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.

Glowing highlights contrast with the subtle shifts of tone which the medium of charcoal excels at. Moving closer to the drawing, we see layers of delicate marks echoing the wounded bark they describe. Carved and torn, scarred and healed, this surface hints at its subject’s history.

Movement on the canvas

The still image holds an energetic tension within it, as if it might move if we looked away. It’s a form paused rather than resting. There’s a combination of strength and grace, evoking a dancer poised to perform or a tree shifting to remain in equilibrium with its ever-changing environment. It stands with dignified resilience in the face of challenge, a fleeting moment of vulnerable beauty.

Remembering the tree

This work was inspired by a tree a few miles from my home. It was in its final years when I first saw it (13 years ago) and is now felled, leaving just its stump on a roadside boundary.

a black and white photograph of a beech tree with one branch by artist Tansy Lee Moir

With one precarious limb and a grotesquely beautiful trunk, it stopped me in my tracks one winter afternoon. This was early in my tree drawing journey and I didn’t realise how suddenly things could change. I took it for granted that it would be there next time I went. It wasn’t.

Though I wish I’d made more drawings and taken more photographs at the time, the loss seems to have firmly planted it in my memory. I’ve been revisiting it through drawing ever since.

Here’s a recent Artist Talk on the development of the Ghosts series.

‘A moment of poise’, charcoal on canvas, 120 x 80cm was included in ‘Then and Now: 100 Years of Visual Arts Scotland’ exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy Edinburgh, from 17th February – 13th March 2024.

See all exhibition news here.

Artist Tansy Lee Moir with her work at the Visual Arts Scotland exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy Edinburgh