The story of a charcoal drawing

A moment of poise

We can’t quite work out what we are seeing: is it tree, human, or something in between?

dark and dramatic charcoal drawing inspired by a tree by artist Tansy Lee Moir
‘A moment of poise’

From a distance there’s a powerful sense of solidity and sculptural form. Emerging from the velvety darkness of densely applied charcoal, parts of the form are obscured and mysterious, while others stand out in dramatic chiaroscuro.


Trees of Marchmont 5

The Sweeping Beech

drawing of a tree or figure by Tansy Lee Moir

My work is often linked to dance and there’s a common language in the way I draw trees and the human figure. Life drawing, in particular drawing movement has always been a part of my practice, which is why I’m excited to be collaborating with performance artist Suzi Cunningham and film poet Steve Smart on a short film bringing these threads together. Steve and I will be doing some filming while I’m on residency at Marchmont in June.

I found this dancing tree in the grounds of Marchmont House. There’s an 18th century elegance to it, with a graceful sweep of skirt above the hint of a bodice. If you look closely there’s also extensive scarring around the base, most likely from bark damage by grazing animals. In the time I spent with the tree that day I saw hares, roe deer and lots of sheep, so perhaps it’s a favourite spot for the nibblers.

As the sun tracked around the sky, I returned to the tree several times to get images in different lights. I don’t know yet which angles I’ll choose for the drawings – those decisions will come during my time in The Old Squash Court. The tree will tell me.

Read the full Marchmont story here.


Trees of Marchmont 4

A wounded beech

a beech tree trunk in sunshine

I was on the hunt for ghosts. Not the most obvious of days for a ghost hunt – bright spring sunshine, birds singing their little hearts out and all the greenness getting ready to burst. However, I was excited by the possibilities the day’s light held for photography. I like to take reference photos in both clear sunshine and soft overcast light, as the combination helps me understand the tree’s form, along with drawing as the primary tool. Today was a day for sharp contrasts.


Trees of Marchmont 2

The Quarry veteran

When I was first commisioned to make charcoal drawings for the Marchmont collection, I was given a map which owner Hugo Burge had annotated with some of his favourite estate trees.

a gnarly beech tree

On one of my research trips to the Scottish Borders, Hugo’s map guided me to a cluster of rather mangled beeches at the edge of an old quarry.


Trees of Marchmont 1

Hugo’s ‘Tree of Wonder’

It wasn’t too easy to find but it was so worth the effort. On a breezy March day in the Scottish Borders, I headed up a hill with my tree drawing sketchbook and kit, through a disused quarry onto a moor, then into a remnant of an old plantation.

a very large beech tree

There in front of me stood a magnificent pollarded beech, vast in girth and rich with mossy bark and wet hollows. Huge limbs, encased in green spread low across the leaf littered ground. Its historical management contributed to this complexity of form and extent of decay, now providing habitat for the millions of tiny lives we cannot see. I could see why Hugo regarded it as wondrous.

a large old beech tree covered in moss

I felt very small while drawing it and didn’t quite know how to begin translating something so impressive into my sketchbook. I just began tracing the twists of the trunk and the flow of the branches, and the awe subsided a little as I settled into looking. Those first sketches are rarely satisfying drawings in themselves, more records of a moment of meeting. This was a meeting to remember.

a sketch of a tree

I’ve been here drawing trees as part of my preparation for the Marchmont commission. I’ll be adding more blog posts on the project as it progresses – if you’d like to read more start here.



Meeting the Chatsworth oaks

A visual story of my spring research trip to the old oaks of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire…

very large oak tree with a charcoal drawing of it on an easelI grew up in nearby Matlock and know the estate quite well, but only recently discovered the former hunting park there with its large collection of ancient trees. This is probably one of the biggest, which I decided to try to tackle on my first day there.


Drawing the roller coaster tree

Meet my new favourite tree…for this month anyway. I have far too many favourites but this sweet chestnut at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire is outstanding.

a large sweet chestnut tree

While visiting an old art school friend in the area I was lucky enough have a few hours in its company. It was heavy with fruit and in leaf when I visited so some of its architecture was obscured, but I could still get enough of a view to draw.

A wild ride

Let me describe it for you, as I think my photos can’t really do it justice…