A spring day cycle ride, equipped with conte crayons and ribbed coloured Ingres paper.
In recent sketches I have sought to capture the effects capture sunlight on and behind trees using my standard field kit of conte crayons, ink and water. In the earlier sketches, I drew on textured white paper, dampened so the crayons layer thickly and reworked the drawing later with paint. Then I started explore the use of toned paper, struggling to leave unworked negative spaces to form part of the image. The most direct inspiration for this is from the recent sketches of professional artist and blogger, Rosie Scribblah as well as the current explorations of trees in other media by my occasional art buddy, outsideauthority. Unlike my previous drawings, ones shown here are all completed in the field, not reworked at home.
Last week, returning from drawing at the burial ground, I found a footpath along fields which skirted Nunnery Wood, fenced off on the western side. The evening sun filtered through the trees and last year’s undergrowth glowed. In the first sketch, at the top, the tan surface just about shows through between the short strokes of grey, an attempt to suggest the sky broken by branches into intersecting polygons. In the second sketch, the surface shows through the light strokes showing the fields but I still could not bring myself to leave the paper untouched.
The next two were done today, closer to home in Sidden Hill Wood. The low sun slanted in from the left so the many small branches and early leaves scintillated in the background and the nearer trunks glowed green and gold. I drew on machine-textured Ingress paper. Having completed the first as well as I thought I would achieve, for the second I tried to abstract the woods into simple blocks of lightly applied colour through which the toothed paper still shows.
I continued my attempt to use tinted paper to provide mid tones, using just one other hue, plus white and black, to build an image. In order to work outdoors, I bought a smaller Strathmore Toned Tan pad which would fit in my cycle bag. The paper is less robust and textured than the Daler Rowney Ingres pastel paper I used previously.
I had cycled to what passes for a nature reserve, rough land and flooded gravel pits trapped between a business park and motorway. Traffic was thundering behind me, but I looked across a pool, rushes and a line of trees to a darkening rain filled sky. The idea was to use a grey to build the cloud and reflections in the water, leaving negative shapes of the trees. I would then draw darker brown into the trunks and branches, so they are outlined by the light tone of the paper. As it turned out, I did not have the dexterity to do as I planned. Then it started to rain, quickly dampening the paper and solidifying the crayon strokes. As the paper became really wet, colour sluiced off the sticks as an opaque wash but the earlier strokes drawn dry acted as a resist, keeping their integrity. Though unintended, I am pleased with the effects: the virgin paper in the midground represents a line of rushes glowing in the evening light.
When I started the second sketch I was both wet and covered with mud all down my right side, having slid down a steep bank I was trying to climb. This image illustrates that if I want to draw in three tones, I must leave my colours at home. The paper’s tint was supposed to represent the foreground, but I had to keep adding to it, until no paper was left.
This post was written to the haunting, beautiful Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields, a musical discovery thanks to Spotify’s weekly selection for me.
Here are three small sketches from a walk across fields last weekend. They were started in the open air, using conte crayon, water and cool grey brushpen, and reworked at home with layers of crayon, watercolour, white gouache and knife. They are done in the smallest size Moleskine notebook, about A7.
I have been following s series of tree sketches by outsideauthority which stimulated me to think again how to capture their form. On this walk, there are no unbroken woodlands, but rather narrow lines of trees following the ditches and tracks. I stood on a wooden bridge like a troll’s lair in the gloom of the branches and looked out into the open fields beneath a heavy winter sky.
For the second picture, I looked back along the track I had walked, marked by single trees overhanging the hedgerows. I overworked the pleine aire sketch with successive layers. The knife proved the most effective tool and I, at least, like the dynamism of the heavily worked surface. However, in the lower part of the tree, I should have scored the paper vertically across (not following) the main branches, to capture the sense of the upward growing peripheral twigs in three dimensions.
I forgot to make a record of the third field sketch. Here is the finished, somewhat unsatisfactory, piece. The path crested a low hill and the descent was marked by trees clinging on to the eroding soil.
Its a simple sketch: winter trees seen on a bitingly cold day looking over the wall of a bridge over Cromford’s canal. Below is the field sketch and several of the intermediate steps. After many layers and scratching back, crayon and brushpen marker and white gouache and charcoal and knife and plastic scraper and watercolour, I’ve come to something that resembles how I felt when I first started the drawing. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to work for me as a sketch.
I had no photograph to work from but I realise the muted colours of that scene were captured in watercolours drawn direct on the scene, with no layers or revisions, by outsideauthority, who drew with me that day.
Occasionally, I try an exercise: capturing the essence of composition in a few lines and colours. It’s a cognitive challenge. What am I seeing, what is important to show, what is best implied and not shown?
Here are three drawings. The top is most recent, a line of pumpkins connect me to the scarecrow. This was done standing in the kitchen garden at Packwood House.
These next two were done from the bike a couple of weeks ago. One looks across into a nearby field from over a gate and under hanging oak foliage, whereas the other is of hay bales in a more distant field, on the other side of the canal, leading back to a line of trees.
A couple of weeks ago , we went to the Workers Gallery in Ynyshir to see Rose Davies’ exhibition, “The Hunt”. The next morning the family went for a long large breakfast while I took the chance to walk and draw. The marked path I took out of the Dare Valley park fizzled out into barbed wire and bracken so I never made it to the hill tops, but here are the sketches made on the way.
A time lapse film over decades would show these wooded hillsides eroding and falling as the roots wrench apart the rocks, and their branches are pulled outward and down by wind, rain and gravity. On that one morning, I saw a single frame from this sequence, trees still gripping the ground, and growing first horizontal and then pulling themselves up to the vertical with a mighty effort. The film, speeded up, might show them balancing, teetering on the brink of ruin.
The picture above shows the remains of a tree and the whitened skeleton of its major limb, ripped from the trunk. Below is the view across the valley to the wind turbines beyond. Both used the technique of fountain pen and water, then conte crayon textures built by drawing on the wet or dry surface.
This was the first sketch that morning, at the pool on the valley floor, with a cormorant close by, drying its wings.
The sketch I wish I had done there would have shown the myriad webs spun between reeds and grass blades, catching the morning light, white against the golden glowing meadow.