Exercise Study of several trees

Aim of the exercise: To work in a wood or study a group of trees, looking for a point of interest and trying to work in broad tonal areas. The drawing should suggest form and mass but we were not to get stuck with detail. We were free to use a variety of media and introduce colour. To spend one to two hours on this.

What I experienced:

Completed 29/08/13. I returned to the park gardens that I had visited for the previous exercise as this had the advantage of a wide variety of trees as well as wooded areas. One thing became clear very quickly, that it was going to be all too easy to waste time as I suddenly found myself dismissing various views (in other words the ‘wrong type of’ syndrome, in this case trees – too many, too few, too much, too big, too small, too green!!!, etc). It is amazing how, whenever I feel nervous about doing a particular exercise I can suddenly find it difficult to settle on what to draw. I found it helped that I realised quickly what I was doing and the reasons behind it (basically, a lack of confidence), and it enabled me to settle on a view I found interesting and just give it my best shot.

charcoal trees_NEWI decided to do an initial A4 drawing in charcoal so that I could try and work out the broad tonal areas, as per the instructions, and also to see how the various elements worked together as a composition. I looked at the scene through half closed eyes and looked for the shapes made by the tonal areas that I could see and then tried to transfer these to the paper. Suggestions of trunks and foliage followed, together with smudging or lifting out where needed, using the piece of charcoal flat on its side, also its edge and tip. I thoroughly enjoyed this drawing but was somewhat dismayed when I looked at my watch at the end to find that just over an hour had passed, and this was supposed to just be the preliminary drawing. Looking at the drawing afterwards I couldn’t really work out how I could have taken so long over it, as it had felt like I was whizzing round it and I had kept it very loose and with little detail, although I did need to increase tonal strength several times, and also had used compressed charcoal at the end to give me some stronger blacks. I would need to try and work faster for the colour drawing.

I had brought pastels with me for the colour version as I felt that this would encourage me to work looser (for me), as I had done in the charcoal drawing, and was a medium that was closest to using charcoal. I had also brought a pad of A3 Hahnemühle velour pastel paper (as the pastel appears to ‘stick’ better to this, which gives more chance of getting it to my tutor by post, without much of the pastel having dropped off by the time it gets there and back) and chose to work on a golden yellow ground as I felt this reflected the brighter light looking out of the wood. I have not done a pastel landscape before (and my experience of using pastels is very limited) so it was going to be an interesting challenge. Prior to this exercise I had looked at two books on pastels which covered quite a wide range of uses, and had given good information and examples. The Pastel Artist’s Handbook from Angus Books Ltd, 2004, and also The Pastel Artist’s bible from Search Press, 2006

I kept the charcoal drawing propped up where I could see it and decided on the changes to the scene in front of me that I wanted to make. I felt that the two trees on the right were too close to each other and altered the position of them and I also felt that in the charcoal drawing it wasn’t clear enough what my center of interest was, (the small tree in light at the end of the path) so I would need to make that clear. I then blocked in areas of tone with the pastels. With the main shapes in I started work on depicting the greens that I could see, still working in broad areas of colour. At the end of this stage I was approaching the hour and a half point and needed to stop as the park gardens would be closing shortly.1st stagepastel trees_NEW I took a photo out in the open and assessed the drawing when I got home. I was struggling with showing the contrast between the outer trees that were catching the sun and the inner trees which were mainly in shadow with some patches were the sun was catching. My greens had also ended up a very similar tone despite the initial layer showing better tonal variation. I had done little work on depicting the ground as I had concentrated on trying to depict the trees. The light was changing constantly so I had left my options open as to the shape of the sun patches that were appearing on the ground. I had the choice of leaving the drawing as was, because even if I returned the next day I was unlikely to be able to finish it in half an hour, or return and continue with it, accepting that it was going to take me longer than the two hours, but balancing that against what I would learn by trying to complete it. Rightly or wrongly, I decided that I would learn more by trying to complete it.

