Drawing and Painting Trees, Free Landscape Art Book
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN TREES : BALANCE -- SINGLE TREES -- TREES SEEN N MASSES -- IN GROUPS -- COMPOSITION
Balance.--We know how much a standing figure depends for its dignity upon its balance--how the relative position of the neck and feet is gauged by an imaginary vertical line. So it is with a tree ; in a well-poised trunk
the larger limbs, and the foliage they carry, appear to be balanced without effort. When a vertical trunk bears limbs
that spread equidistant on all sides, the balance is too obvious to require comment, unless we like to point to an upright Spruce, Cypress, or Lombardy Poplar as an
Fig 1a and Fig 2.
extreme example. The balance I wish to call attention to is when the trunk leans or curves, but still supports the weight of foliage and boughs directly over its base ; or when the deviation of the line is excessive in one direction (Fig. 2). We know that the roots of a tree ensure stability, so that the exact balance of the human figure is not essential, but " it requires an artful pencil," as Gilpin says, to draw possible lines in a leaning tree ; these should not suggest an imminent upheaval. On the other hand, one sometimes comes across young trees nearly bowed to the ground, and they form a charming feature of the woodlands when the copse has been cut.
In these we recognise the suppleness of the slim stem, not a want of stability, as the cause for these graceful curves. Trees hanging over a bank would often appear unbalanced, if it were not for the projecting roots that grip the bank surface and reach down its face. We seem to be more assured if we can see the mechanism that ties to the ground any upright form that is out of the vertical. I wonder if, whilst standing under a builder's crane, we should not watch its evolutions with more pleasure if we could see some counteracting weight to balance the stone swinging overhead ?
Often we see trees which seem not to have a true balance. To see them so in nature is one thing, to live with them in a picture is another--and undesirable. To give them an insecure appearance in our drawings, and to be unaware of having done so, is inexcusable. On sloping ground trunks often lean slightly to the high side and look best so. They suggest the nice " rake to aft " of a ship's mast. No fault can be found with those that are upright, but much with those that lean downhills, as Fig. 4 explains.
We are fond of trees overhanging a path, and great use can be made of these in pictures. They do not appear to lack balance, which may be partly due to the fact that most of the heavy boughs spring from the upper side. In forests there are parts suggesting weird imaginings--trees half fallen lean against their fellows, crossing and interlacing, with snapped boughs hanging ; among them are young stems twisted and contorted and intertwined by creepers ; ferns have found a footing among uprooted trunks ; grey lichens tuft the boughs. Here the want of balance is what we look for, and would be the keynote
* 1 One cannot mention these young trees without thinking of J. W. North's picture in the Chantrey Bequest Collection that shows so refined an insight into the subtle charm of the woodlands (see illustration, Plate XXX).
LITHOGRAPHIC STUDY OF SYCAMORE TREES. OLIVER HALL, R,E.
of your picture. The seduction of abandonment comes in, and the uneasiness of watching objects of undecided poise has no place.
When the roots show above ground they serve as it were for a stand, and the trunk holds itself the better for them. If the bole is imbedded in the soil, it appears not to spring from it, but to have been shoved into it like the flowersticks in our garden. The value of these lines, which connect the bole with the ground, is as considerable for displaying a nicety of poise. The truth of this is brought home to us in the case of a forest carpeted with tall bracken hiding such connections. We miss the firmness that the solid contours of the ground would naturally give in connection with the boles. We miss the dark shadows which connect the trunks ; we lose the sharp-edged patches of light that accentuate the forms we seek. Rank undergrowth, however, need not be shunned when choosing a subject, for the very want of definite forms is of inestimable value in contributing to the mystery of the woodlands. Rising unseen from it, the grey stems flecked with sunlight lose all connection with solid earth and become part of that world which the fairies inhabit.
(2) Single trees.--It is impossible to combine in the painting of one tree or one group of trees all the pleasures that a painter would like to command. Think of them--beauty of line, mass, pattern. Think of what this leads you to--the value of parallel lines, of vertical or horizontal lines, of curves contrasted with straight lengths, of angles compared with curves, of long curves with short twists, of variety in the direction and size of objects, of the importance of contrast of dark with light, or of the charm of half tones without dark, or of modelled forms against flat ones ; and still you are leaving out colour and design. To attempt all of these in the painting of one group would be to court failure ; it is better to study those qualities that we associate with masses and those usually found in single objects ; so that our selection in our picture shall make an unconfirmed used statement that by its directness may be understood. In both we must look for the silhouette seen against the sky or background, and for the variety of large and small, distinct and indistinct shapes.
