyshire where the abundant running water became the driving force for the first powered factories at the start of the Industrial Revolution. From the start I was fascinated by this construction which took the oily calm waters from outside the mills and dropped them into subterranean tunnels.
The purpose of the first sketch of the day was to warm up, to open my vision and loosen my hands. The weather was icy, so as I warmed up, I became progressively stiffer and colder, my legs lost feeling and my ungloved right hand became numb. Interestingly, in the time it took me to draw this first sketch, in graphite stick, OA had drawn about eight simpler, smaller, dynamic, expressive views around the mill yard.
For my second drawing, of the same structure, I set out to work faster and looser in fountain pen and water. This version has been minimally revised with a knife to make clearer the shape of the falling water.
A short way along the canal we found a stone bridge which lifted us above the canal and the families wandering along the towpath. Beyond the gate, rough pasture led up to the bleak dark woods along the road interspersed with houses, under a creamy winter sky. Here I roughed out two views in fountain pen with a light dusting of conte crayon. The second version is dominated by the curve of the bridge wall in the foreground.
When I got home, I set out to rebuild this second sketch from memory, trying to find the tones and textures of the light lichened coping, smoother dark building stones, the rough concrete gate post and vegetation beneath.
Lastly, I looked along the canal. What I saw was a glow of light catching the tree in the left mid ground and, at the back, a dark mass of wood spilling down from the hill, throwing black reflections in the flat grey water. In the cold, conte crayons were hard and unyielding of pigment and brush pens made miserly marks.
At home again, I drew into this, but in the revised version the bare winter branches are at odds with what seems to be the bright colours of early spring. Where are the dark trees which threw the black reflection into the canal? The cold bleak dusk is lost and this sketch has become a confection.
Reflecting on our approaches to drawing, it seemed to me that OA made sketches, many very brief, full of life, replete with shape, line and feeling, which were complete in themselves, their purpose to carry information and ideas, perhaps for other times and new pictures painted in the studio. I rarely now undertake new studio pieces. When I walked away from this last scene, the struggle with the sketch was not over. I am on a journey with this particular piece that will not have reached a destination until I have taken charcoal and white gouache to it, and found again the feelings of that cold day in my marks.
These are three exercises in capturing the sky and bare trees of winter.
It was very lightly raining. The conte crayons marked unevenly, speckling on the textured paper and giving deeper tones where they chanced to hit rain drops. The trees were drawn in using a black ink brush pen. The paper was by then sufficiently wet that the ink bled, softening the marks.
I had emerged from the woods and skirted a field. The point of this sketch was to show texture and tone in what appeared a heavy white/grey sky and its reflection in standing water on the grass. In the field, I blocked this in crayon, covering the colours with a heavy layer of white. Once home, I completed the sky by covering it with wet gouache so the tones still showed through.
Here, I was once again inside the wood looking through the trees and low lying holly to the grey sky beyond. Once again the sky and interlacing twigs were built in layers of crayon and the sense of filtering light rescued with subsequent dabs of gouache
Today my daughter asked to go for a walk and do some drawing. This is not something we do often. She had in mind a muddy walk through fields to a place where we had previously drawn buzzards. So we did.
She chose a composition looking out into a field where an old almost bare oak tree was crowned by reddening foliage, glowing in the late afternoon autumn light. She drew bold lines in pencil then switched from that to watercolour and then conte crayon, constrained by my art field kit and guided by the technique I am developing for myself. I looked only twice – when she finished the pencil marks and when she had finished. I will be honest, I really like this piece.
Here is my piece. However, unlike my companion, I reworked this when I got home. I had looked again at her painting and at a shot taken on my phone. I had not seen what she had, that the bare tree still had leaves at the top and side, and these should be the focus of the sketch. I also needed to bring the foreground forward. Here is the drawing as completed in the field and photographed in sunlight.
The light across the cut maize stalks was striking.
Yesterday, we went by train to the music shop to sort an annoying buzz affecting the C string on my tenor ukulele. We sketched on the train.
The path within the wood runs close to the edge where the trees meet the open field and the foliage is backlit by the westering sun.
This sketch was made first in conte crayon, highlighting the sunlit leaves in cool yellow and those starting to brown in warmer greens. Scanty layers of watercolour were dragged across this resist for the ploughed earth, distant trees, sky and shadowed leaves, trunk and twigs.
I later adjusted the balance within the field sketch to give more substance to the turned clods in the field, with crayon and purple paint.