Calder Wood Veterans

Calder twisted limb beech

Calder twisted limb beech, Charcoal on paper

My most recent charcoal works form the beginnings of what I think may be a much larger series. ‘Veterans’ encompasses trees which may not necessarily be very old for their species but have some of the characteristics of ancient trees, perhaps due to damage, past management or a challenging environment. Rot holes, water filled hollows, fungal growth, broken branches or damaged limbs all give these trees an aesthetic appeal I can’t resist drawing, as well as creating a rich range of habitats which sustain multiple other lives.

Calder bundled beech

Calder bundled beech, Charcoal on paper

For me, it’s these veteran qualities which make these particular trees stand out: their visual richness demands attention. I’ve returned to these six trees numerous times over the last 3 years since my first visit to the wood. The tree drawn below had one large surviving limb when I first encountered it, which had broken by last autumn, seemingly under its own weight. It must have happened shortly before my visit as the leaves were still fairly fresh, and I couldn’t help feeling like I was witnessing a death. It now stands like a slowly decaying monument to itself.

Calder collapsed beech

Calder collapsed beech, Charcoal on paper

Read more about how to recognise ancient and veteran trees at the Ancient Tree Forum

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European Wood Pastures

 

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Reflections on ‘European Wood Pasture’, a UKEconet international conference at Sheffield Hallam University, 4th – 7th September 2018…

Fellow artist Anne Gilchrist and I attended the three day event in Sheffield and presented some of the work we have made in response to Dalkeith Oaks, including drawings, paintings and our book ‘Dead Wood and New Leaves’. We both enjoyed the connections and conversations sparked by our stand, provoking new ideas to feed our creative processes.

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As always at UKEconet events, the speakers were varied and informative, giving a wide range of perspectives on the subject. Details of the conference and presenters can be found here.

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From Nicklas Jansson’s presentation on a unique and threatened oakwood landscape in Turkey

As an artist I am of course interested in images of trees and woodlands, but I really value the opportunity to learn about the science, history and ecology of these landscapes too – I have a need to understand the cultural and ecological significance of the trees which are aesthestically interesting to me. What is striking is that the researchers I hear and speak to also connect with trees and woods aesthetically and emotionally as I do.

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From the presentation by Jeremy Dagley, Head of Conservation at Epping Forest, picturing the late Oliver Rackham with an Epping pollard.

Since it was Anne’s first time in Sheffield we spent one evening exploring Padley Gorge in the Peak District, where gnarly oaks grow through gritstone boulders in a steep valley. It’s not a wood pasture but is a fantastic ancient woodland site with some stunning trees.

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Dead Wood and New Leaves

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Fellow artist Anne Gilchrist and I worked together for the first time during the Grown Together exhibition at St Margaret’s House, though we have long shared a fascination with Dalkeith Old Oaks and have both made work there for many years.

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The site sits within Dalkeith Country Park in Midlothian and is bounded by the North and South Esk rivers. The oakwood is grazed by cattle and managed as park woodland by Buccleuch Estates.

During the spring of 2018 we walked, talked and drew our way around the oaks, discovering shared favourites and introducing each other to their unique perspectives. At that time, the contrast between the copious dead and decaying wood and the vibrant green of the emerging new leaves was striking – two points on the complex cycle of woodland life.

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We decided to collaborate on a collection of ‘things’ to present at the European Wood Pastures: Past, Present & Future conference, 5-7 September 2018 Sheffield, run by UKEconet which I worked with on ‘Tree Stories’.

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Along with original artworks we’ll be presenting this new book, which brings together a selection of our art, photographs and writing made in response to the oakwood. Though we produce quite different work, we share a great deal in the way our art has developed as a kind of conversation with the trees. In the process of making this book and on our walks through the woodland, Anne has taught me to look down as well as gaze up, to notice the small and fleeting wonders of the habitat as well as the monumental aged oaks.

