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, 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, Charcoal on paper
Read more about how to recognise ancient and veteran trees at the Ancient Tree ForumTags:
Following on from Alan McGowan’s workshop and my first attempts at oil painting (see Part 1), I’ve begun to make some experiments with the technique of oil glazing. This has meant doing my favourite kind of shopping – buying more art materials, and moving stuff around in my studio to set up for painting rather than charcoal drawing.
I’ve decided to use Windsor & Newton’s Artisan oils which are water mixable but otherwise behave like any other oils, it makes cleaning up easier and less smelly. I’ve also collected various mediums to try out.
For the initial wipe out underpainting I prepared the canvas with a spare coating of one part PVA mixed with three parts water, having learned the hard way that more PVA does not equal a better surface. The canvas needs to have some resistance to the paint to enable you to wipe it off, but too much or uneven PVA application results in the paint not adhering to the surface at all.
I used an image I’d already created in charcoal, so I could concentrate on what the materials were doing without worrying about the composition. I mixed Prussian Blue with a little Burnt Umber to give a nice neutral tone, thinned with turps. Making the image by removing the paint came naturally as it’s a very similar process to my charcoal drawing, though the paint does behave differently, giving more options for interesting mark making.
After allowing a day or two for the underpainting to dry, I’ve started to add glazes. This is a slow process as each has to dry before the next can be added, so there are a few paintings at various stages. There is no real plan here – I’m just trying out the colours I have in a variety of combinations and trying to find out what works and doesn’t work. The many mistakes are very valuable and the happy accidents are wonderful, but it’s too early to tell yet whether glazing is an approach which will earn a more permanent place in my studio.
This is an informative book which has kept me company on my painting journey, with a substantial section on glazes. This blog has detailed information about the principles and recipes and here is a demo of the method.
When does a drawing become a painting? I think of these as drawings made in oil paint and oil pastel.
Above are Dalkeith oaks, below a beech tree near the Cromarty Firth. All are done in the studio from photographs and sketches.
The painting experiment continues...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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 »
It’s a question I’m often asked. I do workshops and demos for groups but thought a timelapse video of the process might be an interesting way to share a little of what I’ve learned too.
So, the blank white paper is taped to the board, the preparatory sketches made, materials collected and it’s time to begin. First I make large gestures with a charcoally hand to quickly give the drawing structure and movement. Lively lines help to begin to define the big shapes. There’s a magical feeling early on in a drawing when the forms begin to emerge from the dust. I can draw with energy and excitement. “This is going to be a good one!” my internal monologue says. Then, gradually the drawing morphs into the ‘smudgey grey mess’ stage when it seems like it’s all going nowhere... time for a tea-break.
However, I’ve learned to persevere through this – I know it will happen and I know I just have to keep going, keep walking away, looking through squinted eyes, looking at it upside down, all the usual tricks to help spot what’s not working. A few years ago I read on American artist Stapleton Kearns’ blog that drawing was like herding sheep – you should always be paying attention to the ones straying or lagging behind, rather than the ones way out ahead. So pay attention to the bad bits of the drawing, try to fix the things that are not working and eventually they will all catch up with each other and hopefully resolve into something ok.
Dalkeith burred oak 7
The end result of all that herding turned out to be quite pleasing and I found that I really enjoyed knowing that I could review all the previous stages of the drawing on the time lapse. Being able to rewind time has proved a useful tool – I won’t do it for all my drawings but I’ll definitely do more little films.
Here's the video of several hours work condensed into 3 minutes...
Paint is an unfamiliar material to me, though I’ve tried periodically to make friends with it, we’ve never really been pals. For some reason this makes me want to keep trying though. I adore drawing and charcoal is by far my favourite medium, but paint can do things that dry media can’t and oil paint in particular has an affinity with charcoal and shares its malleable qualities.
In the studio with Alan, making a painting using the ‘wipe out’ technique
So I decided to seek some expert tuition and booked a place on Alan McGowan’s ‘Drawing in oils’ two day workshop in Edinburgh. He is a resident artist of my former studio building St Margaret’s House and I love the strong draughtsmanship, energy and movement evident in his figurative oils. He is also an excellent and experienced tutor. The aim of the weekend was to show how oils can be used for drawing the figure and how to move from drawing to painting, so it seemed like the perfect course for me to begin with.
We worked solidly over the two days, producing a lot of drawings/paintings and gaining both knowledge of our materials and an insight into Alan’s approach. He shared some of the works and artists that inspired him and showed us many different surfaces and ways of combining materials. For the final session I chose the wipe out method to spend more time exploring, since it seemed to me to be a painty parallel to my charcoal technique.
Once back in the studio I carried on playing, this time using tree images I’m familiar with. I came away from the course feeling like I had a whole new toolbox to play with, though very much aware of how much I have to learn – colour is still like a foreign language to me but at least now I have a few basics to begin with. It will be a long time before the will be any oil paintings of sufficient standard to exhibit as a great deal of rubbish needs be generated first, but I’m excited that ‘Project Paint’ has properly begun.
