Part 2 Material properties


“Make a drawing of a subject of your choice using the subject itself, or tools constructed from the subject, dipped in ink or paint.”

With Spring making its appearance, I decided to take this as my subject for this assignment – the emergence of new life – and what better image could there be than the wonderful ‘sticky buds’ from the horse-chestnut tree!

The first task was to see what marks the elements of the horse-chestnut tree with its buds could produce for me. So I gathered small branches, small hard buds, soft new leaves, bits of broken off bark and set to work to experiment with mark making. I used watered down inks to start with.


I found that the pointed hard edge of the tight bud gave a flowing line which when water was added gave in interesting mark. The soft new leaves were too soft and would not hold the ink. The twigs and bark were fun to draw with. I also experimented with different papers.



The bud itself interested me to start with and my drawings concentrated on this. I experimented with pan pastels applied with a piece of bark and interesting things began to happen.


Before making further decisions I experimented further using watercolour, closed bud and twigs. Coloured inks and watercolour were interesting and I was able to achieve an expressive line with the closed bud. As I began to use to hard twig, I found that it was digging into the paper surface and I took this further, allowing the tearing of the surface to make marks. Adding another wash over these marks and shapes I was getting an interesting surface texture. I liked what was happening here as the texture which was adding contrast.


I did a further experiment by crushing soft pastels and then applying the powder with the pieces of bark and tight bud…once again, interesting!


At this stage, I felt it was time to give thought to composition and how to construct a drawing around these experimental pieces. I began with the bud shape because it seemed that this shape needed to be to focal area of a drawing which was responding to emerging new life. Even though I really liked the simplicity of the young bud emerging from its enclosed space, I felt that this would not make an interesting subject on its own. I could see it had potential and to work as an image, it would need to convey the surging unstoppable energy of life itself, contrasted with the silent stillness of a bud coming out. However as a composition I wasn’t sure.


So I went back to the watercolour which would allow me to express the energy and movement I was looking for. Unfortunately, all of this preparation had taken more than a week and all of the hard tight buds from the tree had opened and so I had lost my main painting tool to the unstoppable inevitability of Nature! So I had to use twigs and the bark. I wanted my lines to express energy and movement. In regard to colour I decided on an analogous to express the quietness of the unfolding process of nature.


I used very strong watercolour paper and began with pouring a wash over the surface in a diagonal direction. This direction was important to the composition and was established from the start. With pieces of bark I began to draw into the wet surface making sure that the opening bud was placed in the centre of the paper so that this became the focal point of the painting. I kept the surface wet and allowed the shark end of the bark and twigs to dig into the surface of the branch in the left hand corner. I wanted to create a contrast in texture here from the hard outer wood of the branch, which would be broken to allow the emergence of the new leaves.


I was aware all the time of the space around the image. On my many trips to view the tree itself during this drawing, I was interested in the starkness of the many branches against the blue sky with the buds breaking open mainly at the end of the branches. So I decided to try to show this by adding a thin glazing of yellow and then blue over the whole of the drawing and while it was wet I added the mere suggestion of surrounding branches.IMG_3523

As I look at the composition, I feel there is balance and unity in the image, a strong directional pull leading the eye across the paper to the new life of the leaves. But because of the buds in the focus area of the centre, I feel that this brings the eye back to the point at which life began.


And it was all done with watercolour and …


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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