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Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary,  Tuesday,  2nd June 2009

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stagshorn summach
stagshorn summach

WITH JUST a few minutes to spare, I realise I don’t have time for a detailed drawing so I start painting part of the view framed by the patio doors. This is a different way to look at a subject; instead of starting in pen or pencil in the top corner and observing one detail after another to build up the bigger picture, I try to decide on the lightest background colour is in each area. This might be the light blue of the sky, the pale green of the sunlit blackthorns behind the branches of the stagshorn sumach or the lightest background tone of the foreground hawthorn hedge.


It’s more akin to map-making than line-drawing. At this stage I’ve got the basic shapes blocked in, like a political map of countries or states picked out in pale colours. In line-drawing these shapes would finally appear after I’d drawn all the lines, such as borders and coastlines, surrounding them.


It doesn’t take long for the blocks of pale colour to dry enough for me to start on the mid-tones, in this case blocks of foliage.


Finally the darker details of leaf-shapes go in and this is where the process is most similar to the kind of drawing that I’m most familiar with.


I’d like to make a serious attempt to draw more subjects in this way with the brush, rather than always use my ‘line first, colour later’ technique which I recommend in Drawing on Reserves as a simple approach to natural history drawing, as you don’t have to multi-task, thinking about shape and colour simultaneously.


The brush drawing method has the advantage that a leaf-shape, for example, can be drawn in one brushstroke instead of two pen lines plus one wash of colour. That’s three times the work!

Neither of these drawings took much more than 10 minutes to complete. I would have spent as long, or longer, on a line drawing and I would still have had the colour to add later. Painted with my usual Pentel Aquash waterbrush.