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greenwich park and landscape drawing

I was inspired by Philip Reeve's recent landscape drawings to get up early this morning and draw in the park. (I have a bit of a love affair with the trees there, they're so full of personality. Go visit them if you're ever in Greenwich! Say hi for me.)

I hadn't made a landscape drawing in ages and, in a way, I kind of chickened out. This is really a drawing of a tree (my favourite tree), not a landscape. And the tree is more of a life drawing than a study in light or anything. Basically, it's a portrait of a tree, just like I'd draw a portrait of a person, and the other bits are just there to frame the tree and put it in a bit of context. In that way, it's a bit like a medieval paintings, where the people or religious scene are the main focus, and the nature just decorative or symbolic bits around the edges.

I find it much harder to draw nature without some big, obvious chunky thing in the foreground, unlike my favourite so far of Philip's drawings, which takes in the whole field and plays with its overall composition. I'd love to learn how to do this. When I was at Bryn Mawr, I took an art history class in Flemish landscape painting from a professor named Christiane Hertel. Sadly, I don't remember a lot of the details, but I do recall her pointing to several of the Dutch painters, who were innovators in making the landscape a character in itself, with fewer man-made or human focal points (often just a little windmill somewhere, or a tiny figure of a traveller or hermit saint). They painted dark, angry, windwhipped trees, deep shadows, heavy forests. At the time, I got some books from the library of landscape etchings by Rembrandt, whose line work still fascinates me. I really want to track down another well-printed book of his etchings and make some more studies of them.

Another thing I've been thinking about is a comment Mark Stafford made while we were looking at drawings in the Cartoon Museum's Fougasse exhibition. Mark said how rare it was these days to see illustrators putting small characters in landscape compositions because we're so conditioned by television close-ups and mid-range shots. I don't watch much telly at all (don't even own one) but I know that when I take photos, I almost always zoom as close to the figure as I can go, with little regard for the larger sweep of space around them. And I think I do the same with drawing. When I draw wider landscapes, I struggle to get a good range of tonality, and my textural lines are tentative. I lived in rural Lancashire for a year when I was much younger, and I remember being hugely impressed by the way the clouds made moving shadows on the hills, and the purplish look of the night-time fog. But I never managed even slightly to capture it. I'd like to think that now I can draw more skillfully, and I might have a better chance of it, but I still need to get in some practice. ...Adding that to my to-do list.

One of my three studio mates, Gary Northfield, just wrote a post about clouds on his brand new blog; I need to link up with this and try drawing some. Maybe we could make a cloud mini comic. Except we need to finish Sheep Swap, we've left that one hanging.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
I grew up just around the corner from this tree and so the tree itself and the gate behind it became a recurring theme of my childhood, the family photos and my dreams. It was the landmark of home - the last spot where we would meet when we were all played out/squabbling/hungry before schlepping the last few yards home. I almost concussed myself tobogganing down the hill behind it. I never did climb it - held back by fear of heights and respect for it's age beauty.

It's so bizarre and lovely to see it pop up on LJ. Thanks for sharing :)
Sep. 13th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, you just made my day with that comment! That tree just seems like it should be important in so many people's lives, and it's great to hear from someone else who loves it, too.

There was some talk awhile back about cutting down trees for the Olympic equestrian events and I went into a blind panic over it. But now I'm sure they don't mean trees in that area. I would camp out in that tree for as long as it took to keep people from cutting it down. I read a book called The Time Wreccas, set in Greenwich Park, and it was a bit disappointing, but I loved how the access to the secret workshop was through one of the trees. (I'm guessing it was this one.) It's such an obvious and cool place to start off a story.

Thanks for leaving a note! :)
Sep. 13th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
Oh God, if they threaten to uproot this tree I will be driven to padlock myself to it :( It does seem like a character doesn't it? Far more evocative, in my opinion, that the supposed Queen Elizabeth's Oak.
Sep. 14th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC)
Friedrich was the best at creating characters out of trees, like in this painting</>, or this one</>.

You can't beat him!
Sep. 14th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
zoiks! sorry about those images - they were supposed to be links!
Sep. 14th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
Oo, interesting, thanks, Alex!

I wonder if I'd need a brush and water to achieve that leafy effect; I can't seem to get the leaves to work in ink except in total silhouette. I think the second picture wouldn't be so hard to achieve in ink because the branches are dark against a light background and each one is picked out individually. Rembrandt managed a bit more leafy subtlety with just black line, hmm. (I really need to find a good book of his stuff.) Philip Reeve manages it by using pencil with different tones, but I make even more of a muck of it when I use pencil, then it really DOES look muddy. Or maybe I'm working too small for pencil, it makes me feel sausage fingered. I'm working A4, I wonder how large Philip's drawing, ought to ask.

Current goal: Be able to draw trees at a distance in black pen! Hey, you don't have a gallery your landscape drawings online, do you? (Not that I want to rip you off or anything...) ;) I'm taking Alex & Philip Landscape Drawing 101.
Sep. 14th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
i don't have any of my drawings online, I don't think. A brilliant sketcher of trees is constable
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i don't have any of my drawings online, I don't think. A brilliant sketcher of trees is constable <img src="http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/constable/images/works/constable_dedhamlock_hunt_s.jpg"</>.

I have a good rembrandt etching book, actually. And the russian landscape painting book i have is out of this world. I'll find my sketchbooks for you though. There might be something in there of use!
Sep. 14th, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC)
and that link didn't work. bah. I'll try once more

constable pic</>
Sep. 14th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
Oo, I love Constable. We went for a hike where the Haywain was painted, and the trees really do look like his paintings! There was even a cow in the middle of the river.

Thanks, dude! x
Sep. 16th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
John Kricfalusi on trees
Hi! I saw your lovely tree and it reminded me of John K's post about trees on his blog. (http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2009/09/trees.html) Great to see your site - I was researching book covers for an illustration I did last month and remember coming across your books and being knocked out! Cheers Dan
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )