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.
Moreton Bay Figs, sometimes Australian Banyan, (Ficus macrophylla) come in all shapes and sizes, as you can see from the photos. The first two photos were taken at Old Petrie Town, not far from my home. These individuals are said to be at least 300 years old. The third photo was taken at the Sydney Botanical Gardens a couple of years ago during a tree-finding excursion to the Sydney Botanical Gardens. I think it was planted about 150 years ago. They are endemic to eastern Australia. Its common name is derived from Moreton Bay in Queensland where they are still found growing naturally. In the rainforest, Moreton Bay Figs usually begin life as an epiphyte, high in the canopy, where they send down roots to help support its massive bulk. Eventually a fig will grow so large it envelops and kills the host tree. This might explain why many individual Moreton Bay Figs resemble several trees and have seemingly chaotic root systems.
Believe it or not, the buttresses of the largest trees at Petrie were at least as tall as my daughter and she’s about 1.4 metres tall (over 4.5 feet). Everything about them is huge, including the leaves, the largest of which can be up to 30 cm (almost 9 inches).
I’ve spent many weeks observing and rendering my own Moreton Bay Fig as a gift for my sister. Here is the result: It’s rather hefty 700 mm x 500 mm (27.5 x 19.6 inches) pen and ink rendering.
Three species of Adonsonia. In most parts of the world the common name for these bottle-like trees is Baobab – the first two sketches are the African Baobab (A. digitata) and the Giant Baobab or Grandidier’s Baobab (A. grandidieri) respectively. In Australia they are mostly known as Boab’s (A. gregorri), but it is also known by a number of different names in different Australian Aboriginal languages. The Boab is native to the Kimberly region in the far northwest of Australia and is a wonderfully mysterious tree. No one really knows how or why it came to be in Australia, as they were not considered to be part of the Gondwana supercontinent. The three possible scenarios put forward by scientists for their occurrence is either they were brought here by the first people in Australia; the seeds floated across the Indian Ocean from Madagascar, or, while unlikely, it is still possible, the genus Adonsonia started in Australia and migrated to the rest of the world.
I will defer to First Australian wisdom in this one: Boab’s have always been here.
Claudia Nice is the first artist that inspired me try working with pen and ink with several books, including Drawing in Pen and Ink. I like to engage fully with what I’m doing and ink requires a level of commitment that appeals to my nature. I like detail and I enjoy how tight and clear I can get with ink. Which is probably why it is a common medium for scientific illustrators, especially botanical. But pen and ink can also be very flexible. True, you can’t rub it out once its on the page, but that doesn’t matter if you’re sketching loose drawings for practice or wanting to capture the shape of a species of tree. Ink also plays nice with a lot of other mediums, especially watercolour. Claudia Nice has also written many books on creating texture with pen and ink, and watercolour.
The Lamy Joy, pictured above, is my favourite tool for sketching in pen and ink. The nib glides smoothly across the paper, depositing ink evenly and the tapered style feels good in the hand. I use fountain pens for 80% of the inked artwork I create. I use an ink converter, with De Atramentis Archival black ink. I have had no problems with it drying it our clogging the pen.
It’s been awhile since I created a large piece because when I do it takes up most of my creative headspace and time. This means I don’t spend much time in my sketchbook. I’ve decided to share my process instead.
The piece I’m working on is a large leaf lime or linden tree (Tilia platyphyllos). I don’t like to copy reference photos when I ink trees, but I still use reference photos to inform the drawing and create a representative tree, a sort of ambassador for its species. Every tree is unique, even within a species, but every tree species has features which are characteristic of its kind. These are the things I look for when studying the tree. This means I end up studying at least hundred different photos, watch videos and read descriptions to get a feel for a tree. Visiting trees in person would be best, but given that I live in the subtropics, there aren’t too many linden’s around. This inspiration stage of the artistic process can take a couple of days before I even pick up a pencil.
The next phase is to sketch some trees in Procreate on an iPad or using a computer and drawing tablet. I like to do this digitally because it saves paper and I make many many adjustments to the drawing. I start by sketching actual specimens to get a feel for the species form, the way the trunk splits and the boughs twist, how it branches, how leaves clump and so on. These sketches don’t look like much and I never spend too much time on any of them. I create at least five sketches of individual trees.
Next I create a draft in procreate and tweak it to the shape that pleases me. This is where I allow myself to erase, redraw and generally fuss with the drawing. It still doesn’t end up looking like much, but once I’m happy with the draft I’m ready to transfer it on to watercolour paper.
Creating the pencil underdrawing can be achieved either by printing the above image on to an A3 sheet of paper, or in this case, drawing directly on to the watercolour paper using a very basic grid as a guide. I prefer this method as it allows me to adjust the picture as I go. The pencil drawing is very light and only serves as a guide.
Inking: putting the pen to the paper is by far the most nerve-wracking phase of any piece for me. There’s so much potential, but anything can go wrong. Once the first mark goes down I’m committed to the painting until it’s done. Inking is a slow process and it can take many hours. To me it feels like the first few hours is the worst, because I’m unsure of how to read the map, I’m constantly referring to reference photos, constantly worrying about the placement of every line. This is the ugly phase that all my ink drawings go through, but I’ve done enough now to know to persevere. And if it doesn’t work, it’s only ink and paper (and time).
With any luck there will be a lot more to show tomorrow . . .
I am pleased to announce these trees are now available for purchase from my shop on Inprnt.com. Gicléé, canvas and acrylic prints are available as well as art cards. Prints are produced using archival ink on high definition 330 gsm paper. Gicléé prints are available in 8″x11″ and 12″x16″ sizes.
Hit the SHOP button below to check out my Inprnt gallery.
If it isn’t obvious from the page of trees in pen and ink that I love trees, my tree sketchbook will leave you in no doubt. I have one sketchbook devoted just to sketching trees in pen and ink, mostly using a fountain pen with black or grey permanent ink, and occasionally Copic fineliners, or with a bit of colour added from India ink brush pens. I enjoy the process of finding the shapes and forms of different species, experimenting with ways of reproducing all the different types of bark texture, practicing rendering leaf-clumps to see what works best for and honing my observation skills. Every species is different and feels like a new experience, so I never get bored of rendering trees.
Since I live in the subtropics, there isn’t an abundance of deciduous trees, which are among my favourite, so I have to rely on photographs for practice. If I ever want to draw a eucalyptus or paper bark, I need only look out my living room window, or walk a few minutes to the nearby park and creek. Here there are koalas, though they’re difficult to spot let alone draw from nature, bearded dragons, which rarely stay still long enough to sketch, turtles, flying foxes and all manner of birds. But, being that it it’s now winter, it’s cool and windy and the ground is wet from a recent shower, so today I’ll stay at my desk and find nature on the net.