Category Archive: Landscape Challenges

Drawing Trees Week 6: In Open Countryside

March 30, 2022

A Steep sided Valley at Hubberholme, North Yorkshire
Photo by Jo

This week we are painting trees from a distance, perhaps a view from a window or from the ridge of a hill looking down on a wooded valley. Instead of being in a wood we are out in the open, looking down or up, to a wooded area or group of trees. The sides of the hills in the photo above are well grazed by sheep and the group of tall ash trees takes centre stage.

The challenge this week is to make a painting of trees in the landscape. Although the word is land-scape I prefer to split it rather differently to labour an important point. I like to think of the vegetation including trees becoming the cape or mantle clothing the lands, hence it is a good idea to establish the topography of the land before clothing it with forests or groups of trees.

It is also essential to make a note of the light conditions. In the example above light is falling very strongly from the left lighting up the slope on the right. The steep sided slopes would look entirely different if the light were from a different direction or on a dull day when the light is more diffuse. The most challenging weather, especially when painting outside, is a bright breezy day when clouds are scudding across the sky casting fast moving shadows as they pass.

Below are a few more of Jo’s photos giving examples of the sort of reference you may like to work from.

Looking down on a Wood in Upper Wharfedale, North Yorkshire

See how the cloud shadows are falling on the land, and how dark in tone the area of woodland appears.
The same view as above but cropped differently. Think about how you may like to crop your reference for maximum impact. In this crop the gap between the trees where the road passes through becomes the focal point. What do you want to make the focal point of your composition? This is best established by making thumbnail tonal sketches before launching into the final work.
Looking down on a meander in Upper Wharfedale.
Note the diffuse light and soft shadows under the trees.
Towards the Langdales
See how individual trees can be seen in the foreground and those in the distance become more of a texture. Here it is very clear to see the importance of establishing the land forms first before working on the groups of trees in the foreground.
Sun and Mist at Pietracervara in the Parma Apennines
Seen early morning from my window.
Early Morning Mist Pietracervara
A slightly different view; the misty effects in both could be achieved by gentle washes and lifting out in watercolour.
Cloud shadows on the Apennines at Pianiletto
Across the Apennines from Pianiletto
Fresh greens and the last of the cherry blossom
Woodlands below Pianiletto
Coming to grips with the underlying slope into the valley here is more difficult so here I would concentrate on the rich textures and different hues and tones of this wonderfully mixed woodland. Greens dominate, but there is also yellow, russet, silvery and greenish grays, and slightly lilac tints with deep contrasts of dark trunks and spangled white; another tapestry of vegetation.

The images above should provide ideas for working from your own reference. Best would be from a place you have walked in or visited.

Your paintings;

Wind on the Meadow
Pastel by Maryon
Beyond the Trees
Acrylic by Mali
Tracks, Gates and Distant Trees
Watercolour by Heather
Deer and Trees at Windsor
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Ascot Heath
Watercolour by Sarah
Overlooking the Valley
Watercolour by Ann
Valley with Lake
Pastel by Anne C
Looking down the Loch
by Kate
Castle in the Woods
Watercolour by Liz
Below the forest: Glenbranter House 1
Watercolour by Virginia
Below the Forest: Glenbranter House 2
Watercolour by Virginia

Drawing Trees Week 5: At the Water’s Edge

March 23, 2022

Aspens and a Willow on the Cam
Quink ink by Jo

This week’s challenge is to paint a picture of a tree or trees at the water’s edge or even standing in water. Look for reflections and also how the tree is physically related to the land and the water. Are it’s roots exposed at the shoreline? And is it by a stream, a lake or on the coast?

The ferocity of the current caused by a flash flood may uproot and drag trees downstream, especially in a narrow gorge. Branches or whole trees may remain lodged on the banks. The picture below is of Catrigg Force in North Yorkshire where a tree has been tossed across the stream below the fall. The gorge itself is full of tall beech trees reaching for the light above.

Catrigg Force, North Yorkshire
Acrylic by Jo

The drawing below shows the ravages of winter storms on the Suffolk coast. Tree trunks roll around on the beach at Covehythe where whole roads lined with trees have fallen into the sea. The trunks are often sawn off as here and only the lower part and roots remain. Seeing these on a misty February morning was an eerie experience.

Trunks on the Beach, Covehythe
Pencil by Jo

Looking North there were whole trees strewn on the shingles below the cliff and more trees can be seen clinging on before meeting the same watery fate.

Trees on the Beach, Covehythe
Pencil by Jo

I would like to see your paintings the reflect the mood of the place which will be related to the weather and time of day as well as to the landscape. This may be much more successful if it is a place you know well or have at least visited. A lakeside tree in calm weather may suggest peace, or if their is a breeze and a dancing in the trees perhaps a playful atmosphere. However, if the sky is dark and storms are raging you may be depicting a more dramatic scene.

