TREES SEEN AGAINST THE SKY-PATTERNS FORMED BY SKY APERTURES
THERE is nothing in landscape so difficult to paint well as tree forms against the sky, except the sky itself. When painting a sky an artist can never lose sight of the limitations of his materials ; he knows how far off white paint is from light, and he is content to obtain some truths of atmosphere, and having done so as well as he can, to leave it at that. With a tree, he is confronted at every turn with his shortcomings as an artist and craftsman. He must make it lit by the light of the sky he has painted. He wishes to make it decorative, but fears to convert it to a flat pattern. He would like to show how beautiful it is in every detail, but must keep it grand and effective as a whole. He despises himself if he cannot show the character of its species, but he knows this is not his chief object in painting it. It may be well to consider the stumbling-blocks separately.
The edges.--If you look attentively at a small spray jutting out from the outline of a tree, you notice how great a variety there is in the definition of the leaves. Probably the majority will be in a more or less horizontal position, some will be hanging, others turned upwards or tilted this way and that ; single ones in places are noticeable, some cross one another, others are clustered ; and the sky breaks in at intervals. Focus your sight on the spray for a minute, and it seems clearly defined ; then pass your eyes rapidly to the edge of your canvas, and that seems much more definite. Now half close your eyes ; the whole spray looks less defined than before, and sharp only in places. The first most obvious fact has been learned--that no part of it is quite sharply defined, and that there is a great variety in the intensity of definitiveness. Leaves are either glossy, hairy, or granular, so that they are able to catch or reflect the colour of the sky. On most trees they are sufficiently transparent to allow a strong light to pass through them when they are detached ; most of them have a notched or indented margin, and they are connected by a thin stalk to slight twigs. Here we have the reasons for the lack of sharpness. Most leaves take a horizontal or partly drooping position, the best one for reflecting the sky to us, and their natural colour is modified by the paler grey or blue of the atmosphere. At the margin of a tree most of the leaves are seen foreshortened, .and the light passing on either side makes them all but invisible. The tips of others that belong to the far side are seen, adding to the blurred effect. Some hang in a vertical position and are much more distinct, and usually darker, from being the lowest and in the shade of the bunch above them. Though by comparison distinct, their gimped
ILLUS 18. THE TOP OF AN ELM TREE
edges and transparency of blade prevent the effect being presented that would be noticed in a disc of metal with an entire edge, both being of the same size. The slightness of the stalk makes it invisible, and the twig only helps to veil the sky. Where the sky breaks through the foliage the patch of light is bordered by countless leaves, some foreshortened, the tips of others overlapping the mass, some in shadow, others in light--all helping to make an uneven blurred margin to the light. So indistinct is the margin that the small lights appear as globes, as if the in-and-out edges of the surrounding foliage were insufficient to stop the rays of light. That this is actually the case may be proved by the simple experiment of cutting a hole, with a fine frilled edge, out of a piece of paper, and holding it in front of a very strong light. The dazzling light of the sky prevents us from recognising any colour in those leaves that encircle it.
All this teaches us the important fact that the extreme margins of holes in foliage through which the sky is seen are diffused and colourless. They are not sharp, dark, or bright coloured. In the centre of each foliage-clump we find the local colour of the leaves showing strongly, though still influenced by the sky. In the centre of the largest masses we find the strongest colour, because the surrounding leaves form a background for its display ; they also cut off the light of the sky that would render our eyes insensitive to colour near it. We have said that the small sky gaps appear like globes, and might add that at times they resemble globes with a light inside them, giving the illusion of the light hanging among the leaves. The question whether it is legitimate to imitate such an effect in a picture (since it would be understood only by the few) I will leave to the regular writers on art to discuss if they care to ; and I will add the problem of whether flat land seen from a height should be made to look as if it were la horizontal plane as we know it to be, or one inclined upwards as it appears to be. To return to our tree, one should delight in the brilliancy of the colour where the sun shines through the leaves, and test the greyness of the surrounding foliage by this strong note.
