Exercise 35: A sketchbook walk

Winding Dartington tree, graphite

Winding Dartington tree, graphite

The brief for this exercise was to make four sketches somewhere I like – so I opted for a late afternoon at Dartington Hall. For the most part, I stuck to the ‘don’t rub anything out’ rule, too. The first sketch, done in graphite (above), is of one of my favourite trees at Dartington.  I think they suffered a little disease of some kind, a few years ago, so some are painted in places with a black tar-like substance – this was the darkest tone on the tree. It was a sunny afternoon, with the light falling from above and behind the tree.  The palest spots on the trunk were dappled light. My main focus was to try and capture the winding nature of the tree… it spirals out of the ground. I used random directional marks to indicate the form of the trunk.  The mid-tone around and behind the tree was a patchy grassy area.  Beyond that, some distance away, was a bench in front of a clipped hedge, the source of the other darkest tones. I found it hard to get the bench in perspective, but just kept drawing over it until it looked more or less right. I used a much lighter tone, stippled and scribbled, to depict the trees and hedges which were furthest away. Out of interest, there was a Henry Moore sculpture just behind this tree!  But I’ll save that for a future exercise…

urn and hedges, carbon pencil

urn and hedges, carbon pencil

The second sketch features an urn on a plinth, surrounded by circular paving, with a path leading off between hedges.  A perspective nightmare!  I did my best, but hope to see a vast improvement once I’ve actually studied perspective. I tried not to worry about it, though, and concentrated on getting down as much detail as possible.  I liked the hedges – thought the textures worked pretty well for them.  It was the first time I’d used a Wolff’s carbon pencil.  They’d been recommended to me by a friend, who’d said they provide brilliant dark tones.  I only used a 2B, and it was wonderfully dark… so I’m converted! Path perspective aside, there’s something I like about this sketch.  An atmosphere.  The dramatic curve of the path, correct or not, lends a touch of mystery, I think. The trees in the background were some way off, and brightly sunlit, so I used minimal marks to indicate them. Tonally, the hedges were the darkest areas, while the urn and plinth were the lightest.  The urn was very decorative, but I didn’t try to add all the details, as it would have looked too fiddly.  I just suggested them, instead.

Dartington 'Apostles', black Inktense pencil

Dartington ‘Apostles’, black Inktense pencil

The third sketch features the ‘Twelve Apostles’ – a row of Irish yews.  They’re one of my favourite bits of the garden, so I had to draw them.  As it turned out, I like the sketch of them best of all the ones from that day.  I used a black Inktense pencil, as the darkest part of the yews were very dark, indeed. The texture of the pencil worked really well for them, I think.  I used mostly vertical strokes, but with occasional slightly slanting ones in either direction to add a little more movement and volume. The wooden bridge/walkway in the foreground is a relatively recent addition to the gardens, and I thought the angles would be interesting juxtaposed with the verticals and horizontals of the trees and shadows. The light was coming from the left of the yews, and casting long shadows across the grass and up the slope. There was a tree in the background – again, it was very brightly lit, so only needed minimal marks to suggest the foliage. I used a light wash on the bridge in the foreground, to create a mid-tone that would vary from the rest.

Dartington steps, graphite

Dartington steps, graphite

The final sketch shows a spot halfway up the steps leading away from the main area of the garden.  I liked the tree that stretched out over it. Good strong dark forms, contrasting well with the different foliage.  The larger leaves were some kind of ground cover (I’m not a gardener, so my knowledge is as sketchy as these drawings!), while the smaller ones were on branches hanging down low over the steps.  I liked the curve of the grassy area in the background, edged by a low wooden border.  Again, the light was coming from the rear left, creating dark shadows on the uprights of the steps. The negative shapes here are interesting, and were one of the features that led to me choosing this as a subject.

Thankfully, the gardens were very quiet that afternoon, but even so… I’m not sure how well I’ll take to drawing outdoors.  I love the subject matter; just not the ‘being on show’ part of it. My other half acted as ‘bodyguard, though, promising to deflect anyone who looked like they might come over for a nose! The whole subject of landscape drawing is very new to me, and I’m curious to see how it goes.

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