If you are feeling particularly adventurous don’t be afraid to use your imagination. If you want to depict a storm with a flash flood and branches flying I suspect there will be few references in your photo collection or sketchbook, but you may have recorded the aftermath, so you could think about how it would have been during the storm.

December Sunrise on the Stour
Pastel and graphite pencil by Jo
This was an exceptionally cold first weekend in December a few days after the after the Stour had been in flood. This was the calm after the storm. Areas of thin ice glazed the river surface. Note how different the reflections look on the ice compared with their appearance on the flowing water.

Decide first on your subject and think about the aspect you wish to convey, then try out some rough sketches from your reference pictures before embarking on the final composition.

Your Paintings:

Between Gaios and the Paxos Beach Hotel
Watercolour by Sarah
Pastel by Anne C
Bridge with Trees
Ink and Watercoloour by Kate
In the Savill Gardens
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Watercolour by Ann
Watercolour by Ann
Trees by the River
Watercolour and pastel by Mali
Watecolour by Anne H
Lakeside Reflections
by Heather
by Liz
Winter Stream
Pastel by Liz
Virginia Waters
Quink by Maryon
The Tranquility of Loch Eck
Charcoal and pastel by Virginia

Drawing Trees Week 4: Woodlands

March 16, 2022

Stream running through Judy Woods

This week’s challenge is to paint or draw trees in a woodland setting. The woodland floor may be a significant part of the painting as in the pastel painting of Judy Woods above. This is a mainly beech wood on a slope, with many ancient trees with haunting shapes and and exposed roots. It seems to breathe mystery.

Ancient Beeches in another part of Judy Woods
Photo by Jo

Another mysterious wood with an entirely different character is Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor. Here stunted oaks encrusted with moss and ferns emerge from boulders of granite.

Over the last three weeks we have been exploring the shape and structures associated with a variety of trees. In a woodland there will be other considerations as the background may be full of the myriad twigs and small branches of more distant trees. There may be an under-layer of shrubby plants and the floor of the wood is often far from featureless, so part of this week’s challenge will be finding a way to describe the backdrop for the main trees in the composition.

A Winter Wood, Covehythe
Pastel on reddish brown paper
This painting spotlights a single tree with a backdrop of the other trees near the Suffolk coast North of Southwold. The most distant trees are almost a texture of overlapping strokes of pastel pencil. This is a small scale work about A4 size.

Your work may have a single tree or a group of trees as it’s main focus or as in the two examples below be a tapestry of the tree shapes and colours.

After the Fire
In the valley of the Nuns outside Funchal, Madeira a tapestry of blackened Pines and fire bleached Eucalyptus was seen against red rocks about a year after the event. Below a green layer of he undergrowth was already returning.
Charcoal and pastel on terracotta coloured paper 50 x 70cm
May in the Woods, The Pines, Surrey
Another tapestry of trees, this time Pines and Birches
Pastel on brown/grey paper

Perhaps start by coming to grips with the shapes of your chosen woodland, by doing some small preliminary sketches. Think about the composition possibilities at the same time, then plan out your final composition. Think about which medium would suit your purpose and how you are going to use the medium. Also look at the tonal range; is it generally light and airy or dark and mysterious. Then think about the colour. Ask questions; which colours predominate and are there any small areas of colour that add to the composition by their purity, or by their contrast in tone and hue to their surroundings. In the photo of Judy Woods the little speck of a red anorak draws our attention and at the same time gives a sense of scale!

Your paintings;

Lane through the Woods
Watercolour by Ann
Down to the River
Watercolour by Ann
Forest Green Forest Gold
Watercolour by Anne H
Woodland Path at Bluebell Time
Pastel by Heather
In the Great Park
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Tree in the Forest
by Kate
In the Woodland
by Anne C
Conifer Wood
Watercolour and Pastel by Mali
Standing and Fallen
Watercolour and pastel by Mali
The Light Beyond
Ink drawing by Sarah
Long Shadows in the Young Wood
Watercolour by Sarah
Forest Walk
Pastel by Liz
Mixed media by Maryon
In Glenbranter Forest
by Virginia

Drawing Trees Week 3: The Struggle for Life

March 9, 2022

Willows: coppiced or lopped then left to grow, their trunks
becoming twisted and split as in the photo below.
Note the sense of movement in these forms.
Sketched by Jo near Flatford Mill on the Stour

Storms, Lopping and other Struggles for Survival

Very few trees reach their perfect natural form. They are either hemmed in by others, damaged by storms and animals and of course, lopped, pruned, and coppiced by people.

More Willows on the Stour
Part of the same walk as the sketch above
Photo by Jo
The same photo as above but in grayscale
Whether you are drawing or painting in colour, remember that the tones are vitally important to the composition. Note the palest and darkest parts of this image.
Stunted Hawthorn fighting its way out of the limestone
Photo by Jo
A Tangle of Roots
Ink and Watercolour
This is a tangle of overgrown ivy roots rather than the aftermath of a storm uprooting a tree. The challenge of depicting overlapping is much the same though.

