Project 1 Exercise 3: Study of several trees

The Aim

Spend 1 or 2 hours on the exercise. Work in a wood or study a group of trees. You can work in a variety of media. look for a point of interest such as a path, strong contrasts in light and shade or dynamic forms of the trees themselves. Try to work in broad tonal areas, looking for strong contrasts in light or dark.

The Process

I went to a local bit of woodland on a very bright autumnal day. The wood is a fairly new one, so many of the trees were immature without much understory to the canopy. This made for interesting patterns of light. I particularly am drawn to the idea of paths leading into woods and the sense of journey that they bring, so I was looking for a view that might show that. in the end the spot that I found not only had the path I was looking for, but also strong areas of tonal contrast, dynamic forms of trees and great autumn colour. I was seated in small clearing, looking towards the point a path leads into the woods. I ended up sketching a few studies of this area before taking some photos when I ran out of time and continuing at home

Firstly I made this quick charcoal pencil sketch of the overall outlines of the trees. The young trees to the right were very upright and pointy. Their leaf canopy was quite open within that shape. There was not much undergrowth at their bases. To the left of the path, the trees were more mature, had denser leaf patterns and had a tangle of bushy undergrowth around the base.

For my next sketch I used willow charcoal to block in the main tonal shapes. I have tried to capture the light that was falling on the younger, more spindly trees in the foreground. There were strong shadows being thrown at the edge of the clearing too. The path was the darkest area, but it became a little lost here.

My third study was in felt pen and water, to try to capture a sense of the vivid autumn colours that were around. This wasn’t overly successful mainly because I was doing these in my A3 sketch books. The areas were too big for the quite fine felt pen to cover quickly (before it dried). I found I had to put too much water on it to get any kind of diffusion to happen and it just ended up saturating the paper too much. I like the effect on the trunks of the young saplings, but you can see that the green foliage of the more mature tree dried too much before the water was put on. I feel, however, that there is a sense of journey along the path! I ran out of time after this one, so I took a couple of photos and continued later.

Still trying to get some diffuse effects into my studies, I tried watercolour pencils. The result was not dissimilar to that of the felt-pens: the lines didn’t dissolve in the way I was expecting. In addition, the darks became overpowering. and there was too much water. I tried to draw back on the wet page with the pencils, but it all turned a little scribbly. I am afraid I got a little frustrated as it wasn’t really working out how I envisaged. There some evidence of the lovely light that was shining on the tree trunks, but I have lost the light in the clearing int he foreground and in the canopy.

Group of trees: 2B Pencil
Group of trees: 2B Pencil

For my last study I chose a 2B pencil to try to capture some of the essence of the focal point that drew me to the image in the first place, namely the path leading into the wood. I love the way that the dark undergrowth the left is rather like an ‘inverted tunnel’. I tried to block in the main tonal areas and then add details of the trees afterwards. I think the light in the canopy could have been depicted better but it does make me want to walk into that area and explore further.


Smaller areas would have been better for the water mediums! The sky was a bright, uniform blue whilst doing these studies (who says we don;t get good weather in the UK!!), so I have left the page white in the monochrome studies as it was the brightest area. I should maybe have put some blue colour in for the  colour studies, however, I think my materials were wrong here. A simple wash of water-colour or ink would have worked, my felt pens would have been too heavy and my watercolour pencils would have left stroke marks.

I often think of this image and these studies. I feel I learnt a lot from doing them and think I would like to revisit this exercise in the future. For now though I must move on.

Project 1 Exercise 3: Study of several trees

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