Category Archives: trees

part three: expanse, project one: trees

exercise three: study of several trees

“Trees are presences in the landscape, but also catchers of space and light. They stand up as markers, dividing up the surface of the land; but they also contain space within them, especially when their branches are bare. Space, as Hockney points out, is difficult to perceive if it has no edges. A bare tree helps you to sense space within the maze of its structure in a complex way. In leaf, on the other hand, a tree functions more as a container of light.” Gayford, M. (2011) A bigger message: Conversations with David Hockney. London: Thames & Hudson


A wash of Pebeo Colorex aquarelle inks: sepia, sanguine and black. Over the top white pastel and coloured pencils and for highlights the same Pebeo white ink. I was very interested in how the trees were white against the background distant trees and mountain but grey as soon as they hit the sky – a flat white nothing of a sky today.


H pencil. I went in way too heavy sketching these trees, as I often do to begin with. When I got back inside I messed about with them – trying to restore their lightness. I rubbed out in all directions quite vigorously, then went back in with the H pencil to bring back the for of the trees. A very quick exercise but I like the result – there is a some sense of  fragmented light and movement and the ‘messiness’ of these trees amid their shrubs.


The same set of trees but just the outlines, letting negative space take the stage as much as positive.

Version 3

In the Alps for a week with no visibility for the past three days. Thankfully on my first day here I did some very quick sketches of trees. This is one that kind of worked. As the mist came down the trees seemed be dissolving in to it. But the trees are now all gone, the Alps performing its favourite magic trick.

I always stop to look at these birches, planted in two lines on each side of a ditch. I used a wash of peat brown ink with white conté pencil (not sure if this is the same as pastel), a dark grey and a dark brown coloured pencil and a tiny bit of HB pencil to sharpen some lines.


I’ve always wanted to have a go at these trees but never known where to start. This sketch is a real measure for me of what I’ve gained on this course so far – maybe not in technique but in a willingness to try and some idea of how to start.

img_2161I’ve added the early stage of the sketch here because I think it also works, I especially like the forward trunk on the right, but I lost the sense of texture on the central tree. Given more time I’d like to mess around with this some more.

Back to this row of birch, from a different angle. These aren’t tall, elegant and straight – how I normally think of birch, but straggly and messy. This is a harsh climate and trees have it tough. And it shows. These are sharp, scratchy, ragged.


From this angle the row is quite sparse, few stand straight, there is a tangle of twigs in the upper half. I’ve used peat and black ink – as a wash and with a nib pen. A touch of white conte crayon though I’m not sure it needs it.
img_2322I think there might be some potential with this technique. The peat ink splotches get across the fuzz of the last of the leaves on a misty morning. The mix of black and peat ink helps with depth – black in the foreground. To improve it I think I need to bring some branches forward (i.e. no overlapping), and perhaps create more density of trees.

I went a bit fast with the skinny twigs but again, I think it could work.




The following trees were done as preparation for Assignment Three but I ended up not using them. There is something I like though, perhaps something that I can develop, so I’m popping them in here for now.

Sketches on top of frottage


A2 size tracing paper,  gesso, HB pencil. Tracing paper on top of plain white paper.

There’s something about this white on white that I like. These trees are so pale and ghostly and this emphasises their ethereal quality.

 Cropped images from above


Laying the tracing paper over an earlier ink sketch. Something I’d like to come back to. Maybe this doesn’t even need tracing paper?

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!