greenwich park and landscape drawing

I was inspired by Philip Reeve’s recent landscape drawings to get up early this morning and draw in the park. (I have a bit of a love affair with the trees there, they’re so full of personality. Go visit them if you’re ever in Greenwich! Say hi for me.)

I hadn’t made a landscape drawing in ages and, in a way, I kind of chickened out. This is really a drawing of a tree (my favourite tree), not a landscape. And the tree is more of a life drawing than a study in light or anything. Basically, it’s a portrait of a tree, just like I’d draw a portrait of a person, and the other bits are just there to frame the tree and put it in a bit of context. In that way, it’s a bit like a medieval paintings, where the people or religious scene are the main focus, and the nature just decorative or symbolic bits around the edges.

I find it much harder to draw nature without some big, obvious chunky thing in the foreground, unlike my favourite so far of Philip’s drawings, which takes in the whole field and plays with its overall composition. I’d love to learn how to do this. When I was at Bryn Mawr, I took an art history class in Flemish landscape painting from a professor named Christiane Hertel. Sadly, I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I do recall her pointing to several of the Dutch painters, who were innovators in making the landscape a character in itself, with fewer man-made or human focal points (often just a little windmill somewhere, or a tiny figure of a traveller or hermit saint). They painted dark, angry, windwhipped trees, deep shadows, heavy forests. At the time, I got some books from the library of landscape etchings by Rembrandt, whose line work still fascinates me. I really want to track down another well-printed book of his etchings and make some more studies of them.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is a comment Mark Stafford made while we were looking at drawings in the Cartoon Museum’s Fougasse exhibition. Mark said how rare it was these days to see illustrators putting small characters in landscape compositions because we’re so conditioned by television close-ups and mid-range shots. I don’t watch much telly at all (don’t even own one) but I know that when I take photos, I almost always zoom as close to the figure as I can go, with little regard for the larger sweep of space around them. And I think I do the same with drawing. When I draw wider landscapes, I struggle to get a good range of tonality, and my textural lines are tentative. I lived in rural Lancashire for a year when I was much younger, and I remember being hugely impressed by the way the clouds made moving shadows on the hills, and the purplish look of the night-time fog. But I never managed even slightly to capture it. I’d like to think that now I can draw more skillfully, and I might have a better chance of it, but I still need to get in some practice. …Adding that to my to-do list.

One of my three studio mates, Gary Northfield, just wrote a post about clouds on his brand new blog; I need to link up with this and try drawing some. Maybe we could make a cloud mini comic. Except we need to finish Sheep Swap, we’ve left that one hanging.

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