A scrutiny of one tree, then, shows us that the extreme edge is made up of rather indefinite forms, some in clusters, others in larger groups, and here and there a single leaf, or small tuft more sharp or dark than the rest, the whole less coloured than the bulk of the tree ; that the sky spaces between the foliage have a colourless indefinite rim and in places strongly resemble the colour of the sky ; that these spaces of light are often screened by an indistinguishable veil of small leaves and twigs, for this reason seem darker than the open sky ; that the small sky spaces usually appear as circular lights with diffused edges, the strongest light being in the centre ; that the local colour of the leaves is strongest in the centre of the larger groups. We should also note that the upper or lower edges of these groups will be sharp or indistinct according to which of them projects in front of the surrounding masses--a feature of importance in the portraiture of a particular species, as it explains the formation of the branches. It seems superfluous to add that there will be an enormous difference in the comparative sharpness throughout a tree bearing small leaves, say an Elm, and one with large leaves like a Sycamore ; or that narrow leaves, such as the Willows bear, will bar the light less effectively than the broad leaves of an Alder. (See Figs. 19-26.) No one will require to be told that widely spaced leaves (Black Poplar) will make a less massive effect than leaves so near together (Oak). On leafless trees we observe somewhat similar effects.
ILLUS. 19 OAK
ILLUS. 20 SYCAMORE
ILLUS. 21 ALDER
ILLUS. 22 ASPEN
ILLUS. 23 WILLOW
ILLUS. 24 YEW
ILLUS. 25. COMPARE THE HANG OF THE LEAVES AND THE LONG STALKS OF THE BLACK POPLAR WITH THOSE OF THE PLANE
ILLUS. 26. BLACK POPLAR
(A) DIAGRAM SHOWING THE VARIETY IN THE SKY APERTURES
(B) THE HEAVY BLACK LINES SHOW THE GENERAL SHAPES TO BE FIRST LOOKED FOR
The border is constructed of little twigs that are insufficiently large-- or insufficiently massed to obstruct the light. They produce the appearance of a haze scarcely differing from the colour of the sky. Inside this border is a closer network. It is dense enough to allow the delicate colouring of the twigs to be seen, but still only acts as an indistinct veil, and against it the exquisite lines of the larger boughs can be clearly traced. The round forms of the sky openings, which are so noticeable among the foliage in summer time, are replaced by irregular shapes. These for the most part are determined by the spaces between the larger boughs, though trees with thick twigs (Horse Chestnut), or with numerous twigs matted together, may have sky apertures bounded by the twigs themselves. The openings between foliage help to explain the direction of the boughs and the plan they are built upon. They may be the natural gaps between the larger forms, or they may be due to accident. In either case they offer opportunities for construction in the limbs that border or cross them.
The shape and position of these openings, varied as they are in each individual tree, yet conform to certain limitations imposed by th - habit of the specie, and we instinctively recognise them as belonging, to a particular species, even before we study the methods of growth that cause them. If you think of the direction taken by the lone straggling boughs of a Beech and the hang of the foliage, you would not expect the lights seen through the tree to be shaped or dispose( like those seen through an Oak ; nor more they are, yet I have seer sketches where you could not tell one from the other. In whatever way the openings are arranged, it is our business as artists not to miss the rhythm of the lines that connect them, or to overlook the decorative qualities in the disposition of the lights and darks. For this purpose we may consider them as a flat pattern of light and dark, though we should not paint them so, except in the far distance, or under some special effect of lighting (Figs. 40, 41).
At the beginning of a picture it is a good plan to construct these patterns clearly, in fact to draw the mass of the tree by them, giving particular attention to their relative importance in size, clearness, and position. The placing of them is a very important part of composition-- one that Corot knew so well. If you look at his trees, the lights through them seem absolutely right, very pleasing, and by no means artificial ; they seem just to have come there without an effort on his part. If you examine them carefully you will find they are all beautifully ant( exactly placed, probably on a preconceived pattern, certainly with a definite intention. These lights should not be copied separately until the connection between them has been observed. They may be actually connected by small lights forming an unbroken chain, or more likely there will be breaks where the foliage intervenes, and the flow of one large light to another will only be felt by the weight of the larger ones overpowering the smaller. Often a strong edge, where massed foliage ends at the light, will carry on the connection to the strong edge in the next light ; and the emphasis of this line, though really disconnected, will prevent the space being cut up into meaningless sec tions of light and dark (Fig. 40).
Just as we should look for definite patterns in some places, in others we should avoid them ; or rather we should avoid making those darks and lights that at times resolve themselves into set patterns against our will. The absolute want of pattern is a charming feature in some trees (a half-grown Ash for example) and delightful in a picture. There is a unity in grey or dark spots of unequal size, but of equal value interspersed with the sky, that should be sought for and used both by itself, and also as a background to display boughs and other defined forms. Mark Fisher has shown us how useful this even distribution of light and dark is, though he has applied it more to the glitter of light on foliage. Decoration in trees is, I think, over-insisted upon at the present day by some professional artists ; the trees seem to be designed entirely for decoration, and to have become a flat pattern. When looking at some pictures, one feels that the painter's love for open country and rustic scenery has been shelved for a display in the dexterous management of shapes.
