It's five years since I first found this tree and I've drawn and photographed it every year since. Its fascinating twisted form was so interesting to draw, though so complex I struggled to make sense of it. It's on an old bank in a designed landscape laid out in the late 18th century, the area currently being used as a deer park - you can see how the roots on the right have had their bark removed by hungry grazers.
This year it has moved into it's final phase of life - the winds have brought it down, the owners are removing most of its bulk and the stump that remains is rotting rapidly. However, if allowed to remain it will continue to support life, including lichens, fungi, invertebrates and birds. It's always a shock to see a large tree shattered and prone; like finding a dead animal there's something very sad about the sight, but at the same time fascinating. It's also a natural process which I don't believe we should sentimentalise - I prefer to use it as an opportunity to make art which reflects on life and death as simple fact.
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!
Oaks at Dalkeith Country Park
I'm always hunting for new locations with special old trees.
They don't have to be recognised as ancient to be interesting to me, but areas which are known to have ancient or semi-ancient woodland or boundariy trees are often where I find the most variety and history.
Organisations such as the Ancient Tree Forum and the Woodland Trust are doing a fantastic job recording British woodland and campaigning to ensure it's protection. The National Library of Scotland has all its old maps available online so it's possible to see how long particular locations have been wooded for.
Find my locations on a map here.
In three days time I'll be back in this field, layered up with fleecy clothes, sketchbook in hand and feeling at one with the world.
The Novar estate near Evanton has been a family holiday destination for a few years now and it happens to have some fantastic old trees. This is a really special row of veteran beeches on a bank in the deer park, which I drawn many times. I've no idea how old they are but they have a magnetic quality that keeps me going back, however cold it is.
I only get one visit a year, so I'm busy packing my drawing and camera kit so I can make the most of the precious time. Early spring is my favourite time for field drawing as the trees are stll leafless but there's a feeling of potential and newness in the air.Tags:
I was so pleased with myself when I worked out how to do this!
I have a map of the old fashioned paper variety on my studio wall but I wanted to find a way to make digital version to share so, thanks to Google Maps and various generous online forum contributors, here it is for you to browse.
The new year got off to a great start with the news that 'Crichton rippled beech' was accepted at the Harley Gallery's second open exhibition.
Situated on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire, the gallery is a beautiful space and I was disappointed that the snow prevented me from attending the opening last weekend. However, the show is on till 17th March so there's plenty of time to visit yet.
My family are from nearby Worksop and I used to visit Welbeck as a child, so the place has fond memories for me. I also discovered that my Great Auntie worked there during World War II making munitions!
My second solo show 'Damaged woods' ran last October at Edinburgh's Art's Complex. It's a big undertaking to mount a show but hugely rewarding too - I had so many interesting conversations with old friends and new ones, gained some tips for drawing locations and enjoyed chatting with collectors and selling my work.
Here are some photos to give you an idea how it looked in Gallery 3
Thanks to everyone who helped me hang the show and run the opening night!
Two of my charcoal works have been selected for this year's Meffan Winter Exhibition, which are now hanging in this lovely gallery until the new year. There were over 500 submissions from across Scotland and, as I saw at the bustling preview, there's an excellent range of high quality work. It's well worth a visit if you're in the area - more details here.
We're opening our doors again at Art's Complex soon - the second Open Studios event is over the weekend of the 8th and 9th of December and I'll be welcoming visitors to my studio on the top floor.
I'll be displaying some of the works from my recent show 'Damaged woods' along with field drawings and sketches. More details to come on my facebook page.
...must come down - after being my temporary home for ten days, Gallery 3 in Art's Complex is empty again and my show 'Damaged woods' is safely packed away in the studio.
Thanks to all those lovely people who came to see the show and engage in such interesting conversations. I love to hear what people think when they view my work and I'm pleased that so many find it as emotionally powerful to look at as I do to make.
What's next? A period of reflection and some experimentation, particularly trying some different surfaces to work on, on a larger scale. Also on the horizon is the Open Studios event and exhibition in early December.