A tree standing by itself chiefly attracts our attention to the pattern formed throughout its parts. If the foliage is slight, the line of the main stem can be traced from the ground to its dispersal in a haze of twigs at the apex. The balance, the curves, the straight lines that mark its course become our chief concern, and the sparse foliage with its uncompetitive and indefinite forms acts as a foil to display the lines of the stem and its ramifications ; we have, in fact, the essential charm that belongs to the winter period with the exquisite tracery of foliage added to it. If the foliage is more compact, attention turns to the branch system, and a combined pattern of leafage and boughs must be sought for. The flat field of dainty foliage is changed to one capable of receiving strong light and shade ; fulness and weight take the place of delicacy. Any single object by its isolation attracts attention?
ILLUS. 9. STUDY OF YOUNG ASH TREES TO SHOW THE LINES OF THE STEMS
a little bush on a bare hill top is a landmark for half the county. We focus it more exactly than we would larger masses, and generally expect a greater exactness and finesse of representation. Single trees may be the motif of a picture ; they may serve to carry on a mass into other parts of the scene by connecting their outlines ; or they may serve to duplicate a solitary light or dark (Fig. 7). Often their graceful poise is used to tell just as a line in contrast to heavy forms or as a link between them ; or the single tree is placed in front of a group (Fig. 8) with the object of breaking up an over-massive shape--a purpose served so often by a bare sunlit branch in Constable's work.
(3) Trees in masses.--Massed trees afford an opportunity for strength of colour and simplicity of tone. A large space covered with one depth of colour is impressive, and need not be frittered away into bits of light and dark or oddments of colour. That would be to substitute prettiness for dignity. The depth of tone on an object having only one colour should be varied, but within a limited range. This is best understood by supposing your tones on the palette to be arranged in order from light to dark, and that a section of the light middle-tones, or dark ones, only is used.
Or put it this way--that tints from the left, right, or centre of the scale be used but not from both ends (Fig. 9). If your mass is a dark one and you include the paler tints, you defeat your object, which should be to show its bulk and strength. The idea of bigness is helped by some severity in the outline--a gimped edge (Fig. 10) is not conducive to grandeur ! Massed trees at times look spotty and detached, especially when viewed from a height or from far off--it may be well to paint them at another time when they throw long shadows over their neighbours, or when the light is behind them, or a cloud shadow passes and their details are lost in the flat space of tone, or when the shafts of light stream across the foliage, making a new spacing of light and shade. We have all, spellbound, watched the shafts of sunlit mist of the morning streaming through the elms.
(4) Trees seen in groups--Composition.--The man who can really paint groups of trees needs no teaching except that which is self-imposed, for to paint a group is to be able to compose, and to be able to compose is to be able to arrange things so that they convey to others that which nature meant to you. We may pass a group of trees daily ; suddenly we rush off to paint them ; we always knew they were fine, but could not explain why. Now the reason has come to us, and a sketch painted while we are white-hot is likely to affect some amongst those who see it with the feeling we had. But we cannot always wait for impulses, how? ever, and must analyse why we like or dislike arrangements of form or colour ; probably in this lies the chief training in our art, and it continues throughout our lives. The first thing to decide is, whether we paint our picture for the group or whether the group helps us to paint our picture. If the group is the reason for the existence of the picture, we must see that the other groups are subservient to it, and yet interesting in themselves. Joshua Reynolds says :
"In a composition, when the objects are scattered and divided into many equal parts, the eye is perplexed and fatigued from not knowing where to rest--where to find the principal action, or which is the principal figure ; for where all are making equal pretensions to notice, all are in equal danger of neglect." You have only to substitute " Group of trees " for " Figure " and you have the best advice to start on. He continues later : " On the other hand, absolute unity, that is, a large work consisting of one group or mass of light only, would be as defective as a heroic poem without episode, or any collateral incidents to recreate the mind with the variety which it always requires."