Project : Draw a tree that has been caused to struggle for survival by; a challenging environment, lopping, a harsh prevailing wind, lightning damage, being uprooted etc.

Trees stuck by lightning can literally be torn apart but wind damage can be just as severe and result in the tree being uprooted and the tangle of roots made visible. Like branches these root tangles overlap and thread through each other even more so than branches above ground.If a tree near you has come down do get out with your sketchbook and a camera. Make sketches and/or photograph from several viewpoints before homing in on a composition for your final drawing.

The drawing may be a whole or part of a tree but should tell something of its history; probably a whole tree where it has grown with a distinct list to one side because of a prevailing high wind, but in the case of a fallen tree, perhaps just the exposed roots. Either way try to make an interesting composition.

Other suitable subjects would be stunted trees growing out of stoney ground, or choked by Ivy.

Your drawings:

After the Storm
by Virginia
Growing in the Wind
by Kate
Pollarded Poplars
by Mali
Growing through the Railings
Pencil by Sarah
Cut Down
Pencil and Watercolour by Heather
Pencil by Ann
Urban Cedar, Windsor
by Maricarmen
Feaver Tree Roots;
Seen by a dry river bed, Umfolsoi Game Reserve, South Africa
by Maryon
Soft charcoal, graphite sticks and embossing tool
Struggling Out and Up
pencil by Anne C
by Liz
Shaped by the Wind
by Anne H
Lakeside Tree
by Anne H

Drawing Trees Week 1: The Whole Tree

February 23, 2022

Ancient Olive
Pencil and Pan Pastel by Jo

Drawing and painting trees is a huge topic but as trees are very often featured in landscape painting as well as being exciting subjects in their own right, it seemed a good idea to explore depicting their structure and character.

Sketch by Jo
Leaf masses drawn with side strokes of pastel

The first session will focus on strategies for beginning to draw whole trees.  In week 2 we will take a closer look at; bark, burrs, and branching, then in week 3 draw lopped or fallen trees and exposed root tangles.  For the three remaining weeks we will explore trees and their landscape settings for which you may continue with drawing materials or work in colour with pastel or water-based media.

Do look at the following Pinterest board, link below, for some inspirational ideas for drawing trees in literal, atmospheric and more abstract ways.

Some very basic notes on drawing trees are below followed by a list of the exercises for the first session. If you are already experienced in drawing trees just make a quick composition sketch and launch into a tree portrait using your choice of drawing medium.

Pastel and charcoal by Jo

Memory drawing

We’ll start by looking at the overall shape of different trees and the first challenge will be to see how much you have already observed.  Take a piece of paper, and from memory make small drawings of any kind of tree you can think of; e. g. cypress, oak, palm, fir etc.  Do this rapidly then think about what gives each individual tree its character.

This may be;

The overall shape and symmetry (fir trees)

Angle at which the branches spread out (oak)

How branches are so flexible and long they bend downwards (weeping willow)

Way in which individual leaves fan out from the trunk (palm trees)


A mixture of some of the above characteristics and many more.

See practical session for materials and paper size.

Willow on Ray Mill Island
Pencil sketch

Now look at a real tree, outside or from a photo, and observe it, questioning what gives this tree its particular character. The notes below don’t describe the only way to start a drawing but give a very straightforward method for coming to grips with a variety of tree forms.

Starting to draw

It can be useful to mark where the trunk is and indicate the main branches lightly and then mark out the general outline of the whole tree by a series of light dots and dashes. In this way you will ensure the overall proportions are right and the girth of the main trunk can be drawn the correct width.

When drawing a deciduous tree in Summer or an evergreen the next stage is to indicate the shapes of the main masses of leaves.  These can then all be shaded lightly and more densely shaded on parts of each leaf mass that is in shadow. In the example below light is mainly from above. The lower parts of each leaf mas is darker than the upper side and the whole of the lower part of the tree is darker than the top.  Look out for the differences in tone when one side of a tree is in direct sunlight. 

Stages in sketching a small Acer
Drawn with an HB pencil
Think about how you might draw a palm tree or a fir tree

Adding texture and detail

After that you may like to texture the foliage suggesting rather than drawing leaf shapes, and also texturing and drawing any useful detail on the main trunk and branches.  For instance, when drawing a silver birch tree, it would be essential to add the distinctive dark marks on the main trunk and branches but may look fussy if similar marks were added to all the branches.

Only if you choose to draw a tree with really large leaves like a palm or banana tree will you be drawing individual leaves and associated structures such as dead leaf bases in any detail, so although the strategy will be similar you will be looking at the overall shapes of large leaves instead of clouds of leaf masses.

Young Banana Trees
Ink sketch by Jo

The best way to familiarise yourself with trees is to have a small sketchbook A5 or even A6 that will tuck into a pocket or handbag and draw with a pencil or ball point pen on every occasion you meet a tree, whether you only have two or the luxury of twenty minutes to sketch!


