Balancing dark and light, with small & large masses
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How to Draw a Tree
BALANCE OF DARK SPACES WITH LIGHT, AND OF LARGE MASSES WITH SMALL-WEIGHT OF MASSES AND DELICACY-TREES SEEN NEAR AND FAR OFF
Fig. 14 and Fig. 15
Balance of dark spaces with light.--If it is difficult to represent trees, it is much more difficult to place them in the right position on the canvas. The difficulty is due to the necessity of balancing all the parts so as to produce an agreeable whole. It is the appreciation of balance in a good picture that distinguishes it from a bad. In its complete meaning, balance embraces colour, line, light, and shade--the balance of warm and cold colours, of straight and curved lines, of light and dark and grey spaces. The greater part of an artist's time and thought is occupied with these problems.
The balance of light and dark spaces only is here touched on in its relation to the painting of trees. The first difficulty before a student is to see nature as spaces of light and dark, not as a number of separate objects independent of their surroundings. A tree might be this shape (Fig. 14), but if there is a shadow under it, it becomes for the purpose of a picture this shape (Fig. 15), and we see that the shadow is as important as the tree in forming this dark space. A couple of trees might be distinct in lighting (Fig. 16), or they might, from similarity of tone, be used as one form (Fig. 17). It is of the utmost importance to realise this, so I will press the point further. Here are two trees, a piece of ground, and a figure (Fig. 18), but under a uniform lighting they become
Fig. 16 one form, and it is the space of grey between them
that attracts attention (Fig. 18). Take another example : in Fig. 19a the trees are by the water side, but the wind destroys their reflection ; in Fig. 19b the water is still, and the space of dark (19b) is twice as long as before. Again (Figs. 22, 23, 24), there are three trees, but they make different spaces. Nature provides the spaces
A STUDY IN OILS BY VICAT COLE, R.A.
Example of forms being continued by shadows.
Two examples of even spacing that should be avoided.
of light and dark by cloud-shadows, by reflection, by pale and dark coloured objects, by rain clouds and clear skies. The labour of man adds to our choice crops of different hues, pale cornfields, dark herbage, and tilled ground. The spaces are there if we seek them, but are very rarely arranged ready for use, or are seen for a moment only, under a passing effect of light. They have to be balanced to become acceptable. If they happen to be more or less arranged, they must be transferred to the canvas on an appropriate scale or they lose their vitality. A balance in exactly equal proportions between dark and light masses is too formal to be pleasing ; but a total want of balance is even more disquieting a fact that beginners should note, as they too often err in placing their principal objects in out-of-the-way corners of their canvas, having heard they should not be quite in the centre.
Examples of a too equal and a too unequal arrangement
There is a quaintness and unaffectedness in the formality of nearly equally spaced light and dark that should be recognised. The charm of Hobbema's Avenue (see Plate XIII) owes something to this as well as to the receding straight lines. The well-worn plan of a diagonal division of dark and light with a small strong dark in the light and small lights in the dark seems as fresh and pleasing as ever, and we turn to it in Corot's " Souvenir de Alorte-Fontaine " (Plate XXIII) as if it were something new. When the principal objects form a dark pattern against the background our efforts are mainly directed to disposing them well ; after that, in placing the smaller forms such as detached pieces of foliage, and in elaborating the interest of their outline. If the objects are strongly lit, more attention must be paid to the individual parts. The shapes of masses of foliage must be selected with a view to a good design, the character of this being determined by the habit of growth of the tree. It is a matter for compromise between appearance and art. There will be truth as well as beauty in an intelligent rendering of these selected forms which a literal statement of appearances overlooking the main design cannot give. The value of interesting spaces of dark and light is nowhere better seen than in those pictures where a number of tree trunks play an important part. The interior of a pine wood under ordinary lighting is insufferably dreary ; the parallel lines of the trunks, with but little variety of intervals, are as wearisome as the bare hop poles Fig. 22 of Kent, though the pines might make a background for a funeral procession. Lit by the setting sun, the stems become spaced by light and shade ; some are caught by the golden light, others sink into uniform greyness, patches of foliage tell, dark and sharp, between. So we get intervals of light, dark, and middle tones, and our duty is to choose each tone, not for its value independently, but for its influence over other tones throughout the design. It is not necessary that a:picture should always be divided into large masses of light and dark. A sparkling effect of considerable beauty is obtained by patches of alternating light and dark, a theme that has been exploited with success by modern painters (see illustration, Plate XLII). The pictorial possibilities of this Fig. 24 spotted arrangement is no new discovery ; figure- painters employed it long ago, but its application to landscape seems an innovation, to the credit chiefly of Monet and his followers. The fascination of sunlit ground splashed with a chequered shade from trees should convince even the stereotyped painter, who follows the old routine, that nature presents many different faces that could be utilised for the pleasure of those shut up in towns. I can never see large stems cutting across a landscape without feeling again the grandeur and notion of space they convey ; but this impression is more often gained from the intervals between the trunks than from the trunks themselves. The greatness of a colonnade
seen in perspective is always felt ; and something of this architectural sense of dignity is seen in the stems. It is a good plan, when drawing, to shape the largest forms first, and this
STUDY OF BROKEN SUNLIGHT By R.V.C.
method applied to a row of trees ensures strict attention being given to the spaces between the trees. Draw the spaces first, then redraw the
trunks left between (Figs. 27 and 28). Turner's " Liber Studiorum " should open the road to the study of balance in dark and light masses. The drawing " Near Blair Athol " is perhaps the finest.