Here's my thinking behind the exhibition...
This exhibition brings together 18 artists, makers, poets and designers whose work is intimately connected with trees and woodland.
Though their works span a wide variety of media they are all united by a strong affinity with woodland; as a place to observe and connect with nature, as a rich source of metaphor, as a place for reflection and healing, as a link to distant myths and inspiration for new writing, as a sustainable resource to work with. For some, trees are their singular subject or their raw materials, for others they represent a starting point for their imagination.
The diversity of creative responses here is indicative of the richness of our cultural relationships to trees. The Finnish concept of ‘sisu’ encompasses the kind of endurance which continues in the face of all obstacles, a quality which artists here have sensed in the trees they know. Without wishing to anthropomorphise the tree, which is an utterly different kind of living thing to ourselves, it is hard not to draw parallels with our own struggles and scars.
The way humans relate to trees while they are alive may be sensitive and respectful, or destructive and indifferent and there are examples of both in this exhibition. However, when a tree becomes wood our relationship with it changes: we no longer have to consider it as a living thing, and artists can begin to explore it as a material which tells the story of its own making.
Timed to coincide with the launch of the new national Tree Charter, ‘Grown together’ seeks to highlight the relationship between artists and trees and remind us of the reasons we should value and protect them. By considering trees in new ways, we can learn much about ourselves.
‘To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost.’ Roger Deakin, Wildwood 2007
The exhibition has been curated by Tansy Lee Moir and includes St Margaret’s House residents and invited artists.
Read Giles Sutherland's review in The Times here>
Read Rachel Mackie's review in Edinburgh Napier news here>
The exhbition runs until 4pm Sunday 26th November.Tags:
I am curating Grown together for St Margaret's House this autumn and it's been such a pleasure to work with artists from different disciplines who share my passion for trees. Here's a flavour of their work, and the exhbition details can be found here>
Anne Gilchrist has a deep connection to trees:
"My work has evolved within the woodlands of Midlothian, Perthshire and Argyll. Out of a lifetime’s love and fascination for the natural world and through long term acquaintance and observations, my work has gradually become more about the woodland, and – I hope – less about myself, or the human world."
Anne will be showing paintings, sculpture and installation
Charlotte Eva Bryan
Charlotte Eva Bryan is a Glasgow based Artist and Art Therapist with a background in Painting and Printmaking.
She will be showing a drawing of the famous Pollok Beech.
"I have returned to observational drawing in an attempt to preserve the memory of a much-loved local tree which was recently attacked by vandals and set on fire. By drawing the remains of the tree, I intend to reflect on resilience and healing, while processing the attack and working with others in order to help keep the Pollok Beech’s legacy alive. "
Chris Dooks is an Edinburgh based multimedia artist with a large portfolio of publicly engaged work, in what could be described as a ‘medical humanities art practice’.
"Although I have a fairly eclectic style I am niche in one aspect of everything I do - it is usually a response to creative problem solving of restrained opportunities."
Chris will be showing his film 'Gardening as astronomy' from Tiny Geographies.
Originally from Fife, Alan Kay is a painter based in St. Margaret’s House.
“Trees seem to pepper landscapes but are often seen as secondary. Recently, I have started to paint trees and I have tried to capture the idea of trees in the foreground obscuring the wide expanse of background. It is about looking through things to get beyond - a bit like living in the future and not recognising and dealing with what is immediately in front of us.”
Alan will be showing some of his recent paintings.
Teresa Hunyadi is an Austrian sculptor living and working in Edinburgh, with a studio at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.
“Trees mean lots of different things to me. Mainly they mean growth and adaption. Regarding my work they are a very substantial resource as well as a “friend”. Every interest in timber starts for me with the tree and its environment.”
Teresa will be showing a series of her recent sculptures in wood.
Originally from San Jose, California Adele now lives in Edinburgh and has a studio at St Margaret’s House.
“As a child I was lucky to have grown up with two large backyard trees and a small creek with woodland nearby. Trees were my upstairs playrooms. The twists and turns of their branches were like the stairs in a cosy two-story home. A few years on I would be camping with friends and gaze up at the ring of trees above our heads. No matter what spot you chose, you'd see this circle of guardians and somehow knew to be on good behaviour.”
Adele will be showing some of her pencil drawings of wooded areas around Edinburgh and the Lothians.
Kenris MacLeod is an Edinburgh based textile artist. She uses freemotion machine embroidery to describe the textures and complexity of the natural world – specifically trees and woodland.
“Using the sewing machine needle as a pencil or brush, I sew complex designs that combine repetitive forms and abstract shapes with elemental natural imagery. My work seeks to connect us to our ancient roots, tapping into a memory that is almost, but not quite, lost. Sometimes I think I should widen my remit and leave trees behind for a bit but it feels impossible when they are such a constant source of amazement and fascination to me.”
Steve grew up in Edinburgh, but for a long time lived in rural areas, now living just outside Dundee. Amongst other things on his fifty-seven year trip he has been a photographer, a designer, a technologist, an animator, a hill walker, but always a person who makes.
