part three: expanse, project one: trees

exercise one: sketching individual trees

David Hockney: “Trees are the largest manifestation of the life-force we see. No two trees are the same, like us. We’re all a little bit different inside, and look a little bit different outside. You notice that more in the winter than in the summer. They are not that easy to draw, especially with foliage on them. If you are not there at the right time, it is difficult to see the shapes and volumes in them.” Gayford, M. (2011) A bigger message: Conversations with David Hockney. London: Thames & Hudson

This is the first time I’ve gone outside specifically to sketch. My initial smugness over the timing of this part – trees in winter are surely easier to draw than in full leaf (?) – was tempered when we had our first cold snap of the year. This is a harsh climate, on my first day out the temperature only managed to creep up to 4 degrees (from minus 12)  by midday.


What I’ve learnt so far:

  • it’s hard to stand up and draw – I like to tilt the page vertically and it’s tricky!
  • if the sun hits the white page it’s blinding – I have to work in my own shade
  • trees are surprisingly wide – quite often as wide as they are high
  • I’ve taken photographs and continued working on the sketch when I get home, but sometimes I lose the energy of the original sketch.
  • my dog does not understand why we have started standing still on our walks.


This began as a very quick sketch on site, back home I used Payne’s Grey ink and blue watercolour for the sky. The grey ink when diluted became bruised and purple – a happy surprise – capturing the early evening sky well.

Getting down the intricacies of the tiny twigs is challenging, I’ve tried a few different things out in this one sketch.

I used black ink for the main trunk and stems, moving to a fine point pen for the twigs. I particularly like the dense area at bottom right where ivy is choking the trunk.


Trees grow up tough here. Subject to harsh winds blowing off the Alps, fierce sunshine, poor soil and brutal pollarding.

This tree I think may have been hit by lightening and has since come back. It’s a punk of a tree, with angry shoots thrusting upwards from the stunted branches.

I started out with the obvious up-down strokes before realising that of course there is more pattern than that. I’ve never drawn any kind of landscape before, but really enjoyed quickly adding the background here.

Blue watercolour wash with black ink and pen. The pen deposited blobs of ink every now and then, but they’ve integrated ok I think.

Had such a grim time with this tree (below). It’s a grey kind of tree pushing up out of a grey kind of terrace against a grey kind of wall. Everything monotone and in a flat light to boot. I started with a  sketch, added watercolour but it looked awful – very tame – so I went over the top with acrylics in the predominant grey stone colour. Went back in with pencil. Result still awful so I white-washed the whole thing. Then used a black pen to scribble the tree back in – quite cross – think it shows.

Finally went in with charcoal again only to find that on top of the acrylic wash it worked like a wash itself – very soft – I couldn’t get any darkness from it – but it turned out to be just what I needed. I’ve never used charcoal like this – a very useful discovery and I’m pleased that I persisted. I was very close to tearing out the page.


It’s not very interesting, but I managed to bring it from something I was about to tear in to shreds to something I’m reasonably happy with and I made the acrylic wash/charcoal discovery en route – happy!


When I saw this shadow devouring the house it made me immediately think of Walter de la Mare: “Is there anybody there?” said the traveller, knocking on the moonlit door”. It was a midday sun that threw the shadow and I’m not sure by simply darkening everything if I’ve managed to convey moonlight. I wouldn’t mind having a more serious go at this, though as I type I’m beginning to think about a blue wash…can I wash over charcoal?…Stand by!

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