The book is available to preview and order here »

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http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/8907403

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Drawing in the trees Part 1

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It’s always a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for drawing with like-minded people but for last Saturday’s “Drawing in the trees’ workshop that pleasure was doubled by having my poetic collaborator Steve Smart along with me at Howden Park Centre. Nine delightful tree-loving folk braved some foul weather to come and find out more about drawing, trees and charcoal, and were also treated to a first hearing of some of Steve’s poems.

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I’ll be writing more about how we’re working together in another post but in the meantime I highly recommend you head to his blog for a treat for your ears. What’s emerged for me so far is that we share the same interest in trees, woodland and landscape, which inspire us to create in our chosen mediums – he writes about the things I draw, I make drawings about the themes he writes about. I’m loving having that extra dimension to feed into my creative process.

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So on Saturday we all worked intensely for the three hours and I suspect I tried to fit too much in – a common mistake of mine – there’s just so much to do!! Steve’s readings provided a welcome little oasis of reflection and he also managed to take some great photos of participants concentrating hard on their work, which he’s kindly let me share here.

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Thanks to everyone who came along for being a great group prepared to get stuck right in – which makes my job so easy and very satisfying. I love seeing the results of a workshop, how each person’s work is so uniquely ‘theirs’ even though they are responding to the same subject, just like the poet and the artist…

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 Thanks to Steve Smart for the great workshop photos – here’s his blog about the day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meeting some tree people

So what’s so special about trees? And why is it always the old and gnarly ones I go on about?

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It’s fairly obvious to anyone looking at my work that I have a deep and enduring interest in trees – the origins of which I’ve talked about in other posts.Over the last five years or so, my drawings have developed in parallel to my knowledge of and appreciation for trees, their history, ecology and our cultural links with them.

The more I read and understand about them as a subject, the better I feel that creative connection which is essential for me to make good work. There are some key books which have influenced me, but even better than reading is meeting real people sharing their expertise and passion.

So last week I went along to the Ancient Tree Forum’s Highland Gathering in Perthshire to meet some proper tree people and hear talks and discussions on things ancient and arboreal.The morning session in Perth included talks on themes around wood pasture, parkland, tree recording and preservation, Atlantic hazel woods, along with perspectives from England and Scotland.

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Our afternoon was spent literally in the field, meeting some of Scone Palace’s historic and impressive trees.

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Donald Rodger (in the green coat), author of ‘Heritage Trees of Scotland’ introduced us to a massive sitka spruce.

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Ted Green, ATF founder and president, speaking beside the James VI/I sycamore.

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My favourite tree from the field visit was a huge copper beech.The strange contortions in its trunk are due to the copper beech tree being grafted onto common beech rootstock at an unusually high graft point.

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So what did I learn? Loads more than I can write but here’s a start…

  • They are really rare, very rich habitats which are only just beginning to be understood.
  • Our ancient trees and treescapes have very little protection from destruction or damage – even relatively recent important buildings have much more protection.
  • They are irreplaceable – planting new trees is not enough.They are complex ecosystems that have evolved over hundreds, quite possibly thousands of years.
  • They are a living link to our past, representing a depth of history which can be hard for us short-lived humans to comprehend – for example the oaks I draw in Dalkeith Country Park are known to be at least 500 years old.
  • Death and decay is a very important part of this ecosystem.An old tree with bracket fungus growing from it is not necessarily a sick or fragile tree – the fungus is recycling material that the tree no longer needs, making the nutrients available to the tree roots again.
  • Hollow trees are especially important for the habitats they provide for all kinds of creatures, plants, fungi and lichens.
  • There’s a growing movement of people – campaigners, scientists, ecologists, academics, arborists, historians and artists of course, who are raising awareness and appreciation of this amazing heritage that we have.

There’s more about the Ancient Tree Forum’s work on their website, or try the interactive map to find your own special trees – let me know about your visits.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

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