Monday, July 14, 2008

Drawing trees in St James Park

St James Park - the Lake View, with trees
32" x 12", coloured pencils in double page spread of sketchbook copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is a sketch of a view of the Lake in St James Park from the Horse Guards Road end of the park - Duck island is on the left, Buckingham Palace is at the other end of this lake (beyond the Blue Bridge and obscured by the Swire Fountain and the slight bend in the lake) and The Mall runs parallel to the park off to the right of my view. 

Which means this is what it looks like right in the middle of London! (You can download a pdf file of a map of the park from the Royal Parks website if you want the layout of the park in more detail and to see its location relative to other landmarks.) 

On Saturday I attended a National Gallery workshop on the Anatomy of Trees workshop given by Sarah Simblet - which you can read about in Drawing Trees with Sarah Simblet on my other blog Making A Mark. We were briefed about strategies for drawing trees in the morning and then drew trees in St James Park in the afternoon - and my drawing at the top of this post was the product of my afternoon's drawing. 

I thought it might be useful if I tried to remember my thought processes for the decision-making that went on before and during the course of making the drawing which you see at the top of this post - hence what follows which is.......... 

An anatomy of a drawing  

One of things which I battle with at times (usually due to the time available) is drawing a mass of different types of trees - especially in summer when we're faced with huge masses and shapes of leaf laden trees. 

 As I'm particularly partial to drawing views and vistas I decided to have a go at a vista - incorporating a range of different masses and types of tree where there was recession without much in the way of colour change to see if I could capture this. Plus I also had colour changes which seemed to contradict recession! 

The masses of trees which surround the lake on either side were the real subject of this drawing. Trees are one of my favourite subjects to look at and draw although I always tend to think every time I draw them that I still have some way to go in developing my tree drawing skills - hence the workshop!  

What I ended up producing is probably the largest drawing (albeit over two pages) that I've ever done while working plein air. It measures 32 inches by 12 inches - across a double page spread of a new large landscape format sketchbook. (12" x 16" format). 

Before I started I thought about:

  • the scope of the drawing - and where to crop! I had to decided how much was I trying to do - and where the four lines around the edge of the drawing (see Composition - the four most important lines) were going to come. Double page panoramic drawings are quite interesting because of course you move your head during the drawing which of course then distorts perspective lines! Once I realised I might do a double page spread I had to work out where the right hand edge came and decided to crop into a rather nice lime green willow. I left the left edge rather more undecided when I started - figuring that this could be an academic question in any case - as I intended to start with the right hand half.
  • Thinking in threes: I thought about thirds - both for the individual pages and the double page spread as a whole. (see Composition - thinking in threes)
The 'rule of thirds' is an approximation of the 'golden ratio' A diagram comparison - using algebra and numbers of "the golden mean" and "the rule of thirds" plus identification of the 'sweet spot' area and how this can be used for the focal point

  • Focal Point: The fountain in the lake is a dominant feature as was the dip in the tree line behind as that was the point of maximum recession it so I needed to work out a position (see Composition and Design - finding and creating a focal point). It ended up being in the bottom left hand sweet spot of the eight hand side and bottom right hand side sweet spot for the double page spread. Neat - huh? ;) In this particular instance, my main area of interest lay on the right hand side - but not so much with the fountain as the trees. However placing the fountain/dip on a sweet spot avoided the distraction they would be if placed anywhere else.
  • Foreground "fringe": I had a whole wodge of reed beds and other very attractive greenery in the foreground skirting the front edge of the lake and had to decide whether to include it or not. I decided to ignore it - too complicated for the time available plus 'fringe' bottoms always tend to look very odd unless carefully planned.
While drawing, I'm still making notes and making decisions:
  • Directing the eye: This was a very wide format - and all the trees were vertical and I felt the need for some more lateral lines. In this drawing I suddenly noticed that the clouds were creating an interesting and arresting shape - which provided a strong lateral line echoing the fairly obscured horizon line - plus the patches of blue got the eye travelling to the left. I often work on the principle that when cloud shapes 'catch my eye' that's when you need to start making notes of them and use them later - as they aren't going to last very long!
  • Height, width, depth and recession of trees: I had to work out the height of trees (some were very tall) and whether I wanted the height contained within the four lines or not. In part this was decided by where I decided to place the horizon as I didn't want this in the middle - so I placed it on the lower third which meant that the tops of some trees would be cropped - which was OK as this would tend to emphasise their height. I lightly marked contours of individual tree shapes while mapping out the trees - but then had to decide whether these would be blurred or highlighted as the drawing progressed.
  • Foliage and leaves: I thought about leaves - and then ignored them! What I did instead was looked for the main structural shapes of the tree masses and how these varied - on their contour edges and in terms of how they grew. For example I had three willows in different places where the habitat was lime green drooping branches in contrast to the London Plane trees which were massive and dense in terms of foliage and colour - apart from contour edges where the leaves thinned out and caught the backlighting. What was interesting about the willows was that they were all different depending on where they were situated and how the light caught them.
  • The colour of reflections: I looked at the colours of the trees reflected in the water. There's a neat way of remembering colour of reflections in - typically darks on the land have lighter reflections in the water and vice versa the reflection of light value shapes on the land and in the sky are darker/duller in the water - so darks are lighter and lights are darker and values of colours in the water tend to crowd around the middle range. Funnily, I find darks in the water always remind of how much darker my darks on the land need to be! I know that the relative balance of darks and lights in this drawing are incomplete (and therefore wrong) - partly because I needed to finish within the time available.
So that's the story of this drawing. It took about 2 hours during which I had a walk and a stretch on a couple of occasions. I'm definitely going back to have another go at some point - but also because I discovered the allotment garden for the first time - and it has wonderful veggies for me to draw! If anybody reading this would like to see more of my work you can see the following on my portfolio website
  • Views and Vistas - landscape drawings (currently offline)
  • Drawings of Trees and Leaves (currently offline)
Note: You can read about the workshop in today's post on Making A Mark - Drawing Trees with Sarah Simblet. Links:


  1. It would be great to be able to see this sketch IRL Katherine, there's so much to appreciate. Fascinating to follow your thought process too. So much to think about.

    So how did you juggle that book? Did you fold it and work on each page in isolation?

  2. Thanks Robyn

    I've got a drawing portfolio which can take loose paper of a decent size - but can also act as a drawing board.

    My new sketchbook has a waterproof but soft cover and ring binding. I folded it in two, used bulldog clips to keep the paper from billowing in the breeze and then worked either side. I only had to have the complete drawing open for a matter of a couple of minutes while I made the marks for translating the drawing across the divide. It wasn't at all difficult and I think I'll probably do it again as I rather like the panorama I can get as a result.

    However if I'm going to work it up I'm going to have work from a whole sheet of fine art paper to get the size.

  3. I do hope you do it, again, Katherine, and share it with us.
    There is so much to learn from
    not only the marks you put down,
    but, as Robyn wrote, from your thinking process, also.


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