Monday, May 19, 2008

Taking tea at Kew Gardens

Taking tea at Kew Plaza cafe
pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils
all images copyright Katherine Tyrrell

A lot of my plein air sketches at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew seem to be of people having a cup of tea. Maybe because that's often the only time I sit down and can sketch. Otherwise, because it's a very big garden (over 300 acres), it's sometimes feels a bit like a route march while I scurry around trying to see what has changed!

all photographs copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This sketch was done during my week's break on a day when I spent a good six hours at Kew - and still didn't get to see and do all I had planned! This sketch was done towards the end of the day as I debated what to do with the last hour before the gardens closed at 6.30pm.

This week the new Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway opens. I had some photos of the construction of this in Sketching the Japanese Landscape at Kew Gardens. From next Saturday people will be able to walk along the 18 metre tall, 200 metre long Walkway to see trees and their inhabitants up close and personal!

Also - you can see more of the garden in this video of a new piece of sculpture inspired by plants by LoopH. The video is at, a free online arts resource for children and schools.

I think we're going to be seeing more and more sculpture in the garden since the amazing success of the Henry Moore exhibition at Kew.

(PS Apologies to those who got an odd version of this as an e-mail - I hit the publish button by mistake just as I was getting the last photos uploaded. If you refresh the page you'll see as it should have looked!)


Friday, May 16, 2008

Spring fields from Sissinghurst

Spring Fields
8" x 10" coloured pencils in Moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This was my sketch from the windows of the Barn Restaurant at Sissinghurst on Monday afternoon which I did while I drank my afternoon cup of tea after taking the previous sketch Spring at Sissinghurst as far as I wanted to go.

Below is a sketch of what the view slightly to the left of the one above looked like at about the same time of day in October 2006 (Autumn at Sissinghurst). It's always good to keep revisiting a place and to keep sketching the same view - I find it's different every time.

Autumn Fields
- the view at the rear of the restaurant at Sissinghurst
8" x 10" coloured pencils in Moleskine sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

You can see another sketch of the English countryside which was also done this week - this time in Leicestershire in this post making a sketchbook and sketching in the landscape on my friend Vivien's blog.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spring at Sissinghurst

Moat Walk in Spring, Sissinghurst
7.5" x 10", coloured pencil on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Here's my latest sketch of the garden at Sissinghurst. I've previously done posts about Summer At Sissinghurst and Autumn at Sissinghurst - now it's time for Spring at Sissinghurst! Above you can see a view of the Moat Walk with the vivid yellow azaleas on the right and the Japanese Wisteria on the left. All you're missing are the wonderful violet blue bluebells which were growing around the base of the azaleas - making a wonderful colour contrast.

I'm going to show you how I arrived at this through three earlier stages and explain a little bit about what I was doing as I made progress. Before I do I just need to note a few things:
  • Sissinghurst is the #1 National Trust garden in the UK - in terms of voting and the number of visitors it gets each year (Memo to all those other gardens and gardeners out there - people like plants and flowers and lots of them!)
  • Sissinghurst is a garden with 'rooms' and narrow paths. This makes it very difficult to be in a place where you can compose the picture you want - the best places are generally right in the middle of a path. Which is why you're not allowed into Sissinghurst with an easel or tripod or folding chair on public days.
  • there are very few places to sit down within the garden 'rooms'
  • I personally can't stand for longer than 10 minutes due to a disability - which means if I go on a public day then I'm limited to views which I can see from where I can find a seat. Composing a picture involved deciding which end of the seat to sit!
This is what I completed while sat in the garden on Monday afternoon this week. As you can see it's very loose and had blocked in the major shapes and started to establish both colour and values.

Moat Walk in Spring, Sissinghurst (Stage 1)
9" x 12", coloured pencil on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The view in this sketch is one I've done before (see More sketching at Sissinghurst and a salutary tale). I was sat on the Lutyens Bench just below the Cottage Garden and which is on the terrace at the top of the steps leading down to the Moat Walk - which is the subject of the sketch. (Or just below the dahlias in this photo from the NT website)

It's difficult to get everything done in one go - and I wasn't sure I'd got the crop right with this one. I had a very dramatic contrast in terms of colour and values in front of me - but was finding it difficult to represent this with the pencils I had to hand.

I find very sunny days cause all sorts of problems in terms of getting the darker values. I just know that dark shadow areas are going to look just like black holes in my photos and that I won't be able to use a reference photo as any sort of greyscale value guide. I didn't have my sketchbook for thumbnails with me (having turfed it when I included the Arches block in my backpack) - and regretted not doing a values thumbnail first.

I decided the thing to do was to carry on with it when I got home and while I still had the scene fresh in my head. Having spent an hour or so getting this far I knew that I'd made lots of mental notes which would help me work it up further. Things I particularly noticed included
  • what a dark emerald colour the shadows on the grass were
  • how the lighter stripes in the grass were very pale
  • how there was a very significant value shift across the azaleas from back to front, light to dark
  • how some of the colours in the wall, plants and trees in the left hand side of the sketch were very subtle. I needed to think about how much detail I included and how much was left as an impression.
Moat Walk in Spring, Sissinghurst (Stage 2)
9" x 12", coloured pencil on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I worked on it some more on Tuesday. I concentrated on trying to develop the main values (see above) and in particular in developing that dark emerald green shadow on the grass which was so very striking. I printed off a greyscale of the reference photo that I took - and it was just as I expected - completely useless! My eyes take better and more subtle mental pictures than my new camera does!

Yesterday I worked some more (see below). I went after the 'little bits' of dark and light which make it more three dimensional. I lift out using my battery eraser - which is very useful for suggesting the shape of blooms and birdy holes in the trees. I also worked some more on the shadow under the azaleas and the value and colour of the azaleas which were nearest me. That was probably the most difficult bit - how to keep getting darker without losing all shape and colour. The rim lighting of the 'tips' of shoots approach seemed to work quite well for suggesting how they grew. I also loaded more 'restrained' colour onto the japanese wisteria - and then removed quite a lot if it with the eraser as I 'drew' the weeping fronds!

I'm now very pleased with the zappy spring green look to the piece - a lot of the time it's the overall 'look' of the piece which you need to get right when doing seasonal pictures. I think I've also made progress with the values and colours - although might do better still if I worked this up further in another medium.

However I now hate the walls and the box hedge and they need to be eliminated from the composition!

Moat Walk in Spring, Sissinghurst (Stage 3)
9" x 12", coloured pencil on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I've now taken it as far as I want to take it as a sketch. However the composition is now not working. I've got slivers of objects in at the edges which I really dislike. I need to lose the edges of the walls either side of the steps and the edge of the big box hedge on the left - so I think it needs to be cropped down if developed any further.

This morning I tried different crops and I decided to try 5x7 format which you can see at the top of the page. This has the advantage of putting the statue which is on the other side of the moat in a sweet spot and cuts down on the edges left and right which seemed less interesting.

I hope you have found the process I used to be interesting. If you'd like to see more 'how I developed my sketch' posts just let me know in the usual way.

You can find all links to previous posts about Sissinghurst below. These contain information about the garden and sketching/painting in the garden as well as about the individual sketches.

I think I'm going to keep an eye on weather forecasts this summer and then ring up and apply to work in the garden on the Wednesday. This is a non-public day when they do allow artists and photographers to work in the garden.