FAMILIARITY with the general aspect of the things we paint is followed after a time by a desire to learn all we can about them. A figure painter is discontented until he has a knowledge of anatomy at his finger tips, and can recognise the period of a dress at a glance. The painter of genre pictures, from collecting bric-a-brac in his studio, becomes an authority on furniture and arms ; and the painter of gardens, a rosarian. Whilst studying shipping, the artist becomes master mariner and is learned in tides and the rake of a yacht. Landscape men dip into the science of light and the forms of water, and may be naturalists or dabblers in geology and botany in their spare moments. It may be that instinct pulls with two strings at once : one that makes us wish to paint--to paint anything and everything ; another that calls us to a particular subject that we must in some way be connected with. Perhaps it is that ambition to excel in our profession is so strong that every possible or probable study likely to aid must be acquired. Perhaps it is mere inquisitiveness. Anyhow the reason matters little, and it just remains to select those studies that will be most helpful. To learn what a tree is like and how it grows, it is not necessary to become a botanist, and I doubt whether it would be desirable, as you would then probably have to dissect a bud to find out the species it belonged to, and you would classify in groups all sorts of dissimilar looking forms. Your object, as a painter, is to know in what manner one tree differs from another in its growth, so as to recognise a type and to be able to distinguish the vagaries of individuals by their departure from that type. Surely it is interesting--if not artistically profitable--to know that one tree is female, another male, and a third the two combined in one ; and surely it is artistically profitable--if not interesting--to know that one tree bears its branches in pairs and another singly, and that a similar difference is observed in the disposition of the leaves ; or that the branches in one case divide at an acute angle and form sweeping curves, while in another they form zigzag lines and divide at something near a right angle ? I know the ready answer to all this is that it is sufficient if a man paints the general look of a tree without troubling to analyse its structure, and I also know the result looks generally unlike a tree ; just as a general painting of a nude figure does not generally give us a painting of the figure.
I do not suggest that a student should give up time to the investigation of the minutiae of trees that could otherwise be spent on the study of matters that vitally affect his art--such as effects of light and shade, combination of colour, or the relative importance of lines. To do so would be an indulgence in laborious idleness and a piece of extraordinary folly. Nor should a figure student be content to devote the most sensitive and receptive years of his life to acquiring a mechanical and accurate knowledge of the form of the human figure only. In both cases an exact knowledge of form should be acquired gradually, as the student finds he is unable to express his ideas without it. He should cultivate ideas and continuously attempt to express them in paint. His failure to draw the painting present in his mind will teach him to observe, and incessant observation and practice will teach him to draw, and he will take up the study of structure in his spare time as a means of overcoming his difficulties in drawing. Every student at an art school should, I think (after a short and very severe training in drawing), be engaged on painting a picture--his own picture--something he has evolved himself and is intensely interested in. As he paints it, problems in light and shade will occur--they can be studied separately and used for his picture. Schemes of colour will present themselves--he will have to face them ; draperies will have to be arranged, figures be studied in groups and in relation to their background instead of separately. All these are the things his mind should be employed on from the beginning, and it should be given no chance of becoming slothful by a perpetual but purposeless routine of drawing single figures on one scale with nothing in particular aimed for. From his want of energy and enterprise he obtains only the benefit of instruction from competent artists in things he could-- if he meant to--teach himself ; while the very things in which their experience and artistic intuition could be of the most assistance to him are disregarded. He goes out into the world to paint pictures, equipped with a facility for drawing accurately the human figure on a sheet of paper two feet high, and a capability in painting a study of a similar size with colours that resemble the model ! The same inertness is shown out of doors, where a student will contentedly copy a foreground under a blue sky when he has already painted a grey one to his study ; or when he adds more than he has had time to observe to a sketch of a passing effect ; or, worse still, when he neglects to sketch momentary effects of interest because they occur at times inconvenient for painting. Efforts that should result in strenuous, searching studies are allowed to degenerate into pleasing sketches. Sketches that should be rapid and forcible statements of effect tail off into uncompleted pictures.