ILLUS. 27. TO SHOW HOW AN OUTLINE CONTINUES THOUGH INTERRUPTED
Clausen, in his lectures on painting, puts my meaning better. " One often sees trees painted that look all cut out at the edges, like trees on a stage, and when we look at the edges of a tree against the sky, we see that they look cut out, too ; but if we look at the tree as a whole--as a great dome, spreading up and rounding into the sky, with the light showing on it and through it--if we realise this, we can get a little nearer to our tree." However, I believe amateurs are not aware of the necessity at all of looking for decorative forms ; so this description of trees seen against the sky should suffice as a basis for closer observation. Familiarity will not in this pursuit breed contempt, but reverence ; and casual representation will be replaced in time by free handling, acquired by appreciative knowledge and self-confidence.
THE OUTLINE OF A TREE
MY intention in the last chapter was to show that the edge of a tree can be made interesting in a picture by an appreciative rendering of the variety that is to be seen in the tone, colour, and comparative size and definition of the leaves or twigs of which it is composed. It will be understood that the edge is not defined by an uninterrupted line (Fig. 42). To save misunderstanding, we must consider the word " line " in this connection to mean something which does not exist in nature, but which nevertheless represents to our mind the extremity of one object or group of objects, or a division between different tones and colours. The word is nearly always used in this sense in connection with pictures, and does not imply the existence of the actual form so neatly described as "length without breadth." The first thing to notice in a tree is that the lines representing its boundaries are not fashioned after Fig. 43 the manner of a scallop (Figs. 43, 44), but of straight lines, curved lines, long and short, and every variety of line. The Cyma recta, and reversa, the cavetto and ovolo of architecture are all there, and many others yet untabulated.
If you trace without thought a map of England jumping in and out round the promontories and dipping into every estuary and little bay, you are apt to make a most wobbly caricature of our island. If, on the other hand, you draw only the chief curves and straight lines, noting how they differ from one another, you will get an exaggerated but most unmistakable likeness (Figs. 45, 46).
If you gave yourself the trouble of making this experiment, you would learn some most important factors in drawing that cannot be neglected when constructing the outline of a tree. To be precise, you would learn (1) that the chief curves or straight lines are often carried across a break ; in other words, the main lines are not of necessity continuous, but are picked up by one form after another. (2) That there is a great choice as to which line you may consider to be the chief one. (3) That the distinguishing feature of the line must be insisted on, and not spoilt by trivial interruptions. (4) That its value will depend upon the contrast it forms to some other line, and that its value is enhanced if its direction is repeated by another form close by. (5) That a number of similar lines near one another are more effective than dissimilar lines. (6) That lines become wearisome unless there is some slight variation in their course. (7) That straight lines are more austere than curved lines, and help to suggest restraint, dignity, and strength. That slightly curved lines suggest delicacy and grace, while circular ones suggest weight and something of a coarse exuberance.
Perhaps it was an exaggeration to say that all these things can be found out by our map, but they certainly can be seen in trees, and we must apply them--
(1) The chief lines need not be unbroken. They may follow the rim of separate objects or different tones. If you bear this in mind when drawing a tree (Fig. 47) you will not overlook the main line (Fig. 48), and you will notice that it is carried across the still larger space to the top of the small tree. If you neglected these main lines, the various objects, tones, and colours of the scene would be no longer knit together, but would become separate objects, disconnected tones, and unattached colours, thus making a sort of inventory that catalogues the number of objects, tones, and colours visible, but conveys no sense of unity, breadth, or arrangement. In this Fig. we have considered the chief lines as if they must be fashioned by the outline of the tree. Usually this is so, but quite often the lines of composition exist between different tones instead of emphasizing the outline. Suppose that (Fig. 49) one side of our tree were sunlit and the rest in shade, our composing line would then border the shadow instead of the tree outline, and our tree would present a new aspect. The lines need not be continuous in one direction ; they may reverse the curve, and by this means (Figs. 50, 51, 52) continue, the direction of other curves. In some compositions the flow and interchange of curves will be an outstanding feature ; when they are apparent in nature it is well to begin the sketch by a statement of them first, and later on to fill in the different forms by which they are created. The continuity of lines seen in some pictures is so strictly adhered to, that
the whole subject--though made up of more or less separate objects--might be traced without the necessity of once lifting the pencil from it. A composition of this sort might easily be too suave, and some straight lines become a necessity to prevent its degenerating into insipidity. Sequence in the arrangement of the lines that bound the sky apertures will act as a guard
against over-spottiness--an appearance that may unwittingly be caused by a very slight deviation from continuous lines to snappy ones. The oft repeated breaks in the outline of a young Fir (Fig. 53) are displeasing, but far more so when the dentated edge is emphasized by a harsh outline ; for in nature the line would in some places be lost, in others be continued by some interior form, or be made less apparent by its connection with the light or dark of the sky or objects in the background.