Use cartridge paper A4 or A3 and any drawing medium; pencil, ball point, pen and ink, conté crayon, thin charcoal stick or charcoal pencil,

1.Memory drawing: use an A4 or A3 paper and make several drawings of as many different kinds of tree as you can from memory. These should be tiny, two or three inch high thumbnail sketches, all to be made within about 15 minutes.

2. Drawings of two different trees or the same deciduous tree in winter and summer. This time work from observation, direct or from a photo reference.  Take each drawing to the stage where the masses of foliage have been blocked in with directional shading or the tiny branch ends have been suggested.  Both drawings to be made on the same sheet but still fairly small, between five and eight inches high.  Take about 20 minutes for this

3. Make a tree portrait of the tree of your choice at a much larger scale to fill an A3 or larger sheet.  The size may partly depend on the drawing medium i.e. smaller for pencil work A4 to A3 and larger A3 to A2 for a study in charcoal or conté crayon.  If toned paper is used white may be used for the lightest areas.  Working larger and for longer will enable you to draw more details. Add only what helps to communicate the character of the tree and strengthens the composition. Make sure the overall proportions and structure are in place before adding texture and detail, and constantly review the tonal balance of the drawing as you work. Larger paper may be used for a pencil drawing if you are working with very soft pencil in a loose way or have a lot of time to spend on a detailed study.

Spend between an hour to an hour and a half on this or longer if you are producing a highly detailed work.

Your drawings:

by Anne H
Pastel by Mali
Tree Lined
Charcoal and white pastel by Mali
Charcoal by Anne C
Remembered Trees
by Maricarmen
Winter and Summer Trees, Windsor Great Park
Charcoal by Maricarmen
Charcoal and pastel by Liz
Memory Trees
Charcoal by Ann
Tree by Ann
Willow by Ann
Spanish Chestnut on Pinkney’s Green
by Virginia
Trees from Memory (before session)
HB pencil on A4 paper by Maryon
Himalayan Birch, Summer and Winter
HB pencil on A3 paper by Maryon
Ancient Oak
Charcoal and graphite sticks on A3 paper
by Maryon
Charcoal by Heather
Charcoal by Heather
Pencil by Sarah (before session)
pencil by Sarah
Tree by Kate
Watercolour by Sarah
Watercolour by Sarah
Reflections by Kate

From the Riverbank: Week 6 Hurley

June 28, 2021

Late Afternoon, Hurley: Looking toward Harleyford Manor

These are the results from everyone painting or drawing at Hurley in very different weather conditions from the previous week, while I visited all the drawing locations and took a few photos plus made the briefest of sketches. The view of Harleyford Manor was painted in 2000 from location sketches and was about 27 inches wide so a bit large to paint on site!

Your paintings:

Sketchbooks and paintings from Hurley
Lamp Post by the River, Hurley
Watercolour by Sarah
Looking Upstream
Watercolour by Sarah
Kayak Class, Hurley
Watercolour by Elizabeth
Boats at Hurley
Watercolour by Elizabeth
Looking Upstream, Hurley
Watercolour by Jan
Gazebo by the River, Hurley
Watercolour by Virginia
Looking toward Harleyford Manor
Watercolour by John
Watercolour by Liz
Tree at Hurley
Watercolour by Liz

From the Riverbank: Week 5 Hurley

June 20, 2021

Photo from the Bridge at Hurley

With just an hour till coffee time everyone set about painting a watercolour sketch of the Thames at Hurley. This is a challenging task at this time of year, busy with all sorts of boats from motor cruisers to kayaks. There was always the option to finish at home or stay a little longer to complete the work or make another painting.

Photo: Boats at Hurley

Because of the complexities of boat shapes this challenge necessitated considerable simplification of the shapes and a critical view of the tones. When you add in the fact that many of the boats were moving one can understand wanting to finish at home perhaps referencing a ‘photo. This is OK but there are a few pitfalls.

1.Always take the shot at the eye height you were drawing at. There is often the temptation to stand up if you have been working sitting down and the view will not be the same.

2. Photographs taken in the high light conditions we were on Tuesday, can have too much contrast. The shade areas often looking very dark and very pale areas being ultra white. No worries in your painting to leave the white of the paper for the palest areas. This will give your work a really sunny appearance. If you copy the darkness of your reference in the shade areas you should ensure the differences in tone have sharper cut off points than on a dull day. In sun all shadows will be crisper..

If you need to lower the tone of a whole area this is usually best achieved by putting a wash over the whole of the darker area, leaving just a few tiny paler areas rather than doing it by dabbing away with small brush strokes. Sometimes by referencing your photo and on site watercolour, it can be better to to work another picture taking these tones into account with the first washes as this can be difficult on site in very sunny conditions.

Exactly how dark to make your shadows can also be greatly governed by your intention. The reality as in the first photo below was that the shadow area behind the canoes was so dark it was hardly even textured. You may choose the dark to offset the colour of the canoes for a dramatic effect, or you may choose the softer effect of seeing more of the texture and colour of the background as in the modified second photo below .