Pictures that should be composed and carried through against all odds are neglected for purposeless copies of pieces of unselected nature. The remedy is easy. Let nothing interfere with your enthusiasm for art ; keep it more than warm, and follow up nature as a hunter would his game, always trying compose pictures you cannot yet paint. Be absolutely truthful, not mechanical, in everything you paint from nature. Spend less time in talking over abstract questions of art, and more in making intelligible--but not aggressive--your own bent and impulse as you find it revealed to you in nature. I have had to use my own words in this sermon, but really it is the meaning that I have gathered from reading the lives of great painters. I think it is what they would have told you to do ; so I have preached, and apologise-- for my book was to tell you something, about trees. I am sure good art can be achieved only by a close, something and continuous study. Reynolds puts it thus : " Every object which pleases must give us pleasure upon some certain principles ; but as the objects of pleasure are almost infinite, so their principles vary without end, and every man finds them out, not by felicity or successful hazard, but by care and sagacity." Again he says : " It is indisputably evident that a great part of every man's life must be employed in collecting materials for the exercise of genius. Invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory ; nothing can come of nothing ; he who has laid up no materials can produce no combinations." No doubt Sir Joshua (in this last paragraph) was thinking chiefly of main effects of colour, lighting, and action ; but throughout his teaching he insists on the necessity for closer and accurate study of form, and for perpetual work.
" Though a man cannot at all times and in all places paint and draw, yet the mind can prepare itself by laying in proper materials at all times and in all places." In the next chapter we shall consider generally the difference in the outline shapes of trees; and it is a matter of some interest to notice how instinctively we look to the outline of an object to discover what that object is like. If it is smooth in surface, its unbroken outline declares it ; if it is downy, hairy, fluffy, or gritty, we note the exact difference by the outline. When things are farther off and we can no longer distinguish differences of their surface, we still cling to the habit of trying to recognise them chiefly by their outline shape. A round piece of water we conclude is a pond, an oblong piece we think may be a flooded field or part of a river. If we see a square shape of colour on the Downs we jump to the conclusion that it is a cultivated plot ; but if it is uneven in outline we suppose it may be a patch of wild flowers or weeds. It is curious how easily we recognise objects at a distance.
Our mind says, " There is a cow, there some sheep ; that is a thatched cottage, that one is tiled ; there is an Elm tree, the other an Oak ! " This reads like a French exercise book, but is true and really rather wonderful ; because, on referring to the objects, you find the cow is only recognised by the straight line of the back and the triangle of her head and neck (Fig. 97), while the sheep are known by their curves (Fig 98). The cottage is known to be thatched because its edge is indistinct ; the eaves of the tiled roof are sharp and dark. The man we know by a little knob for a head and a lozenge for a body ; his face and neck and feet are unseen. The Elm is an Elm because it is oblong and has a top as straight as a board (Fig. 99). The Oak is not an Elm because it is the shape of a mushroom (Fig. 100). This makes us think that our eyes must be very sensitive, and our brain unconsciously receptive but not very retentive ; because the first time we paint away from nature we shall find it hard not to give the cow some legs or to complete our man with face, and even feet, though all these things were missing in reality and the objects were just as recognisable without them.
I expect the Oak and Elm painted indoors will in the end have their peculiarities smoothed over. We seem beset with the difficulty of dissociating appearances of form from our knowledge of actual form. (Figure painters often err in this : they lose the association of the ground and air with figures supposed to be outside. They are apt to miss the large half-tones that usually replace the little darks seen indoors, and to forget that the grass or uneven ground often hides the feet and throws a coloured reflected light on the legs. The edges of objects out of doors become assimilated by other things next to them, and the division is lost ; the little cast shadow under a man's boot indoors is not seen outside.)
