Archive for category Subject: Trees

The Greenwood Trees || Christina Hart-Davies

This celebration of native British trees has been inspired by the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter. Coeval with Magna Carta, this document established the right and responsibilities of the king, nobles and commoners. It covered activities such as hunting, gathering wood, coppicing and pannage – collecting the acorns that fed domestic pigs. In many ways, it was the more important of the two charters, certainly for the daily life of the majority of people.

Trees have been central to the life of man for millennia. They provide food, fuel, shelter and even medicine. Although we now build mostly in brick and stone, our houses still contain a great deal of timber. In the course of this, myths, legends and tales have grown up and forests have acquired a life that takes them from the physical to the spiritual world.

This delightful book celebrates the role of trees and illustrates them with superb watercolours that show form, structure and detail as well as the way trees change through the seasons. Although it is not an art book as such, the quality of the work will inspire any botanical painter and show what can be done with simple materials.

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Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes – Landscapes|| Dave Woollass/Trees & Woodlands || Geoff Kersey

For a general appreciation, please look at the series tag above. I like the new iteration of the old Ready to Paint series a lot and these latest volumes diminish that not a jot.

Dave Woollass is a new author and one I hope we’ll see more of. He has a pleasantly loose style that’s readily achievable and explains his working methods well. He’s also comfortable with the variety of subject matter that the series demands and this would be a book worth seeking out even if the series in general isn’t your regular cup of tea.

Geoff Kersey is a familiar figure who’s well-practised in art instruction. Working with this will be familiar territory to many and a comfortable amble through the byways of watercolour. While there’s nothing excessively taxing (here or in the series in general), you won’t feel constrained or short-changed, your creative skills rather being gently stretched; a work-up rather than a work-out, perhaps.

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Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art 1760-1870 || Christiana Payne

One of the first things you notice from a cursory glance at this is that the painting of trees has gained a lot more life in recent years. Maybe it’s the speed of travel and the reduction in afforestation, but a modern painting will show the tree as much more heroic than many historical examples. Today, we travel at 70 miles an hour on open roads, with trees as part of a distant view or flashing by. This is a far cry from the days when the fastest thing around was a galloping horse and many thoroughfares were little more than tracks, with trees often towering over them. Then, trees obscured the light, harboured footpads and wild animals, as well as impeding the way. They were things to fear rather than love.

It’s quickly apparent that, in the period covered by this really rather magnificent book, tree drawings and paintings fall broadly into three camps: the detailed, almost botanical study, gloomy clearings, or incidental growths whose precise species is not always apparent. Trees were so commonplace that an artist would assume that all their viewers knew what they were looking at without being told in any detail.

This doesn’t mean that trees were unremarked – as the illustrations here make amply clear – or unrevered. Writing in 1792, William Gilpin observed that a tree was “the grandest, and most beautiful of all the productions of the earth” and John Ruskin asserted that “if you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world”. And, of course, trees have been seats of learning, points of devotion, meeting places and waymarkers since the dawn of time.

This book accompanies the exhibition A Walk In The Woods at the Higgins Bedford and the launch of the Woodland Trust’s Charter For Trees which celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter (effectively, the commoners’ Magna Carta). Christiana Payne includes history, folklore and art as well as looking at the role of trees in the country-house culture of the time and issues relating the felling of trees to provide timber for navy ships. It all makes for a fascinating and complete study.

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Also available from the publisher: http://sansomandcompany.co.uk/shopping/silent-witnesses/

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Trees (Drawing Masterclass) || Denis John-Naylor

If you want a comprehensive guide to drawing almost any variety of tree using pencils or pens (including ballpoints), you need look no further than this.

As befits a masterclass, this begins with materials and surfaces and moves to methods, including the use of photographs and measured drawing as well as the all-important line and tone that are the mainstay of the work included. There is then a discussion of the shape of individual trees, both in full leaf and as bare branches in winter. This is a valuable section that explains the way trees vary as much as people in terms of individuality and stresses the importance of observation. The bulk of the book is then taken up by a series of exercises that work through the ideas and techniques previously discussed and introduce further detail and with the depiction of trees in a landscape, which is probably how most people are going to draw them.

