I’ve just finished a rather large pen and ink and watercolour of an antarctic beech; those magnificent Gondwana relics, which I am blessed to live in the same state as. I have a collection of photos of two rather old trees in particular from several different pilgrimages. Unfortunately that still wasn’t enough for a faithful reproduction of either tree, so my tree is a mish-mash of the two.
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I produce a lot of monochromatic (sometimes two-hued) artwork, such as in the top three recent entries in various sketchbooks. Mostly, I think this is just aesthetic preference, with a side order of apprehension over colour-coordination.
I have always had an unusual relationship with colour, mostly because what makes sense to others doesn’t necessarily make sense to me. For me, certain colours can have a sound and vice versa. Mostly colours and sounds are associated with sensations in certain parts of my body or often tastes. These perceptions aren’t present all the time and they aren’t usually intrusive. Most of the time I just go with living in a noisy rainbow world. Except when my tinnitus is switched on to high: it turns out even the sounds my brain produces, can have taste too. In my case, tinnitus tastes like a dirty silver coin under my tongue.
I have early-onset hearing loss which causes tinnitus in my left ear and means I need to wear hearing aides in both ears. The hearing aides mostly alleviate the silver coin under my tongue, but they haven’t cured my awkwardness with colour. Hence, most of what I produce in my sketchbooks remains monochromatic. Monotones are quieter, easier to navigate. Ultimately, though, I really do love the way it looks, the delicacy of tonal changes, the way they can communicate form, as well as the level of detail I can achieve without too much effort.
Even when I attempt to reproduce the colour of the fruit of yew tree (below), next to the blue-green leaves, I feel I’ve done a woefully inadequate job, so I retreat very quickly back to the safe zone of monotones, which is fine. It’s allowed. It’s only a visual journal, after all.
Visual journals aren’t meant to be laborious endeavours, requiring us to perspire over the slightest detail or hue – unless it’s what makes your heart sing, of course.
I’m a huge fan of ferns and sketchbooks in equal measure, but I am often hesitant to draw or paint ferns as they can be quite delicate and complex, not to mention diverse. I recently started a new pen and ink drawing involving ferns, but was finding my lack of confidence was a barrier to progress. So, to better understand my subject and boost my confidence, I decided to start (yet another) sketchbook, this time just for ferns. It’s a somewhat daunting task as there are more than 10,000 known species of fern worldwide. I’m not going to draw them all in one lifetime, let alone fit them all in a single sketchbook, but that’s not really the point. The point is to sketch to understand. The process of filling a sketchbook or journal with a focused subject requires a great deal of reading and research, staring at specimens and then (hopefully) rendering a reasonable facsimile on paper. They don’t have to be botanically precise or detailed, as it’s more an exercise in developing my visual library. To ease in to fern drawing I decided to start with some of the more primitive forms, excluding horsetails, as seen below.
Above is the first full page of a Paperblanks Flexis notebook (Midnight Rebel Bold flavour). The paper is exquisitely smooth and takes fineliners and coloured pencil very well. There is some tolerable ghosting, but no bleed through (the paper is 100 gsm), at least with fineliners. These plants are part of the same class of plants that include maidenhairs, silver lady’s and black tree ferns. One page in and already the limit of my knowledge has been exposed.
Stippling in pen and ink isn’t for everyone. It requires a certain level of observation and focus, and especially time that isn’t always available. It can also get a bit boring after awhile. But I love the results, its ability to capture detail and the subtle shifts in form and tone, especially for complex subjects like ferns. Here’s my latest efforts. The shamrock (clover) took a couple of hours. The fern, a few more.
Most of my time at the moment is consumed with a fairly large mixed media piece I’m working on. I haven’t had much time for sketchbooks, so I thought I’d share some progress pics on the piece instead.
The first image is the pen and ink sketch which probably took too many more days than it should have to complete. In the second image I’ve started laying down the first layer of watercolour, mostly washes with a little bit of deeper shading, trying to get the greens of the moss right against the dull grey/green of the bark and the blue/grey of the stones. It’s a pretty ambitious piece, and a bit of a gamble as I’m trying new techniques and strategies to achieve the results I’m after.
The painting isn’t based on a reference photo or a real place; rather it is a medley of scenes from my mind’s eye, collected from years of staring at pictures of megaliths and trees, two of my favourite subjects. I saw the scene as I was drifting off to sleep one night. The next day after I’d prepared the board and paper, I started mapping out in pencil where the stones lay and the larger trees were situated. Ordinarily I sketch out thumbnails digitally and then print them to be transferred to watercolour paper. This scene was already written in my mind and I felt like I knew it well enough to go straight to paper. I still have many more hours of work to do as I attempt give the painting the substance and depth I see in my mind’s eye.
Following is painting I did last weekend on a whim, including the ink rendering and then with watercolour over it. It was a good exercise in not overdoing the ink when I know I’m going to paint. I wanted to create more depth with watercolour rather than have the pen and ink do all the work.
Note: this isn’t based on a location from the real world; it exists in my own imagination. Some of the fun is inventing the rest of what is “off-screen”, like a prompt for story tellers.