Balance of large and small objects.--There is an arrangement amateurs are fond of. It consists of some trees (Fig. 29), equal in size, surrounded by large tracts of country--a most difficult plan in which to interest anyone. The unvaried and small scale of the trees makes them unimportant, and gives them that little, far-off look of figures on a stage when seen from the gallery ; the spectator loses the perspective that decides the size of objects. That this is a serious loss will be understood if a distant tree is looked at through a telescope and compared with one seen near at hand ; both may be drawn the same size, but there is no foreshortening in the one seen through the telescope. W. L. Wyllie, in his artistic book on perspective, gives examples of boats seen near and far off, and the study of this work will suggest many applications of the laws of nature to the drawing of trees. But this type of picture has other faults ; these small trees, if not arranged, suggest a strip of landscape chosen at random, and copied indifferently well. If they are arranged, from the large spaces that surround them they seem to be the only trees in the country (Fig. 30) ; this would not be the case if they were cut off (Fig. 31) by the edges of the picture. The value of variety in the size of objects cannot be overstated, and
ILLUS. 11. SKETCH OF A SUBJECT IN WHICH THE METHOD OF DRAWING THE SPACES BETWEEN THE TREES INSTEAD OF THE TREES THEMSELVES MIGHT WELL BE EMPLOYED
A SUMMER IDYLL. E. STOTT, A.R.A.
An example of balance obtained by varied lighting.
the illusion that makes a twig in the foreground look as large as a whole trey in the distance should be utilised to the utmost, though the absurd distortion of the camera should be avoided. Again, if we refer to the " Liber," we see how often Turner allowed his trees to be cut off--he liked to be nearly under them, and the trunks seemed to him immense, stretching up we do not know how far into the sky ; behind the trunks there is a speck for a tree, evidently miles away ; on one side of the picture there is half a tree, on the other side just a spray. This is the sort of landscape you can walk into among the trees, instead of having that horrid space to get over before you reach the footlights. Every able painter knows the use of variety in the size of masses, and uses it. One thinks of Briton Riviere's picture of the great bank of clouds and the tiny figure below with outstretched arms ; of fine landscape in which mere dots for trees and a strip of ground support great skies. Turner, with much daring, in one drawing, " Mill near the Grande Chartreuse," has run great stems through the height of the picture so that they are cut off both by the top and bottom margin ; but see how they take us right up to the crags and
rushing water--we get intimate with the scene immediately. With many objects differing in size (Fig. 32, 33), it would seem impossible to get a nice balance, if it were not that a small separate object is so effective that it balances a large object that is not isolated (see Illus. 12 of Corot's " Macbeth and the Witches "). Differences of surface often help a small object to hold its own against larger ones. For instance, a large mass of indistinct Willows will be balanced by a small tuft of sharply defined Rushes. There are times when the size of a thing is settled for us ; but we wish to make it appear larger or smaller. Let us suppose that you have a tree trunk that does not give the impression of great girth as you wish it to do ; add the line of a sapling beside it (Fig. 34), and it takes its full size directly. If a form seems too large, devise some way of dividing it into sections by lines, if you cannot lessen it by the easier method of splitting it up into different tones of light and dark. The object of dividing a space to reduce its length will be seen by comparing a bare Larch stem and an Ash (that has boughs), both having the same heights, Looking at the Larch you run your eye up and down, and arrive at no conclusion as to its height--it merely seems terribly tall.
Run your eye along the Ash and it pauses at the first branch, then at the next, and you can guess the length of each section. The mystery of its unknown height is gone ; it is a thing you can measure, and therefore think less of.
(2) Weight of masses and delicacy.--The principal consideration, if we leave out colour, in composing a picture is without doubt the
ILLUS 13. SKETCH EXEMPLIFYING MASSES VEILED BY LIGHTER FORMS
balance of large forms with small, and the balance of dark forms with grey and white ; but we must not overlook the importance of comparing decided masses with indefinite ones, and in landscape this requires particular attention. We hear a picture summed up by those who do not paint as " so nice and soft," " horribly hard," as if it were Teddy Bears or other absurdities that were talked of. Generally a picture should have both qualities, though one of them may predominate. The charm and use of indefinite forms compared with solid masses is well seen in the bulk of tree foliage bordering the sky apertures. These, however, must be taken in detail presently. Another example is when a tree of massed foliage and one thinly clad stand the one in front of the other (Illus. 13). It is a case where the outline of the massed one may either be used to contrast sharply with the delicate forms of the other, or the delicate forms may be a means of lessening the abruptness of the massed form by blurring it, as it were, into the sky. A great space of indefinite form can be balanced by a small distinct one. This we notice when a dabchick swims in front of...
