Exercise 1: Sketching individual trees

This exercise was to familiarize and understand the structure of trees. I ventured out to a nearby forest with paper, a wooden board a selection of graphite sticks and pencils, also a flask as it was cold and very windy.

I positioned myself on a picnic table that was situated among some trees that were a good distance away, I wanted to try and capture the whole shape of the tree as well as its individual parts, the branches, the small vein like twigs and the collected leaves, although the leaves were starting to vacate. I started all my studies with a loose line to represent the trunk, my first attempt was with a graphite stick, I wanted to capture the trees essence, its basic shape and structure so a thicker less precise tool seemed to be a good choice to start.

I initially used broad strokes outlining the main trunks, which seemed to have split into two. I then found the biggest branches and tried to follow them along with my eye and translate this into marks with the graphite stick. using the flat side to the sharp edge to create some variation in my line. It was important to not make these too smooth, the branches were irregular and gnarled, this was something wanted to capture, while the graphite was great for broad marks and getting a feel for the tree, I didn’t feel I was able to capture the texture in a controlled way, I moved onto pencils.

Giving me much more control, over line weight and tone, the pencil seemed to be a much more suitable tool. Drawing the same tree I focused more on the area that had the most interesting shapes, the point that the two main trunks crossed. My pencil was nice and sharp so I sketched the outline and tried to recreate the texture of the tree bark, as it blunted I tried to capture the way the light was reaching the top of the branches and excluding the bottom, I thickened the thin lines, running the dull edge over the thin sharpened pencil lines to achieve this.

I had mainly been focused on the tapering branches, trying to capture their irregular outline and rendering their cylindrical shape, I wanted to try to quickly work up some leaves, there was some evergreens nearby so I re positioned myself and started to rough in the foliage. the shapes seemed to be made up of many feather like groups of pins, I didn’t fuss over precision, just ,ass, I tried to get a good rhythm going to fill out the tree. I attempted to make some areas more intense to try to show depth and structure. My resulting image didn’t really capture the density of the trees green pins as I’d hoped. it might have worked if used at a small scale but there was some information lost. I sharpened my pencil for another attempt at a more linear structured tree.

This tree was very easy to interpret, my biggest adversary so far had been the elements, when the wind is blowing hard, not only does it sting your eyes, make your ears hurt but also makes it quite a challenge to follow the intricate details of a tree. this tree was almost engineered in comparison, staggered angled branches, now stripped of all but a few leaves made an excellent subject to study. Drawing from my elbow I tried to make slow flowing marks, my goal was to also lessen my pressure towards the end of each branch, I had varying degrees of success doing, and sometimes I couldn’t resist a follow up stroke. I always started from trunk to the tip of the branch, I sketched in the few remaining leaves. Looking at these trees reminded me of biology text books, the inner workings of the lungs look very much like the trunks, branches and twigs of these trees, each branch giving birth to a smaller more resilient version of itself. It’s strange and almost poetic that these trees, having a similar appearance produce the very thing that our lungs crave.

I was getting very cold and tired by now, I just wanted to have another go at that first tree that I tried to capture in graphite, it had a good amount of leaves and it seemed to be still from the wind for the most part. this time I wanted to draw the leaves as a series of collected masses, the result wasn’t too far away from a sorry looking stem of broccoli. I tried to twist my pencil as I drew, this gave me a good variation in line. the softened worn edge being replaced with a flat knife edge as I turned gave a random result, that was enough for today. I packed my things up and started walking back with my large 6mm thick board of MDF I used as a drawing board fighting the wind with every step.

Exercise 2: Larger observational study of an individual tree

While my study hear was of indeed two trees, I really liked the way both trees worked in tandem and made one larger shape, the trees never seemed to encroach others space even growing and leaning in or away so they never collide. Another thing I liked was the contrasting trunks, one was covered in ivy and foliage, the other smoother with a few remaining leaves.

I sketched the tree, taking care to observe the relationship each tree has with each other. I added blocks of tone lightly with my pencil, I planned to ink over all these lines, so I pressed as lightly as possible so I could remove all graphite. once my sketch was in place, I had my tonal values all decided, I photographed the area just in case I needed some more reference when it came to inking, I then moved on to the groundwork for the next exercise before leaving.

I prepare the paper for inking, using a putty rubber I gently dabbed the harder pencil marks away so the ink isn’t hindered when applied to the paper. I diluted some Indian ink and with a brush I laid out blocks of tone, I had a jar of clean water and added more water to create lighter tones, I layered up light to dark creating a leafy texture for the foliage which had attached itself to the trunk. Once the paper was dry, I used a 01 waterproof fine-liner to start adding lines building them from thick to thin. I also added in some tree bark textures, creating broken lines though the length of the trunk, and circular movements around the branches to describe the rounded shapes. I made a second pass with an 03 marker to tidy and stray lines and block in any very dark areas.

I was happy with the outcome, the diluted ink gave a good amount of texture, the whole image has a very cold and winter feel to it which seemed to suit the sparsely covered tree.

Exercise 3: Study of several trees

I had previously sketched this on day 2 of my field sketches, again I had photographed the scene for reference, this came to be very useful when adding color. I wanted to try to make this image quite vibrant, I decided that some brush tipped pens would add some string instant color and my set had some really nice exaggerated autumnal hues.

I dulled the drawing with the putty rubber and looked among my brush pens for suitable colors. I didn’t want to use any black ink, I found a dark purple that was almost brown, this would be my darkest tone, each tree had a distinct color so I tried to work in blocks of hue and applied the appropriate tones in each colors range. Each tree had a different color or texture, or even for some decoration such as fungus or leaves.

I really enjoyed this exercise, adding color really brought the scene to life. The brush pens were capable of delivering all sorts of marks from thin lines to by bold strokes, the nice thing about pressing hard was the strokes become broken where the ink ran dry towards the end. I’m pleased I resisted adding line work to the image,especially where the distant trees start to look faded and pale, almost misty.

Research point: Landscapes

Katsushika Hokusai

I have seen Hokusai’s wave many times before, I have included it here although technically that may be classed as a seascape, its sharpness and vibrancy has always stood out, when you look a little deeper you can see, he translates the ordinary landscape into his own bold colour saturated world. His most used medium is paint and wood block prints. I really enjoy the way his images are almost layered and layed flat on each other until it reaches the horizon, I could almost imagine the images moving in a parallax motion. The level of depth and distinct style means I can look at each part and really study each part of the image, everything rendered in great detail, even the objects that have been placed far away from the viewer, tell a little story or supply a narrative. Hokusai was born in 1760 and died in 1849, but while we can see these works or old and even ancient, the style wouldn’t be out of place in a magazine, comic book or film poster. The wave always seems so fresh, its no coincidence the image has been parodied and celebrated in popular culture and art.

*

John Constable

Born in Suffolk and focusing on the Essex and Suffolk areas of east England, John Constable was primarily a landscape artist. His color palette is always the first thing that impresses upon me, muted browns and greens, often partnered with blue grey turbulent skys. Swirling clouds painted with such intense movements it borders on violent. I really cant say I get a happy feeling from his work, although reading about him he clearly loved his surrounding areas. In his wikipedia entry it states that he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “I should paint my own places best”, and “painting is but another word for feeling”. I wanted to include him in my research as he really does produce a mood, and it doesn’t have to be a happy one for the viewer. I can remember my Nan having a similar picture in her house although this looked more like a dutch scene. And it had a very eerie quality to it, with its muted colors and frozen scene depicting rural life below an ominous sky. You cant deny the craft and artistry that has went into his work, the textures he creates alone are inspiring to any creative person.

*

David Hockney

David Hockney is the only contemporary artist I studied for this research point, as I write this he is alive and 83 years old, he shows little signs of slowing down, most prolific in the 60’s he still creates art having an exhibition as recently as 2019. He has also made a transition from paint to digital art, producing works on apple devices and Photoshop. His work is always vibrant and ranges from almost abstract shapes to highly detailed. The world must always looks like a really interesting place through Hockney’s trademark round glasses.

*

Exercise 1: Cloud formation and tone

After my research of landscapes and seeing John Constables depiction of clouds, I was rather looking forward to this exercise. My first sketch I tried to outline the shape of the cloud,the sharp lines gave some good definition but felt a little too rigid, I softened up the graphite on my paper, taking a piece of kitchen towel, I worked the medium deep into the papers tooth, I then took a putty rubber and lifted out the lightest areas of cloud. I also used a plastic eraser, to really rub away the marks although this was less accurate. I liked working in reverse taking away the graphite to lighten up my drawing. I tried this approach in my next drawings, trying to use less definite marks.


I decided that my next attempt would have no linear values, I used the edge of my graphite stick across the paper and worked this in with the now heavily graphite infused paper towel, the medium already in the kitchen towels fibres seemed to help it glide but also now served as a drawing tool in its own right. once I had the clouds in place I went about a second layer of tone, now adding darker areas in sweeping movements, trying to get as much kinetic energy in the image as I could. I was hapy with this approach and felt I had a good cloud making method, I repeated the process again and came up with the following image. I really went for a higher contrast this time, I quite liked the result and it certainly has that dark ominous mood I was interested in capturing.