Fig. 50 -- THE GROUP REFERRED TO IN FIGS. 51, 52
(2) That there is a great choice as to which line you may consider the chief one.
The same scene in nature would not convey the same impression as the day passes. Not only would the sentiment connected with the morning, midday, and evening be different, but the constructive lines would I appear under a new guise.
The same lines still construct the outline of trees and land, but new effects of lighting crop up, and that which was formerly a main line on one group becomes insignificant, and is to be found on some groups or set of objects. The most simple illustration (Figs. 54, 55) of this would be a scene where a group of trees on sloping ground cuts across a receding row behind them, thus forming two diagonal
lines. With the sun on the right or left respectively we get the near or the farther trees in shadow, and the one more important than the
Two DIAGRAMS OF THE SAME GROUP OF TREES SHOWING THE DIFFERENT COURSES THE MAIN LINES COULD PURSUE (see Fig. 50)
other contains the main line. Any doubts as to the necessity of selecting carefully the main lines should be brushed aside once and for all by this diagram of a scene (Fig. 54) that a child could copy and that an artist could make four different compositions of, even though he traced and kept to the child's outline. In landscape there are many lines to
choose from. Our difficulty is not so much to plan as to select them. From continual association a painter stores in his memory a number of effects, and some accidental line or effect in the scene before him may call one of these almost unconsciously into use ; he adds his own sentiment to the one suggested by the scene, and looks for those lines that will enable him to carry out the idea. The scene becomes gay, austere, frivolous or morose ; though the painter has used the actual lines that were before him. It is just the bewildering prodigality of form that makes a tree or a thicket so difficult to paint well. We must choose the main lines and preserve them during our painting ; but this is not sufficient. The same process of selection has to be carried on throughout the canvas. Every group or part, however insignificant it may appear, has its main lines ; and these must be arranged and controlled to take their proper place in relation to the lines of the principal groups. Each part becomes a centre of more or less interest, and the lines that compose it must be right, one with the other, and the aggregate must not compete with a more important group. What a beautiful thing a hedge is, for instance, or a clump of bramble ! Millais, Fred Walker, and North could make it an important feature of a picture, and my father, by an exquisite selection, could make it satisfying in the place it took in his picture. The brambles perhaps give the chief line of dark, the wild roses one of light ; the tops of grasses or the roadway provide the straight lines, and the bryony the curves ; but the relative value of each must be given and preserved, else it becomes an aggressive tangle of items, ugly in itself and harmful to the important parts of the landscape.
(3) The distinguishing feature of the line must be insisted on, and not spoilt by trivial interruptions. There is an instrument designed for giving an enlarged outline of a drawing ; a pointer This at one end is guided over the lines of the drawing, a LINE pencil at the other end repeats on an enlarged scale the object traced ; and the discrepancies between the original and the enlarged version are usually amazing.
One need not rub in the moral, but, remember, before drawing a line to get a clear understanding of its direction and the course it is to pursue from start to finish, then draw the line without letting the accidents embarrass you. The confidence gained by the preliminary investigation will give a " live " feeling to the line that is missed by the enlarging machine. Some lines on a tree are so uncertain that they can be used or misused without any great departure from accuracy, and can be made to mean very different things. The in-and-out edge of foliage is a case in point. It might be drawn like this (Fig. 58) or like that (Fig. 59). The two forms on paper look so different that you jump to the conclusion that no intelligent person could so misrepresent lines ; but you would be surprised how easy it is to miss just that straight bit that makes the curve look so buxom.
(4) The value of a line will depend upon the contrast it forms to some other line ; and its value is enhanced if its direction is repeated by another form closely. The last example is sufficient as an instance of contrast giving interest to a line. We may add that the liveliness of the sky line can be missed by inattention to the numerous though small forms that often define it. Quite ordinary trees assume an importance that is disproportionate to any excellency of form they may possess when outlined against the sky. Sometimes it is because they make a break in the long lines formed by the hills, and often because an arresting difference, is noticeable between them and the hill line--a difference that is more convincing if the hill is repeated by others behind it. The interest culminates if the level line of the horizon is there to act as a foil and to set off the delicate undulations in the flatness of the hills. The Fig. here given (61) must not be taken as an example of good lines collected together. They are merely different lines chosen at random to suggest variety. The repetition of curved lines is usually confined to lines of rather simple form, as the repetition of very intricate lines is apt to be ineffective and lead to confusion.
