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…

hollowing trunk of a huge sweet chestnut tree

An immense hollowing trunk with deeply ridged bark twists upwards, outwards and eventually downwards into snaking branches running across the ground. A vast canopy of long jaggy-edged leaves creates an enclosed green space underneath. Sounds are muffled and light dappled.

a red chalk drawing of a sweet chestnut tree

Beginning my drawing, I feel like I’m in the presence of something with great wisdom but also a sparkly sense of humour – each twist and turn of the branches is really keeping me on my toes. Drawing it feels like being on a roller coaster, my eyes zooming up and down, lines swivelling around each turn with exhilarating speed. This an exciting tree to draw!

As I was immersed in my work some unexpectedly heavy showers made for an interesting surface and I eventually had to give up when the conté kept sliding off the paper. You can see the soggy results in this video!


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These kind of drawing trips aren’t really about making finished work though, so I didn’t mind the messiness. I’m really just trying to get to know the tree’s character, find what excites me about it and explore how I might capture that. I learned that I will need bigger paper and board next time – it really demanded an expansive approach.

a bulky hollowing tree trunk

How to find your own favourite tree

The Ancient Tree Inventory pointed the way to this one for me – if you like to find old trees it’s great way to look them up and you can add your own tree finds yourself, find out how here.

This tree is clearly thriving. The ground around its roots is protected from compaction to give this ancient the best chance of a healthy future – good practice for any tree but especially large old ones.

a view of Doddington Hall with sweet chestnut fruit in the foreground

I got the impression that this huge sweet chestnut has been a treasured member of the resident family for several centuries (perhaps as long as 450 years). It was chosen this year as one of the 70 great trees for the Queen’s Green Canopy, so is a special individual. The garden of this beautiful privately owned estate is open to the public at various times and seasons, so check their website for up to date opening times if you’re planning a trip.

I’m planning my next trip (with big paper) right now.

See more of my favourite trees beginning with this mysteriously twisted Aberdeenshire beech.