Unmodified photo: dark background
Modified photo; paler shadow areas giving less contrast with the boats and a different atmosphere

3. There is also a temptation to add washes to the water that soften the edges too much. Last Tuesday the weather made for very clear reflections and waves and that should be reflected in your paintings. Again this was made difficult as in places the water appeared very green. Where a paddle hits the water you can always give a little sparkle to the splash by scratching out with a sharp point. Wait till the rest of the painting is complete before attacking the paper in this way.

Photo: Gazebo at Hurley

This week we’ll be at Hurley again and probably in very different light conditions. Notice any differences especially if you visit the same spot to paint. We’ll also talk about colour, especially the water and reflections.

Photo: A peaceful Spot, Hurley

Your paintings;

Watercolours from Hurley
Watercolour by Jan
On Site at Hurley
Watercolour by Jan
Completed Afterwards
Jan has left some light spots in the foreground and on the tree foliage and trunk so the painting is still lively. The darker than original foreground and trees/foliage, has made a good contrast with water. A little of the freshness of the first painting has been lost but I can see the reasons for making adjustments.
Reflections at Hurley
Watercolour by Mali
Watercolour at Hurley by Barbara
A view from Ray Mill Island
Ink and wash by Barbara from a photograph
Boats at Hurley
Watercolour by Elizabeth
Boats at Hurley
Watercolour by Sarah from Photograph
Thames at Hurley
Watercolour by Liz
Harleyford Manor Hurley
by Virginia

From the Riverbank Week 4: Sketching near Boulter’s Lock

June 8, 2021

Willow on Ray Mill Island

Such a treat today to be sitting outside drawing subjects we have become familiar with using photo reference. Before publishing I added more tone to these sketches from memory.

From the Bridge at Ray Mill Island looking Downstream
Have already spotted a couple of areas that need adjusting.

The heightened contrast reflects the very bright sunlight we worked in. I’m now going to discover the ‘photos taken at the same venues which I know will have too much contrast, so no good as photos but a very good reminder of the importance of tone in composition.

Your Sketches and Paintings from Sunny Maidenhead;

Sketchbooks on the 8th June
Boathouse from Ray Mill Island
Watercolour by Maryon
Watercolour by Liz
Sketchbook Studies
by Ann
View from Ray Mill Island
by Barbara
Pencil Sketch
by Jan
The New Bridge from Ray Mill Island
by Mali

Watercolour by Virginia
Boathouse at Boulter’s
Pencil and Coloured Pencil by Elizabeth
Reflections from Ray Mill Island
by Sarah

From the Riverbank Week 3: Boats, Boathouses and other Structures

May 23, 2021

Evening Pairs Henley

The challenge this week is to make a painting of boats and/or constructions on the river including weirs, locks, boathouses from sketches made from the riverbank. If the weather makes working by the river difficult why not look at any photos you may have of boats threading their way through the twists and turns of the Thames. It’s more difficult to draw a moving target from life so becoming familiar with the structure of boats and their effects on the water surface is easier from photographs.

However if you have the opportunity, it’s much more rewarding to work outside with a sketchbook. Start with the static objects and develop your confidence, and then try drawing the main shapes of boats and their wakes as they pass by,as swiftly as you can. With a little practice a real notion of movement can be achieved.

After the Races Henley

A few photographs of local parts of the Thames with moored and moving craft are below.

Boats heading for Hurley Lock

Think about the river and its banks, the relation of the boat to the water surface (the waterline, reflections and if moving the bow wave and wake, or if a motor boat how the water may be churned up by a propeller at the stern). The patterns of waves may extend far beyond the immediate vicinity of the boat.

On the Thames at Runnymede
On the Thames: Remenham Meadows

If you attempt to draw or paint a lock, perhaps looking down from a bridge as you can at Maidenhead. Try drawing the large shapes of the lock first so that you get a feel for for its structure and aim to show its perspective. That will help you when you place a boat in it. Think of the lock as a big rather long box so the end away from you appears smaller. Then look at the water level in the lock and how the boat sits in it.

Before the Gates Closed: Boulters Lock
Beyond the Gates: Boulter’s Lock

There are also occasions where boats are included as only a small element in a river landscape work so just as observing and drawing from human forms, observing and drawing boat forms will help you to be able to just ‘drop in a boat’ to enliven a composition.

Ducks and Distant Boats Upstream of Boulter’s Lock
Boat and Boathouses from Ray Mill Island
From Ray Mill Island
Old Dredgers new Houses by Boulter’s Lock

Also included are boathouses and a couple of old rather abandoned looking dredgers and the turbulent water of the weir at Maidenhead.

The Weir at Maidenhead

With the weir draw its underlying structure lightly before indicating the frothy water tumbling over it. Hopefully we’ll be sketching outside but if not feel free to use any of these references or find a boat scene you would like to paint.