“Trees can be very big, some of them are very old. Their character and way of life is complex, in many ways hidden, and very different from our own. They can make us pause, and they can make us gasp. I’ve had a fascination with the forms and shapes of trees, and a joy in walking in woods for longer than I can say.”
Steve will be showing his new multimedia work ‘Drawing Breath’.
Painter and printmaker Rona MacLean grew up on Loch Lomond side and is now based in Edinburgh, with a studio at St Margaret’s House.
“Having grown up in the countryside trees have always been part of my childhood memories. Now they provide me with an enduring focus for my work. Their majestic silhouettes and structure, particularly in winter, are very compelling and a gift to a printmaker. A tree without its summer plumage never fails to intrigue me.”
Rona’s screenprints will be on show in the exhibition.
Katherine Sola grew up surrounded by ancient forests in Eastern Europe. She now works in ceramics, painting and drawing from her St Margaret’s House studio.
“Woodland fed us, and woodland gave us shelter. We have very strong respect for each tree and we see them as a living individual, not just a tree. In Slavic folk Culture we celebrate woodlands, forests and each individual tree. It is our way of life.”
Katherine will be showing new ceramic works.
Aliisa Hyslop is a Finnish/Scottish artist, living and working in Edinburgh and the Scottish borders, making paintings and sculptures.
“In the woods, through the woods, out of the woods - the symbolic nature of trees in our lives is a theme I have instinctively been following. My mother was Finnish and perhaps because of that, I feel a natural affinity with trees and forests.”
Aliisa will be showing paintings, drawings and sculpture.
Isabell Buenz taught photography and expressive arts in Germany and Scotland, then established herself as an artist focusing on using paper and discarded books. She has a studio in St. Margaret’s House.
“I have always been connected to trees and woods in the shape of paper, the material of choice since I was a young child. I grew up in a family where big pieces of paper were always available. My father worked for the local newspaper supplying me with seemingly endless amounts of paper. I started building with newsprint, creating useful items, such as bags, bowls and picture frames. As an adult I learnt to make my own paper, using fungi growing on tree trunks and other natural materials collected during forest walks.”
Isabell will be showing a series of new works in paper.
Aileen Grant draws, paints and makes prints at her home in Lochcarron, Wester Ross and at her St Margaret’s House studio.
“I like to celebrate trees as they are so important to us as absorbers of carbon in the efforts to combat climate change. Up here in Wester Ross the climate is a bit harsher for trees and there are not so many around. This rarity is another reason to cherish trees.”
Aileen will be showing some of her photopolymer gravure prints.
Originally from Spain, glass artist David Mola works in stained and bespoke kiln glass from his St Margaret’s House studio.
“Trees and woodland are places of inspiration for me. There is something magical about trees, and in the way they grow, slowly, long lived... they are the best example of continuous movement, almost invisible but also unstoppable.”
David will be showing his sculptural works from the Kelburn Never-ending Glen.
Wildchild Designs (Robin Wood)
Robin Wood is the founder Wildchild Designs, dedicated to creating exciting outdoor play structures, seating, sculpture and adventure trails.
“I've always been outdoors with my first happy memories in Suffolk where we lived by a huge woodland and the river Orwell: even then at the tender age of 7 I was allowed to play all day well away from our home and explore. I’m passionate about getting people out into the real world of nature, and my business encourages children of all ages to explore and re-discover the joys and freedom of outdoor play.”
Robin will be showing a series of illustrations for his Glingbobs and Tootflits sculpture trails.
Lynn Ahrens is a painter based at St Margaret’s House.
“For me, woodland and forest landscape played an important role in developing an approach to imagery based on memory and imagination. The experiences which were particularly stimulating occurred during lengthy periods of working in fields close to or bordered by woods and forests and of course the surrounding landscape, sounds and sights of the creatures inhabiting them.”
Lynn will be showing some of his oil and gouache paintings.
Full Grown (Gavin Munro)
Full Grown founder Gavin Munro, lives and works in Derbyshire, where he and the team tend the furniture field.
“Central to the original idea, and therefore to the ethos of the company, is a recognition that, somewhere along the line, the human race’s relationship with nature broke down, and the efforts of Full Grown are an opportunity to redefine this relationship in a mutually beneficial collaboration with nature.”
The exhibition will feature some of Full Grown’s furniture and design illustrations.
Tansy Lee Moir
Tansy Lee Moir has been drawing trees for almost 10 years and is curating ‘Grown Together’ for St Margaret’s House. Originally from Derbyshire, she is now based just outside Edinburgh.
“My dialogues with trees always begin with walking, investigating areas of ancient woodland and historic land use, poring over old maps and new satellite imagery. My trips to these landscapes are partly aimless wanderings, partly focused foraging and I’m always on the lookout for the special trees which have a story to tell, in their contorted forms, broken branches or undecipherable graffiti.”
Tansy will be showing some of her recent charcoal drawings and works from the ‘Tree Stories’ project.
Autumn in Calder wood, it's all about leaves...