Saturday, 18th September 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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This hasn't happened for a long time:

  • no booklets to print

  • no letters to write

  • no notes to prepare (so glad I gave up my walks class!)

It's the best windfall I could have; a free morning! I decide to spend it drawing. To keep things simple I use pen and ink.

pen topRotring art pen

I usually listen to the radio - currently French radio (I'm trying to improve my French) - when I'm working on some mindless task in the studio but for this drawing I want to work in silence.

I don't see it as a mindless task.

Blemished Bramleys

windfall bramleyAfter drawing the whitebeam twig which has been sitting there on my desk for a couple of days, I draw these windfall Bramleys from my Mum's tree. The better apples are stored on a slatted shelf at the back of our garage where they'll keep for a month or more but these blemished ones won't last long and they are destined to become a tarte tatin tomorrow.

applesThe blemishes give them individual character.

I start by drawing the complete outline of the apple and often I get this wrong. I'm aware how wobbly my outlines are compared with the smoothness of the real apple but I just try my best. You can see in my first drawing (below) and in the detail (right) that it has taken me several goes to get some of the outlines right. Don't worry, I tell myself, it's more important to draw something that is right than something that looks slickly smooth.

I like working in pen because these first faltering lines stay there as part of the drawing. In pencil it's easy to erase a stray line or make a faint construction line disappear behind subsequent drawing. With pen and ink all the history of the drawing is still there in the finished product.

An Apple World

detailAs I draw it occurs to me that I'm drawing these apples as if they were a landscape; drawing them with as much care as if each was a hitherto unseen moon of Jupiter that I had to record. When I draw the dark, crumpled leaf (detail, above right) I don't want it to be just a stock 'average' apple leaf or a formalised botanical description; I'm not concerned whether it even looks like a leaf (or the viewer's preconception of what a leaf should look like) at all; I draw it as if it was a part of a landscape, a volcanic cone for instance, and try and record its shape and character as accurately as I can.

My favourite landscapes, like my favourite drawings, have a history in them. My least favourite landscapes are synthetic ones, like the office and retail parks that are shooting up around here that obliterate hundreds of years of history. The history of a landscape - straggly hedges, old farms, unkempt green tracks - are seen as blemishes that need clearing up and replacing with designer trees, neat lawns and a gleaming office park, even, gawd help us, a token piece of public art (see Silkwood Park and Calder Island currently under construction in and immediately adjacent to Wakefield's green belt).

The Appleness of an Apple

windfallsIt's not up to me to decide what consitutes the 'appleness' of an apple, even if that is the quality that I am trying to capture in my drawing: I leave it to the individual apple to be whatever it is, even if that doesn't coincide with a fruit grower's ideal of an apple or an advertiser's glossy hyped-up version of what an apple should be.

Light and Shade

While I'm drawing at the desk under the big studio window, a rain shower passes and the sun gets out, changing the light from an all-over softness to a sharp contrast of light and shade.

How should I show this? I don't want to get bogged down with repetitive shading; I work quickly and try not to think about whether I should be hatching, cross-hatching or stippling. I try to keep looking at the apple itself, to see if it will give me any clues as to how I could best show it in pen and ink lines. I look for specks, contours, scars and textures that will help me describe the shape without me imposing a mechanical grid on the surface.

While I'm doing this I notice that there's more going on than straight sun and shadow; there are also patches of reflected light, where one apple projects reflected sunlight onto the shadowed side of its neighbour.

Tree of Life

basketI don't want to learn the sort of technique you might find in an old fashioned 'how to paint' book that purports to show how to draw an idealised apple. Each of these homegrown apples is an individual. They're not abstract elements in a still life, they're not symbols (as they might be in an old Dutch still life) they're living things (they share a lot of the same DNA sequences that you'd find in every cell of our bodies, so I guess we're distantly related). They carry a history of how they've grown.

I'm not too bothered if I overwork the drawing. It's more important to me that I look and look and draw and draw than it is for me to produce an elegantly understated finished product.

Having said that, my favourite bit in these drawings is the apple lying behind the basket (top left of top drawing, above) which has the freest line and has no cross-hatching or shading on it. It was probably the last apple I drew and I think that probably I was able to draw in such a relaxed way because I'd already spent so much time looking at the other apples.

It's like coming off the motorway onto a quiet road after a long journey. You're so used to the concentration and observation you needed when moving along with the jockeying traffic at 70 m.p.h. that 40 m.p.h. on a quiet road seems natural and relaxed. Next Page

Richard Bell,

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