OUTLINE FORMS OF TREES-A SHORT COMPARISON OF SOME SPECIES
OUR first recognition of a tree is taken from its outline form ; and we wonder why each tree should conform so nearly to the shape of its species and why the shape of each species should be so different. We have mentioned that branches have a definite distance to grow. Whilst they are reaching their limit they at first grow rapidly, and the pace is each year slackened until they cease growing. It happens therefore that young trees take more or less the form of a cone, because all the branches are young and growing at about the same pace. The main stem, however, usually grows rather quicker than the side branches; and it is this additional length in the season's growth (of the stem) that makes the tree a cone (Fig. 1G2) and not a pyramid--as it would be if the stem and the side branches increased at an equal length each year (Figs. 101, 103). The shape of the tree varies according to the distance to which the upper or lower boughs respectively spread ; also according to the comparative length of these lateral limbs with the height of the trunk, and partly to the local position of individual trees. The character is also modified or accentuated by age. In some species those boughs that are first formed -- the lowest -- continue to lengthen at the same rate as those formed afterwards above them (Illus. 60), consequently the lowest boughs are the longest and those above are necessarily shorter, and the form of the tree is that of a cone or a dome (Fig. 104) according to the comparative length of the lateral boughs with the height young Spruce or a Larch is a good example of a cone formed by a long main stem and short lateral boughs that decrease in length from the longest at the base to the shortest at the apex ; while a mature Oak or Thorn is conspicuous by its outline having the shape of a dome (Fig. 105). In some other species the boughs half way up the trunk outstrip the others, then a circle would all but describe the outline; this is seen in a Horse Chestnut. Another type is found where the boughs above the centre extend farther and the tree is pear-shaped, a form often seen in the Hornbeam (Fig. 107), and exemplified, to take an extreme case, by the Stone Pine (Fig. 106).
Illus. 60. Holly
To return to our young tree. Whilst the main stem is giving out side branches --of which the lowest (because they were formed first) spread farthest, and those above are successively shorter--each side branch is giving forth its own side branchlets in a similar way, so that the tip of each is made up of a central shoot furnished with short side shoots (Fig. 108). It is natural then that there should be gaps in the outline of the tree between the extremities of each branch with its complement of branchlets ; and it is by these regular breaks in the outline that we recognise the second great characteristic of young trees (Illus. 61). Each side branch, then, with its branchlets should be a replica on a reduced scale of the main stem and the branches ; but the main stem is set in a vertical position, and the side branches take an inclined position (something between horizontal and vertical). This of necessity is the cause of difference in construction ; because the lower branchlets would have to grow horizontally, or even downwards (Fig. 109), away from the light, and the upper ones would have to grow inwards among a mass of foliage --a thing they both avoid doing by stretching more or less obliquely (Fig. 110) towards the tip of the branch where the light is. In this way the lowest branches and their branchlets are ranged in something like one flat plane, whilst those at the tip of the tree spread in many directions away from the parent branch. As the tree becomes older, the gaps between the extremities of the boughs become filled in with newly formed branches and their branchlets ; and it becomes more and more compact as the annual
ILLUS 61. THE TOP OF A GOAT WILLOW
shoots (now much shorter than formerly) fill in every available space.
When taking a rough survey of trees, as we are now doing, we notice that one of the chief points of dissimilarity is caused by the angle at which the young shoot begins life, and that the position it would naturally take, when it has grown to the size of a branch, becomes modified in the struggle for existence. Let us compare a Lombardy Poplar with a Black Poplar. In the Lombardy Poplar the young shoots are set at an acute angle with the parent branch ; it is so acute that the main stem, the side branches, and their branchlets are all confined within the space of a narrow cone (Illus. 62). The main stem can grow unimpeded towards the sky above it ; the side branches attempt the same thing, but their progress becomes blocked by the newly formed branches on the stem above them, so that they must either alter their course or die. Meanwhile, other little branches are being formed on the side branches at the same acute angle, and these try to grow upwards in the place occupied by the parent branch. We have, as it were, one continuous strife, occasioned by many branches set at the same angle intent on occupying one place, and this is what happens :--The branchlets formed on the inner side of the branches (between them and the main stem) are soon crushed out of existence ; presently the parent branch itself to which they belonged can find no light or air, and dies ; its position is seized by a branchlet formed on the outer side ; this in turn dies, and its direction is continued by another of these outside branchlets. In this way the growth of the branch is continued by steps, and the upright position is maintained throughout, and the whole of the branches and boughs are formed within a small space.