Some examples of paintings of boats and locks etc can be found on Jo’s Pinterest board using the link below:

Your Sketches and Paintings:

Boathouses from Ray Mill Island
Watercolour by Jan
by Liz
Three Men in a Boat
Watercolour by Virginia
Pastel Pencil by Shane
almost finished
The Thames at Boulter’s
Watercolour by Ann
After the Races Henley
Watercolour by Ann
Pastel by Heather
Rower at Henley
by Elizabeth
Moored near Henley
Pastel by Barbara
Moored at Remenham Meadows
by John
Bagas Mist
Pastel by Mali
Watercolour by Mali
Watercolour by Maryon
Boathouses from Ray Mill Island
Watercolour by Sarah

From the Riverbank Week 2a: Some Photo reference in case of rain!

May 16, 2021

OK it’s a Coot!

The Weather forecast is miserable for this week so here are some photographs of river birds and a few cows for inspiration, a contingency in case of rain on Tuesday.

As anything that moves is a challenge in real life, becoming familiar with bird and animal shapes will be helpful before sketching them outside. We can work in real time together either from the following references or using your own. We’ll choose a bird or a cow and make rapid thumbnail sketches in real time; four or five to a sketchbook page so don’t think too large. I will be using a stopwatch! You will see from the reference that you should be able to make several sketches of the same or a similar bird in different poses.

Where birds in groups overlap each other, as in the cygnet photos it can be useful to treat them as a single shape and then sort out the individuals. They move in amazing ways, with mother swan looking out for them all the time.

After a few warm up sketches we can move on to a more considered drawing or painting, making a good start that can be finished during the session or in your own time afterwards. This work may either be a painting that has the creature as the main subject, or a work where the beast or bird is placed in its landscape setting.

Most of the heron images are from the water garden at Cliveden where the carp fry are easy prey for a hungry bird. I watched and sketched this one before resorting to record his antics on camera. but sadly never caught him actually catching a fish.

Heron on the Cam
Heron on the Cam detail
Cows and Swans on the Cam
Ducks on the Stour at Flatford
Duck on the Stour at Flatford

Your paintings and sketches:

This week’s drawings include two minute drawings and two minute blind contour drawings, where looking at the image but not the paper was permitted. There are also 30 minute or longer drawings from the Canada Goose image posted just before them.

Drawings below were 30 minute drawings from the image above

Canada Geese
by Virginia
Canada Geese
by Elizabeth
Canada Geese
by Jan
Canada Geese
by John
Canada Geese
by Liz
Canada Geese
by Shane
Canada Geese
by Ann
Canada Geese
by Heather
Canada Geese
by Sarah
Canada Geese
Pencil by Maryon
Canada Geese
Acrylic and Ink by Maryon

Two minute drawings and blind contour drawings:

Two Minute Heron
by Sarah
Two minute Herons and blind contour Ducks and Geese by John
Heron: Two minute sketches, Ducks: blind contour drawing
by Jan
Two Minute cows
by Sarah
Two Minute Cows
by Jan

From the Riverbank 2: Out in the Open

May 11, 2021

This week we’ll think about working outside, developing work from sketches or diving into a painting if you are feeling brave. The world outside can seem quite daunting if you are not used to working in the open and the complexity of some scenes can be overwhelming unless ways can be found to home in on a subject and isolate it from the surrounding “noise”.

Using a camera as a view finder is one way but limits you to composing with one shape. A better way is to take two L-shaped pieces of card which you can view the landscape in endlessly varied formats. Quite a good idea to tape these together once the desired subject and format has been found, preferably with a removable masking tape or similar.

To home in on a suitable composition it’s a good idea to make a few composition and tonal sketches first. Exploring a scene in this way focuses the mind on what most interests you and aids observation and drawing skills enormously. Last week we explored photographs in a similar way.

Below is a way of recording shape and tone in a sketchbook. Charcoal pencil was used in this case but if I had used pencil three or four small sketches could be made on a sketch book page.

A rectangle was drawn in the same proportions as the composition. Outside you may not have ruler but will have made the decision on what format to use , by using a viewfinder. Then the main lines of the composition can be drawn in, perhaps starting with the waterline. Draw the space the sky takes up. Then look for the main shapes of objects and their reflections and areas that were distinctly different in tone. Small shapes like the clump of reeds were only included because they play a significant role in the composition.
The main tonal areas were filled in taking care with the darkest and palest areas. The sky and small clump of reeds were untouched paper but look at how the reeds surrounded by dark tone stand out and shout for attention.
Whether pencil or charcoal is used the edges of some shapes can be softened and some areas made smoother by burnishing; a finger will do or a small piece of eraser rubbed lightly on the surface. Some areas can be darkened further.
Some areas have been darkened even more, while others have been drawn into with the edge of a plastic eraser that has been cut to a fine edge with a craft knife. Some of the foliage on the tree and a suggestion of flowers on the bank has been done with the eraser edge as have the ripples on the water. The charcoal pencil was used to add texture suggesting foliage of the foreground trees and branches of the distant trees, and the reeds on the riverbank.