ILLUS. 14. SMALL FORMS SEEN AGAINST A FLAT BACKGROUND
...a great bed of Withies. Some would say this happens because the dabchick is alive and lively, therefore more interesting than the Withies, but a lump of wood really answers the purpose equally well.
(3) Trees seen near and far off.--A distant tree, rendered flat in tone by the atmosphere, is recognised by the pattern it makes against the sky or the background. The main shape, unconfused by any detail of foliage, stands out clearly as an oblong, a semicircle, a cone, or whatever form of outline may distinguish its species. Marked differences in the construction Fig. 35 of the outline become apparent. The Elm with a border of straight lines i (Fig. 35) can be distinguished at a great distance from a Beech with undecided edges of loose sprays. A Lombardy Poplar acts as a sentinel among the squat forms of the Oaks (Figs. 36, 37, 38), and is as valuable in the picture as a church spire would be.
There is no edge to the Larch wood--just a haze ; against it the upright lines of the trunks show as faint streaks of grey here and there.
TWO PENCIL DRAWINGS TO EXPLAIN THE VARIETY IN THE OUTLINES OF SILHOUETTES
We cannot distinguish each tree, nor do we wish to, but the inexhaustible variety caused by the density or thinness of the foliage, the sharpness or want of definition in the outline, and the varied shapes of the silhouettes should be looked for, and made interesting. It is not enough to represent them by a number of monotonous dots which serve no purpose in the picture. Look out for groups of trees on the skyline ; they are sometimes architectural in design, and as useful as a feudal castle would be (Fig. 39). You can find straight lines or undulating ones in the woods that line the hill, just whichever you want, with here and there spots of light. Perhaps the sky rim of the wood is
fuzzy, and the earth line tells with a sharp edge in the gaps between the trunks, or it may be that some young trees just like the toy ones that are sold with Noah's Ark stand in a row on the hill top, or line some division between the fields ; they serve as a reaction from forms that are too pompous, and they show the scale of the country.
From my window I see tops of trees beyond the hill-line suggesting the unseen land beyond. Plantations stretch from this side of the hill to the other, disappearing in graduated steps behind it ; other woods run down the gullies or pass over the high ground into the hollows, fixing all the contours and undulations of the hill ; all these facts give variety, and help in the portraiture of a particular district. They give the artist the chance of securing accents of light and dark ; though these are more often obtained by passing clouds that throw an indigo shadow over parts, in strong contrast to the glow of a sunlit field or the blue haze of the distance.
In the middle distance the local colour of the trees begins to show through the atmosphere. The lighter green of an Ash or Lime is distinguished from that of the darker Sycamore, Elm or Oak, and the Pinewoods make a startling patch of dark. The silver tones of the Willows and Poplars flicker in the sunlight or gleam quite white against the sky as a breeze passes, and the little Whitebeam, or the Wayfaring Tree, becomes as important as half the woodlands. In the very distant trees a point of difference is seen only in the outline of the foliage against the background. With these closer to hand it can be seen in the middle of the tree as well. We cannot mistake the thin layers and detached spiked sprays of the Beech ; the heavier layers and drooping curves of the Lime ; the tufted foliage of the Oak with its star-shaped projections ; the massed sharp-edged foliage of the Sycamore and Plane ; the Poplar made up of dotted leaves, or the blurred edges of the Willows. The shadows between the foliage may alone betray the species ; in some
ILLUS. 17. PATTERNS FORMED BY FOLIAGE
(Pencil drawing of Plane leaves)
they are sharp and dark, in others faint and confused, massed or detached, forming lines consistently in one direction or another. Whether the shadow is easy to find as in an Elm, or impossible to follow as in a Poplar, is an important point in depicting the character of the tree ; and perhaps still more important in an artist's search for variety. The direction of the chief branches can be followed, and in places the junction of branch with bough explains its method of growth.
At this distance the elbows and twists of an Oak may not be unlike those of a Walnut, and yet a subtle difference maintained throughout prevents our confusing one with the other. The same habit of observation enables us to distinguish them as it helps us to appreciate the suave lines of Willow branches which lack something of the spring in the lissome lines of a Birch.
The trees close at hand are unmistakable. It is no longer a matter of giving a main character, but one for consideration of individual traits, of recognising how the tree in all its parts conforms to the ways of its fellows in the species, and in what way it asserts its independence. We note how much its appearance is due to some stronger influence, perhaps of a prevailing wind, and the picturesque qualities that storms or position have endowed it with. The suitability with the locality or the sentiment of the subject might be considered. Attention becomes focussed also on smaller matters, such as the technical treatment of twigs and leaves against the sky or the amount of definition in the foliage. A single leaf may look as large as a distant tree, a bunch of leaves may balance a hill-side. The treatment of near trees is not one to dictate upon. They can be painted for themselves, with the delight to be found in every detail insisted upon, and the country used as a background for displaying them ; or they may be thought to be out of focus, as it were, if the eye is on more interesting objects behind them, and can be treated just as a mass of tone and colour. If the painter's belief is a sincere one and humble one he may choose his way--his own views should be respected, and he stands or falls by the way he presents his views.
THE INTRICACY OF DETAIL. DRAWING BY R. V. C.