Now take the Black Poplar. Its leaves are larger, but are otherwise identical with those of the Lombardy. The
young shoots of both are difficult to distinguish, but as a Fig. 112 tree it is totally unlike the other. The shoots start at a
wider angle, the branches have consequently more space to expand in ; branchlets formed on the under side of the branches continue a downward course unshadowed by massed forms above ; the lower boughs spread more horizontally when they can no longer take an upward direction, and the whole tree is free-growing and made up of branches stretching in any and every direction. Every space is occupied, but there is no overcrowding. The number of branches formed on the under side of the branches and taking a downward
ILLUS. 62. LOMBARDY POPLAR
direction strikes one as unusual, until one remembers that the leaves also hang vertically instead of taking the more usual position of lying level or turning upwards as on most trees.
Now take an Oak (Illus. 63). The shoots start off, a number together, at nearly a right angle instead of at the very acute angle of
ILLUS. 63. OAK
the Lombardy Poplar. Try multiplying a number of right-angled forms, and you find they become terribly crowded. Many have to die, and some must change their direction. Remember that the annual growth is a short one, and that the boughs are consequently sturdy and can hold themselves horizontally. Think of the dense foliage that is the cause of branches not developing on the under side, and you will now make a diagram that has something of an Oak about it and nothing that belongs to the Black Poplar, where the leaves hang separately, the boughs are long, and rather pliant and produced at wide intervals, instead of being bunched in groups.
Compare the Oak with an Ash--you find the angles in the latter are less open ; that the branches are in pairs (each pair at right angles to the next pair) instead of in groups ; the boughs farther spaced from one another, and forming simple flowing lines in place of the complex angular arrangement ; that the boughs are more inclined upwards, and that they support pendent branches below them ; that other branches formed on the upper side curve downwards, making with their recurved tips lines of great beauty. You notice that the slighter foliage allows the branches freer play, and they are less cramped and twisted.
Now look at an Elm ; it has but a few main limbs, but these rapidly divide into a mass of small twigs, much smaller than those of the Ash, and, in consequence, far more numerous. The quantity of them makes the outline unbroken ; each characteristic straight line of the outline is the termination of one bough. These straight lines are of greater length than any on the Oak, whose outline is formed of the termination of more numerous limbs, and is still farther indented by branches of leaves instead of individual ones more evenly distributed. The boughs do not take the easy sweep of the Ash, though there are pendent branches, but these are of a stiffer nature.
What a difference there is, too, in the lighting of the foliage. The Elm exposes large surfaces that take a fairly even light ; one can trace the foliage into the recesses and notice the overlapping of the foliage-masses. The Ash offers a less massive group for the light to play on--the distinction between one group and another is less definite. The Oak has the spaces broken up by the detached star-shaped bunches. A glance at a Beech shows how it retains throughout life the system arranged for it, that is seen in the new and perfect structure of its twigs ; they are very similar to the Elm twigs, and are quite unlike those of the Ash, Oak, or Poplar. The simple zigzag of the twig from bud to bud is repeated in later life throughout the flat layers of the branches, and the leaves dispose themselves in a pattern as
orthodox as the twigs--not twisted hither and thither like the Oak, but lying in monotonous exactness in one plane.
A cursory notice like this of four types of trees--i.e. the Ash with pairs of buds set at right angles to one another,
the Oak with grouped buds, the Elm with alternate buds in rows, and the Poplar with single buds starting from
many points--seems necessary in order to excite curiosity and interest for a more detailed examination. There is the consistent perverseness of certain trees that--starting life with the same equipment--attain in full vigour greatly varying characteristics ; or of other species that by a perfect observance of their particular laws of growth, become intensely interesting from having done just what they were expected to do. We said that the outline of a tree was determined by the comparative length of the upper and lower boughs; we might add that a different direction in the boughs of similar length would account for much diversity of appearance (Fig. 116). Nor should we
expect trees drawn up by the shelter of plantations to have features exactly corresponding to others which are grown in the open, or still less those found in exposed positions.