Handbooks offering trite receipts for composing have in many eases been followed too implicitly, their readers becoming adepts at turning out pretty pictures suitable for Christmas cards. There are definite rules founded on the practice of the masters of painting who have each discovered some law that governs Truth and Beauty. My advice on composition would be this :
Choose a group of trees that you admire, then ask yourself why you admire it. Visit it in the early morning before the mists rise ; it is just a flat silhouette of one depth of tone ; it looks immense ; the flat pattern it makes against the background holds our attention. Look at it an hour later ; the low sun lights up the trunks and the sprays of projecting foliage ; you can see the individual leaves and every branchlet ; the flat disc has become a rounded mass split up into sections of rich darks, half-tones, and bright lights, honeycombed throughout with shapes. At midday the details are less conspicuous ; the general effect is quieter and not so divided into dark and lights. Seen in the evening against the light, it has still greater unity, but without the flatness of the early morning. Now you can decide why you like the group. Perhaps it was the silhouette it formed ; it may have been the shape of the trunks against the foliage and the lighting of the ground beneath them ; or was it the large masses of foliage with their feeling of fulness as they take the colour of the sky ? Choose your time of day, and for many days study the groups until you have a truthful painting of it--truthful in the sense that you have looked for those forms or effects which you had decided upon as the chief attraction, and that you have drawn and painted them as well as you possibly can. Find out how much each form contributes to this central idea ; do not shirk those parts that seem to weaken it, but try not to elaborate them into undue prominence. Indoors take some clean canvases (using charcoal), place your group on each in different positions. Add the second group, and see what effect it has on the principal one, and shift it continuously until the two groups give the impression you are trying for. Then ask yourself why the arrangement is the best. Now add other objects to the picture, considering each one as belonging to some group already there. Think of them as black, grey, or white objects, and remember that it is easier to add another to a group if it and the group are of the same tone. This exercise, if carried out with every subject you sketch, will lead you to study intelligently the great painters, and to formulate schemes for distributing objects in those places where they shall be of value to the group to which they are attached. Here, again, we should read Reynolds, though we must understand " ornaments " to mean " details." " It appears to be the same right turn of mind which enables a man to acquire the truth, or the ust idea of what is right, in the ornaments, as in the more staple principles of Art. It has still the same centre of perfection, though it is the centre of a smaller circle."
Quite a good elementary idea of arranging groups can be had by arranging a number of toy trees until they look best (Figs. 11 and 12). Elaborate schemes can be worked out by making drawings of the toys and by introducing light and shade (Fig. 13).
Fig. 11 , Fig 12. and Fig. 13
Learn how to compose by viewing everything as if it had to be painted ; see how painters of repute have arranged and do arrange groups, and remember your Reynolds :--" Nor whilst I recommend studying the art from artists, can I be supposed to mean that nature is to be neglected ; I take this study in aid, and not in exclusion, of the others. Nature is, and must be, the fountain which alone is inexhaustible, and from which all excellences must originally
Jean-Francois Millet, at the request of a friend, at times wrote down his belief. I reproduce a part of it (from Scribner's Magazine, 1880), for it is not only delightful to read, but may be taken as a model for guidance :
" We should accustom ourselves to receive from Nature all our impressions, whatever they may be and whatever temperament we may have. We should be saturated and impregnated with her, and think what she wishes and makes us think. Truly she is rich enough to supply us all. And whence should we draw, if not from the fountainhead ? Why for ever urge, as a supreme aim to be reached, that which the great minds have already discovered in her, because they have mined her with constancy and labour, as Palissy says ? But, neverthe-less, they have no right to set up for mankind for ever one example. By that means the productions of one man would become the type and the aim of all the productions of the future.
" Alen of genius are gifted with a sort of divining-rod ; some discover in nature this, others that, according to their kind of scent. Their productions assure you that he who finds is formed to find ; but it is funny to see how, when the treasure is unearthed, people come for ages to scratch at that one hole. The point is to know where to look for truffles. A dog who has not scent will be but a poor hunter if he can only run at sight of another who scents the game, and who, of course, must always be the first. And if we only hunt through imitativeness, we cannot run with much spirit, for it is impossible to be enthusiastic about nothing. Finally, men of genius have the mission to show, out of the riches of Nature, only that which they are permitted to take away, and to show them to those who would not have suspected their presence nor ever found them, as they have not the necessary faculties. They serve as translator and interpreter to those who cannot understand her language. They can say, like Palissy : ' You see these things in my cabinet.' They, too, may say : If you give yourself up to Nature, as we have done, she will let you take away of these treasures according to your powers. You need only intelligence and good-will.'
" An enormous vanity or an enormous folly alone can make certain men believe that they can rectify the pretended lack of taste or the errors of Nature. On what authority do they lean ? We can understand that, with them who do not love her and who do not trust her, she does not let herself be understood, and retires into her shell. She must be constrained and reserved with them. And, of course, they say : The grapes are green. Since we cannot reach them, let us speak ill of them.' We might here apply the words of the prophet : Deus resistit superbis, sed gratiam dat humilibus.'
" Nature gives herself to those who take the trouble to court her, but she wishes to be loved exclusively. We love certain works only because they proceed from her. Every other work is pedantic and heavy.
" We can start from any point and arrive at the sublime, and all is proper to be expressed, provided our aim is high enough. Then what you love with the greatest passion and power becomes a beauty of your own, which imposes itself upon others. Let each bring his own. An impression demands expression, and especially requires that which is capable of showing it most clearly and strongly. The whole arsenal of Nature has ever been at the command of strong men, and _their genius has made them take, not the things which are conventionally called the most beautiful, but those which suited best their places.
" For example, in its own time and place, has not everything its position ? Who shall dare to say that a potato is inferior to a pomegranate ? "
ILLUS. 10. THIS SKETCH SHOWS HOW FIG. 12 COULD BE USED -THE TREES ARE MERELY REVERSED AND ELABORATED