This time make small sketches not worked up drawings to decide on the composition. This is a good exercise whether working directly from the landscape or preparing for a work to be completed in the studio. There is a good case for making both tonal sketches and making colour notes, not necessarily in the same sketch. If there is time separate sketches of any details you may need for the final work can be made. A camera of course is useful but because nature does not always arrange itself in the most interesting or pleasing way, small personal sketches are often a good guide to what should and should not be included.

A silly example would be if I wanted to make a picture of a coot with its reflection. I would think very hard before including or excluding a sign in red paint behind the bird saying DANGER WEIR which was only slightly camouflaged by a nest in front of the sign. If the sign and its reflection was making the painting much more exciting than just the bird, putting the bird in context with that part of the river, it may be good to include. If it did no more than draw attention away from my principal subject or led the eye out of the picture the sign would have to go. Then again I would have the same problem with the coot if my focus was river signage.

I know you are going to tell me this is a Moorhen!

1. Equipment for working outside; minimum for preparatory sketches

Sketchbook, drawing implements: pencil, pen, eraser, small camera and view finder, light weight folding stool

Optional: a few of any kind of coloured pencils or a small box of watercolours , brush, water, water pot; for making colour notes

2. Equipment for working outside; for painting directly from the landscape

Sketchbook, drawing implements: pencil, pen, eraser, small camera, light weight folding stool;

Watercolour painters: Watercolours, pan box useful if working at a fairly small scale as usually have an integral palette, water and water pot, brushes, paper towel (few sheets), small natural sponge (if you have one), drawing board with stretched paper/ heavy weight paper well taped down or small block of paper

Pastel painters: small box of landscape colours (Sienna, green dark, green bright, ultramarine blue dark and light, white, yellow, yellow ochre, crimson, cadmium red middle tone, dark grey or black, purple. These colours are only a suggestion. Handful of pastel pencils if you have any), pastel paper and a board, clips or tape to attach your paper, small can fixative spray, craft knife, pencil sharpener, Blu-tac or putty eraser, few sheets paper towel

If the weather is stormy the challenge will be to paint wildlife or agricultural scene from the riverbank. This could include willows, cows birds, nests waterlilies, reed banks.

Outside the challenge will be to make a composition including one or more of the following; trees, boats and boathouses, lock gates and their reflections, or a weir for the fearless! Be selective; one well painted boat or tree is better than a scribble of a fleet or forest! It would be good to take on board the tonal balance of reflections and objects. Reflections are not always darker than the real object but often are. See how the sky is reflected and how ripples catch the sun, as we will see next week sometimes very literally.

For inspiration visit my as yet unsorted Pinterest Boards at:

Your paintings:

From the Riverbank Week 1: A Challenging Surface

May 4, 2021

Hurley looking upstream from the Bridge before the Lock

Over the next six weeks we’ll be drawing and painting anything that can be seen from a riverbank.   The first session will be online but if you do have the opportunity to sketch your subject by the river and paint afterwards that would be brilliant.  We’ll start by considering water, waves and reflections and go on to explore the riverbank vegetation, birdlife, bridges, weirs and locks that can be seen locally.

The Bridge downstream of Hurley Lock looking upstream

Some words that sprang to mind when thinking about water were flowing, calm, reflection, spray, fierce, roar, crash, wet, wave, ripple, current, whirlpool, eddy.  By the Thames locally, the extremes in appearance of water going over the weir at Maidenhead  and the wonderful reflections of trees in the very calm water that can be seen from  the towpath just a couple of hundred yards upstream, reveal what a varied and challenging subject this is.

Quiet Water upstream of Hurley lock
Large ripples in foreground give very distorted reflections.
See how little patches of sky are reflected and the large tonal differences in this picture: the palest areas are the small poles in the middle distance and the darkest are in the trees and their reflections.

 We may often notice the reflections of boats, trees, poles etc. in and on the water but the sky is perhaps the most important element, being reflected not only in calm water but in every ripple and almost always brings an element of fleeting and shimmering light to the surface.  The Impressionists found good ways of depicting this, using strokes of different colours and tones alongside each other to create shimmering effects.

Boathouses from Ray Mill Island
Criss cross ripple patterns in the wake of the ducks.
Ripples appear smaller in the distance and eventually look like a shimmering tone on the water.

If you can, get to a riverbank and watch the water.  Better still make some sketches of what you see.  Take two L-shaped pieces of card with you so you can use them as a view finder.  These are more versatile than a camera as they enable the isolation of very tall thin slithers of the landscape or extreme panoramic views, as well as squarer and more conventional landscape shapes for your composition.  In the sketchbook try several small sketches in different formats concentrating on the shape and tones of what you see.

If you can’t get out this week try exploring different compositions within one photo reference.

