Tag Archives: drawing

Dad Draws a Tree

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to watch my father draw. It has always seemed to be somewhat miraculous the way images somehow seep out of the tip of his pencil (or flow from the brushes) and onto the page (or canvas). Because Dad will be recording his impressions of the Camino trip visually, we have been talking a lot recently about the artistic process and how he will capture his experience of the trip through his art.

We’ve decided to make a series of videos about Dad and his work – where he gets his ideas, how he ‘trains’ for a new project (more about that in a future post), and then how he gets what’s in his head onto the page. This first, short video (about two minutes long) shows him drawing a tree. Simple. But we wanted to set up the camera and do a test before we launch into anything more complicated. I have watched it several times now and still find it just as fascinating to see a tree appear from nothing as I did when I watched, captivated as he drew or painted something marvelous when I was a little girl.

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Japanese Maple

One of the first ornamental trees we planted when we moved here was a Japanese maple – two, actually. One has stayed tiny and red, the other has become a giant (for the diminutive maple). Both Dad and I have always liked the delicate leaves and interesting forms of these trees.

Japanese Maple by E. Colin Williams

Japanese Maple by E. Colin Williams

While Dad has been sketching away in his studio, I’ve been a regular at the library, checking out various books about trees including a couple by Thomas Pakenham. In the book, Meetings with Remarkable Trees I found lots of odd information about trees with strong personalities. The photos and artwork in the book are inspiring and do, indeed, capture something of the individual nature of trees. What was perhaps the coolest thing, though, was the way a previous patron had pressed leaves between many of the pages.

Leaves, mostly maple, have been carefully pressed between the pages of this library book about trees...

Leaves, mostly maple, have been carefully pressed between the pages of this library book about trees…

So what should I do, librarian friends? Do I leave the leaves alone and let someone else have the pleasure of finding them? Or do I remove them because maybe it isn’t such a good idea to have fauna lurking inside library books?

The Holly and the Ivy (and the cabbage and the cigarette)

Dad is having his revenge. Today as we were driving to the local raw food/wrap shop to pick up scraps for the pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, et al (yes, there is still some farming going on around here) he started singing the old English Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy and then launched into a list of factoids relating to holly (evergreen, red-berry-bearing and manly) and ivy (evergreen, sinewy and feminine). The fact both plants are green in the depths of winter is reason enough to celebrate them in song, but what was really interesting was the way each had been assigned a gender.

Holly Tree by E. Colin Williams (Tree a day drawing project)

Holly Tree by E. Colin Williams
(Tree a day drawing project)

This tradition of association with one gender or the other was taken to some strange lengths back in the day. According to Dad (and his online sources), ancient Brits (as in, folk of the British Isles who lived long, long ago – not doddering fools living in Leicester) used to hold singing contests when there wasn’t much else to do when the days are short and frosty. It was the men against the women, singing their hearts out in praise of their respective shrubbery, dissing that of the opposition. All, of course, was done in good fun and, apparently, at the end of these vocal feuds everyone kissed and made up under the mistletoe.

Hm. I was still pondering all this when Dad mentioned a powder room and I immediately thought of a small room in which British types powdered their noses and otherwise readied themselves for well-mannered conversations with other primped and prepped pommies. “They were lined with copper,” Dad was on a roll and, as I was imagining what fancy powder rooms they used to have, he was chatting on about how the fine sailing vessel HMS Victory (the one Lord Nelson sailed into the Battle of Trafalgar) was made with wood from 6,000 oak trees and did I know that it was the oldest-still-in-commission ship in the British fleet and currently serves as a museum ship… All of this was coming at me rapid fire as I was driving and, I confess, I was still struggling to understand why anyone would line a powder room with copper.

“So, why did they line them with copper?”

“Because of sparks.”

At which point I burst out laughing because, of course, Dad was talking about powder rooms in old wooden gun ships where, yes, sparks would be a bit of a problem with all that gunpowder lying around. And I was thinking of little old English ladies who had consumed one too many helpings of cabbage and then slipped off to the powder room for an illicit cigarette.