The structure and artwork are superb, but there is a strong reservation regarding the reproduction, which I’ve noticed in other titles in this series. The contrast seems too sharp and tends to reduce the illustrations to blacks and whites without the subtle grey scales that are essential, especially in the pencil work. It obscures detail and negates much of the good work done by the author.

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The Arborealists: the art of the tree

Who doesn’t like trees? Put your hand down, Figgins Minor, it’s not funny and it’s not clever. Trees are under threat as never before, or so we’re led to believe, so this is, if nothing else, timely.

When it comes to instructional books (which this is not), those on trees are thin on the ground; the paper used to print them certainly wouldn’t threaten a forest. They are, however, ubiquitous in landscapes, but few people bother to paint them as subjects in themselves. This is a shame as, apart from the representational challenges, they present an infinite variety of shapes, colours, textures and forms and change with every season.

What a book such as this does, for me above all, is to throw together a wonderfully varied collection of artists, styles and media that otherwise would probably never be found within a single collection. My antennae quickly said “exhibition” and this indeed did grow out of Under The Greenwood: Picturing The British Tree, which was held at the St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in 2013. I warm to that “grew out of”, because this isn’t (just) a catalogue, but rather a determination to give a temporary collection greater permanence. The Arborealists isn’t just a handy title for the book, it’s a conscious grouping of the artists involved, a loose association borne out of a sense of camaraderie and which exhibits across the south of England.

No fewer than thirty-seven artists have contributed to the book, each given a double-page spread and, for the most part, two illustrations. It’s inevitably a sampler, but the format also emphasises the variety of the work on show from oils to watercolour to ink and printmaking. Each artist has a short introduction, either biographical or in their own words, but these never take over from the illustrations, which are given generous space, as they should be.

There are also some useful background essays which deal with trees and their position in culture, as well as a handy history of trees in art, which has some particularly nicely-chosen illustrations.

Overall, if you love trees, or painting, or even just happily miscellaneous collections, this is a book not to miss.

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Painting Nature in Watercolour || Cathy Johnson

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether this is a completely new book or a re-working of material from some of the author’s previous works. However, it has a fresh look and feel to it, so I’m going to review it on the basis that it’s all new.

It’s a rather wonderful portmanteau of just about everything the natural world can throw at us, from vegetation to animals and even people by way of skies and clouds and land- and waterscapes. As well as subject matter, it also takes in techniques, both in pure watercolour and in mixed media with watercolour pencils.

Cathy’s style is loose and relaxed and very much to the painterly taste. Although this is an American book and you therefore get species which are specific to another continent, the differences are not intrusive and many (in fact, most) of the paintings are sufficiently generic that they have no specific place.

I could say that the modelling, particularly of some of the creatures, isn’t always completely perfect, but it always does its job and simply turning the pages of this really rather enjoyable book is going to make you feel good and want to get down to work.

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Painting Watercolour Trees The Easy Way || Terry Harrison

Even with all the dire predictions of bugs and disease, the totally bare landscape is unlikely to be with us any time soon. Trees, by their size and presence, are one of the defining features of any scene and getting them wrong can mar a painting as surely as badly painted features can turn a portrait into a caricature.

Terry is a slick presenter and he starts the book with ways of creating simple shapes that look immediately convincing. His own range of brushes comes into it, of course, but in an understated way, and you have to admit that they’re rather useful. And anyway, you may already have the basic shapes in your kit, so there’s no hard sell here.

The obvious next stage is trees through the seasons and Terry provides quick demonstrations that show a variety of compositions, such as an ivy-clad trunk beside a winter lane, that give you a chance to get your bearings. Moving on (the title of the next chapter), you get specific varieties. Even here, the emphasis isn’t on the details but rather the shapes and colours and how to present them as adjuncts to the main composition. This section is something of a tour de force as Terry underplays his hand masterfully, using the subject of the book as a foil to the main work.

After all this, you might be surprised to find the final section of the book being called Trees in The Landscape. Although that seems to be what we’ve seen already, here Terry paints some really quite ambitious scenes where the trees really are the main feature, yet are still not portraits. He works in a variety of conditions and demonstrates clear light, dappled shade and misty recession throughout the year.

There’s a lot here and it’s genuinely surprising just how much Terry manages to wring out of his subject without any sense that he’s stretching either it or himself to fill the 128 pages.

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