It's officially Spring, though you wouldn't know it today with the horizontal snow, and the race is on for me to get back into the woods for some decent drawing days before the leaves break through.
I recently bought some Conté crayons and spent some time in the studio playing with them to see how I might use them in the woods. I was looking for some softness and delicacy to develop in my line drawings done directly from the tree. From a practical angle I was hoping that they would be the perfect combination of lovely smudginess when I need it and stability when I'm transporting the drawings across the fields.
Paper on board, ready to draw some ancient oaks after a drop of coffee...
Happily, some of my newest Conté drawings made it out of the woods and into Time around trees last month...
A selection of these drawings will be heading for the Buy Design Gallery when they're framed and hopefully the wind will calm down enough for me to get a few more productive outdoor days soon.Tags:
I've been developing my charcoal drawing techniques for around four years now - it's such a versatile material there's still much more to discover. Many of my favourite drawings from my early days at art school are charcoal ones. I have fond memories of the first time I was encouraged to tape a piece to a stick and draw BIG!! I thought my tutor was mad at first but it turns out to have been a valuable lesson and I often draw with a stick now. People I teach now think I'm mad I suppose.
My discovery of charcoal powder was quite a revelation - I'd tried to make my own, having some success with homemade bonfire remains, but I now use Cretacolor powder which has an even particle size and consistent tone. It's perfect for large drawings, behaves almost like paint in that it can be moved around on the paper, can be combined with binders and water for liquid effects and best of all, I can apply it with my hands, thus getting messy which makes me happy.
I also use regular willow charcoal of various sizes. I've tried hard to like compressed charcoal since it allows a really deep black to be achieved, but I cannot get on with it, it's somehow far too waxy and stubborn. I'm currently experimenting with charcoal soaked in or mixed with linseed oil - it seems to give a lovely blackness which adheres to the paper quite well. Because of this I've been able to use it out in the field without the usual worries about smudging. Here's one I made earlier:
I think there's something poetic about depicting wood with its carbonised self.
Like lots of artists I know, I can’t resist buying new materials to try out and really enjoy choosing and handling them. So it’s inevitable that I end up with far too much stuff and have to make some decisions about what I really need to take with me when I’m drawing outside, bearing in mind I’ll have to carry it all myself.
Experience had taught me that less is definitely best and that restricting my choice of materials makes my trips more productive. I’ve also learned what works best in the wonderful Scottish weather and developed my own ways to cope with wind, rain, mud and occasional sunshine.
I recently had the luxury of staying in a cottage in the middle of a deer park so I was able to take more than usual - I could select a few things as the fancy took me and then stomp off over the field to draw, knowing I could nip back for something else if I changed my mind. In other locations I need to plan more carefully as it’s a longer walk to the trees.
My basic kit consists of:
- A4 hardback sketchbook – a Daler Rowney one with nice creamy paper
- Small lightweight drawing board – an upcycled bit of kitchen unit
- Scrolls of paper for 360° drawings, various sizes
- Elastic bands for holding paper in place – clips always get lost
- My homemade pencil roll (of which I’m quite proud!) containing a selection of Faber-Castel Pitt drawing pens, Sharpies, brushes and pencils
- Viewfinder – though I don’t draw ‘views’ as such it really helps me focus when faced with too much choice
- Leatherman – love my multipurpose tool, always useful and you never know when you might need to hack off your own arm to get free of some crushing branch, thus saving your life. You may laugh but I draw on windy days!
- Emergency whistle – see above
- Buffs – those tubey things that can be scarves, hats or hairbands, essential for the Scottish outdoors
- OS map of the area and compass – this is so that I can orient myself in the landscape to understand it and mark particular trees or features
- Phone – not just a phone of course now, also a camera with gps, a compass, a sketchbook, a map referencer, really an electronic version of a Leatherman I suppose
- A small tarp to sit on when drawing, make into a windbreak or cover things up in the rain
- Camera – I have a Canon EOS 30D which I confess is beyond me technically – I’m just not methodical enough to take great photos but it does an excellent job with my limited knowledge, producing all my reference images
- Small flask of coffee and some flapjack to keep my spirits up
- Some business cards – you never know who you might meet in the middle of nowhere!