I couldn’t return until late afternoon the next day, which by the time I set up left me an hour and a half to finish, before I would need to start packing up. I worked on increasing tonal variation but did struggle with getting the greens dark enough and the right shade. My darkest green pastel was very blue and if I layered other colours over they tended to cover rather than give a darker colour/shade. I tried laying colours next to each other but this has ended up looking very bitty. I tried for bluer, less definition and smaller, the further back in the drawing I went, to aid aerial perspective, and warmer and more defined the nearer that I came. I found it difficult to get the balance between this and the fact that the background areas were in bright sunlight creating some, visually, quite bright greens, and throughout the drawing I found it difficult to come up with a solution to how to show this successfully, how to emphasise the brightness beyond, without bringing it too forward. I will need to try and look for examples as to how this has been successfully shown by other artists. I blocked in the ground, again becoming warmer and more defined as I came forward. To be able to get enough tonal variation I ended up adding a dark blue grey and black to the colours I was using, I couldn’t manage to find another combination that gave me a dark enough green/brown. I tried to give sharper edges to the foreground trees but with the fuzzy velour paper (the texture is like the old fuzzy felt boards) the whole drawing has a soft focus look to it. pasteltrees_NEWI punched up the dark tones on the foreground objects to try and bring them forward. The drawing was completed the best I could after an hour and twenty minutes so I packed up and then assessed the drawing at home when I could look at it with a fresh eye. Following this I added some warmer colours into the nearest trunks and to the nearest foreground as I felt that they were still a little too cool and also increased some of the darks in the foreground and nearest trees, as I felt all of this helped to bring this area further forward still.

What I feel went well: I am pleased that, after an initial hiccup, I managed to quickly settle and make a start on the drawing. I think that I managed to improve tonal variation, and improved tonal contrast by the end of the drawing and have achieved a clear foreground, middle ground and background. I think that I have achieved a sense of depth to the drawing and have used the principles of aerial perspective reasonably well. I feel that gradually I was able to improve how I was depicting areas that had proved to be a little overwhelming, on first sight, as to how to tackle them. The experiences that I had, using pastels for this drawing, will help me to understand better what I am reading about in books on using pastels.

What I feel did not go well: I took too long for the drawing and am going to need to continue to work on being able to draw faster. I started well with working in broad tonal areas but got very bitty once I tried to show the nearer trees foliage, and started to get caught up with trying to show too much detail and feel that I haven’t managed to translate the foliage successfully, either as individual leaf areas or as clumps of leaves. I was attracted to the scene by the bright light that could be seen as the trees opened out into a more open area but feel that I have not managed to translate this very successfully, it does not have the impact that the actual view had. I do not think that the foliage looks very natural and I have also drawn the foliage area that crossed left hand tree as too much of a clump. Prior to this exercise, I have worked on practicing mixing greens, as this was one of the things that the tutor suggested I did in her report following assignement 2 but I found it very difficult to put into practice what I have learnt so far, as the pastels behaved very differently to the other media that I have tried mixing greens in. With each of the media, so far, I have found it helpful to try a drawing in that media, see in that drawing how hard I find it to mix the greens, and then do the colour charts. I find that it all then makes more sense and hopefully this will be the case again following my experience with this drawing. By taking too long over the drawing, the light changed a lot during it, which made if difficult to keep a consistent light source. I feel that the final drawing is quite stilted and overworked with quite poor mark making, but it does give me a starting point.

What I would like to do following this exercise: As already stated, I will work at mixing greens with pastels so that I can get a better idea on how to do this more successfully. I still feel very uncertain as to the best way of dealing with foliage areas when using colour so I will need to continue to look at how other artists have tackled this and then practice further on more trees. I would like to experiment with coloured pencils for drawing trees as I have used these very little during this project and would like to try these for the next sketches that I do of trees. I found if difficult to work out how to show the bright greens on the trees in the sunlight, at a distance, as this did not seem to fit in with aerial perspective and I will need to look how other artists have tackled this.

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2 Responses to Exercise Study of several trees

  1. huntemma says:

    Nice work Chris.
    I particularly like the light dappling on the tree trunks and the strong shadows contrasting with the sunshine in the clearing beyond the trees. You’ve captured the light well, I know for experience not all ways easy..

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