This Month, it’s All About Trees

There is nothing like a deadline to inspire a burst of creative energy! My newest book (co-written with my daughter, Dani) has just come out and we are busy planning a cool book launch, hopefully in partnership with the kids at Shoreline School (stay tuned – more on that as the plans come together).

New book!! It was cool to work on a project like this with daughter, Dani...

New book!! It was cool to work on a project like this with daughter, Dani…More info here

Meanwhile, though, the next book (also in the Footprints series) is well underway. The subject of the book is trees, which means I’ve been driving friends and family mad recently by babbling on and on and on about baobabs and canopy scientists, corduroy roads and carbon sinks. In some kind of self-defense move, Dad piped up the other day and told me he was doing a tree-a-day drawing challenge. “Remember how you used to do that blog a day thing?” he asked pointedly. “Like that.”

Okay, okay – it has been BUSY around here this summer, too busy, apparently, for me to sit at the computer and blog on a regular basis. Well, at all, in fact. But here we are with the seasons shifting once again. The evenings are longer and there is hope that I can find some inside time to get to projects like the blog.

Trees herald the change of seasons with such... intensity!

Trees herald the change of seasons with such… intensity!

Given that I am obsessing about trees anyway, Dad suggested I write a little something about the trees he is capturing on paper. Which seemed like an excellent idea until I saw that his first subject was a Garry Oak. “They are so gnarly – all those twisty branches,” Dad explained when I asked why he had picked the Garry Oak as his first subject for the series.

Garry Oak Trees by E. Colin Williams (drawing)Garry Oak Trees by E. Colin Williams (drawing)

To an artist I guess twisty and gnarly equals interesting and challenging to draw, but I must confess that Garry Oaks are some of my least favourite trees! (Sorry, sorry to the Garry Oak lovers out there – and, no – it absolutely was not I who poisoned Margaret’s lovely old tree – THAT tree is special… and, yes – there are maniacs out there who go about drilling holes into the roots of gnarly old trees all the better to inject them with tree-murdering toxins! Note to self: subject for a future post…silvacide.)

Garry Oak ecosystems are fragile and rare, so much so that there are armies of volunteers out there who are working diligently to preserve the trees and their immediate surroundings [for more information on this work, visit this website and have a look at the amazing resources they have made available]. Garry Oaks (Oregon White Oaks) live in western North America close to the Pacific Ocean. Their range is limited and threatened by urban and agricultural development and linked to a whole community of native species threatened by all manner of invasive species like Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry. Given my propensity for cheering for the underdog, it’s a bit surprising I don’t know more about them. Hm. I sense a shift in attitude is already in progress…

What about you? Do you have a favourite kind of tree? A least favourite? What is it about some trees that makes them so appealing? Or, unappealing as the case may be…

 

Artist vs Farmer

Artist: What are you doing?

Farmer: Photographing a rutabaga.

Artist: Cattle feed.

Later…

A rutabaga and a turnip disappear into an artist’s studio (which sounds like the start to a terrible joke but is actually what happened some time after Dad saw me taking photographs of root vegetables for yesterday’s blog post…). What came out of the studio was these two drawings:

Which goes to show you don’t need to wait for inspiration to show up in order to start drawing – you just need a couple of vegetables.

Seeing the two drawings, though, made me think of how easy it is to take a photograph and how hard it is to capture the essence of a thing. Somehow, artwork created by hand still has a fundamentally different feel to it than a photograph in terms of the way it captures the subject matter at hand.

I hasten to add that taking a good photograph isn’t easy at all and taking an exceptional image – well, one can wait a lifetime and still not capture the ultimate shot. But taking the time to sit down and craft by hand the likeness of something – that is, I think, a skill that we shouldn’t forget about or dismiss just because it has become so easy to capture visual data. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is some quality inherent in these sketches that is lacking in my photos posted yesterday. Running my photos through any number of tricky filters isn’t going to help. I feel very fortunate to live with an artist who has a studio full of brushes and paints and pencils and pens with nibs and bottles of ink… It never ceases to amaze me how Dad and I see and interpret the world differently, even when we are both looking at exactly the same thing.