(5) A number of similar lines near one another are more effective than dissimilar lines. Again our examples rather overlap, but we can break off to a new application. In a Beech tree or a Lime you notice the lower branches are built on a recurved plan, giving a springing curve of much delicacy and ease. It is difficult sometimes to fix on a line for the extremities of their foliage that shall be sufficiently characteristic of their growth without being disconcerting in its jaggedness. The continued breaks are inharmonious, and attract unnecessary attention. The branches, however, in their simplicity of form, repeat one another in harmonic cadence, and those outlines of the leaves can be sought that aid in the construction of a form that has unity. If all the branches were dissimilar in build instead of being varied on a similar construction they would not have united power, and the jagged edges of the foliage would assume an importance in the picture that could not be condoned, though it might be a literal statement of fact.
(6) Lines become wearisome unless there is some slight variation in their course.
Monotony is one of the most useful agents we have, but it must be a
ILLUS. 28 PENCIL STUDY OF HOLLY STEMS BY R. V. C.-NOTICE THE VARIETY IN THE LINES THEMSELVES IN SPITE OF THE FREQUENCY WITH WHICH SIMILAR CURVES AND STRAIGHT PIECES RECUR
ILLUS. 29. EXAMPLE OF VARIETY IN CURVES (FIELD MAPLE)
qualified monotony. Parallel ruled lines are monotonous and wearisome to look at. Parallel lines drawn by hand are also monotonous, but restful rather than dreary. The circle of the compass does not
ILLUS. 30. THIS DRAWING OF A TWIG OF ALDER BEARING CATKINS IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE REPETITION TO BE FOUND IN FORM
invite scrutiny--the circle of a full moon is full of incident. It is just the little accidents in the passage of a line--whether curved or straight --that make it so personal and living, and keep it from the slur of
ILLUS. 31. A TWIG OF ALDER
Notice bow often tne same curves are repeated
looking machine made. We seem to have a horror of absolute precision. The lines of foliage often follow one another with beautiful regularity, but there is an independence and ease in the way they fall into place, and endless variety is caused by the different angles we view them from. The hanging branchlets of a Larch differ from one another only in details, and 'yet they can afford pleasure for an odd hour ; three minutes' contemplation of a mantel fringe would satiate most people ! Regularity in lines should not be avoided, but the intermixing of regular and much-varied ones should be undertaken with discretion. The precise lines of a fir plantation may easily be a blot on the forest--and more easily so in a sketch--if the slight deviation of their lines is missed or their character overemphasized by total isolation.
(7) Straight lines are more austere than curved lines, and help to suggest restraint, dignity, and strength. Curved lines give delicacy and grace, circular ones suggest weight and even a coarse exuberance.
The severity of a Larch wood is undeniable. Column follows after column with no relief. Even the early architects found the austerity of many vertical lines unbearable ; after they had secured dignity and a feeling of strength they yielded to the desire for relaxation by the addition of varied ornament. Straight lines in a picture are of inestimable value. A straight line is the backbone of a landscape. The composition of a picture is regulated and completed by the straight lines of the frame. All curves are moulded on straight lines. Curved lines require a straight one to steady them. It is by straight lines that we estimate the curves of others (Fig. 62). The outline of a tree is made up of many straight lines. Sometimes the straight lines are so short that the curve -- though built on them -- seems independent (Fig. 63) ; in these cases it
is a good plan to look for lengths that could possibly Fig. 64.--Eud be fashioned with straight pieces, and it will be found
MEE that the comparative length of these straight pieces determine the character of the curve. Sometimes three or four straight lines only would be needed to cut the edges of all the main blocks of foliage. The idea suggests the framework which builders use in constructing an arch. Elms, in particular, are outlined by straight-cut edges, and are by them conspicuous among the rounder and more uneven tops of the Oaks, though these also have straight pieces. These long lines connecting one clump of foliage with another are repeated by shorter straight lines here and there on the boundary of the foliage (Figs. 65 and 66).
Fig. 66 THE DIAGRAMS TO SHOW THE STRAIGHT LINE ON THE MARGIN OF TREES