Calm Day on the Cam
The following images were all cropped from this one photo. You may like to do something similar; crop a reference photo in different ways and make a tonal sketch of each. Choose the most successful for your painting. Choosing and isolating the elements you wish to paint is an important part of painting outside and why a sketchbook is invaluable to try out different composition ideas. I was amazed at what lay hidden in this reference taken mainly for the very subtle cloud cover and its reflection.
Crop 1
Crop 2
Crop 3
Crop 4
Crop 5
Crop 6
Crop 7

I am forced to admit this photo was taken from a boat and not the bank but the various crops show the great choice we have from the quite dark composition of crop 4 to the light airy feel of the original photograph.

Start to think in terms of shape and tone.  Instead of thinking I am drawing a tree and its reflection say to yourself,” I can see a large dark oval shape.  Below it is a similar dark shape that fragments into elongated light and dark shapes when the wind blows.” If you can stay long enough, observe different patterns on the water surface as a boat passes, and when there is wind or no wind. Try to translate these into drawing. Can you observe differences in size between ripples near you and those further away?

Observe and note whether there is a difference in tone between the sky and its reflection and do the same for reflected objects. As you can see from the photo taken on the Cam, the sky there was almost the same tone as its reflection but this is not always the case.

When you have found a composition that pleases you either paint or make a more considered drawing.  Both the observation of the water surface and the composition exercise will be good preparation for the outside drawing/painting sessions.

Have fun and experiment!

Perhaps look at a few Impressionist paintings!

Your Drawings and Paintings:

Stream in the Savill Gardens
Pastel by Shane
Boat Houses from Ray Mill Island
Watercolour by Virginia
Drawing by Maryon
Reeds by the River : crop 1
Drawing by maryon
Reeds by the River: crop 2
Drawing by Maryon
Maidenhead Bridge
Watercolour by Ann
The Thames at Pangbourne
Pastel by Barbara
View from the Bridge at Wareham
Watercolour and Pastel by John
Watercolour by Heather
Clapham bridge, Yorkshire
Watercolour by Liz
Exploratory Sketches by Liz
Watercolour by Jan
Sketches by Jan
Sketches by Jan
Pastel by Mali
Capel Curig
Coloured pencil and watercolour by Sarah
The Moat at Hever Castle
Watercolour by Sarah

Ink and Wash 2: Into the Landscape

August 9, 2020

Wind at Winskill Stones North Yorkshire: Art Pen, wash and rainwater!

In last week’s post the accent was on mark and line making and different techniques for drawing in ink and adding washes of more ink and/or watercolour or pastel and our aim was to produce an ink and wash drawing of a natural form.  This week we are operating on a larger scale and moving out into the landscape.  You have many techniques at your disposal and I would like to see you try a landscape from your own reference material; somewhere you know and either love or find interesting.  Best of all would be to work from life at a landscape near you!

Willows and Aspens on the Cam: Quink and Wash

Think about how your subject will be best depicted; whether the accent should be more on line or mark making or whether only an indication of line is needed and most of the “work” will be left to the wash to supply tone and colour.

Red Rocks in Morocco: Rotring Art pen and watercolour

Also think about how you will provide a sense of space and distance.  This may be important or not as we shall see from the rather eclectic group of images chosen for the Ink and Wash Pinterest board at

Claude Lorrain

Claude Lorrain’s Study of an Oak Tree ca. 1638 is rich in pen marks on the trunk and foliage but many of his ink wash drawings were almost solely wash as in his View from Monte Mario, where a river winds its way through dark trees against a backdrop of distant mountains.  The paper is white where the water reflects light most strongly and the composition relies almost completely for changes in tone for its effect.  In Trees and Rocks by a Stream ca.1635 there are beautiful calligraphic lines as well as washes where the tone of the wash varies from a very weak tea stain to something much darker.  I find his work has a timeless quality and he has much to teach us today. 

Samuel Palmer

Moving forward Samuel Palmer’s work is equally dramatic tonally but rather more graphically defined.  In Drawing for the Bright Cloud ca. 1831-2 look at how Palmer’s clouds depend on line as well as tone, how the middle ground is very dark and the tree trunks white against the dark and how carefully the sheep have been washed with different tones so we know exactly how the light is falling on them.  There is also an abundance of mark making on their wool and much patterning of foliage.

There are several ways you can produce light against dark;

Reserve the white of the paper; draw/brush round anything you wish to remain white.

Add White: When the work is almost complete add white gouache or even acrylic or white pastel/pastel pencil.

Scratching with a sharp implement taking care not to put a hole in the paper-always best done at the very end and only if the paper is heavy enough to take harsh treatment

Wax: At the very beginning either a line of candle wax which cannot be removed; experiment first on a small piece of the paper you will use to see how much pressure is needed when you add a wash and the wax acts as a resist.

Masking fluid; apply at the beginning with a ruling pen or old brush which must be cleaned immediately afterwards. Make sure the masking fluid is completely dry before removing by rubbing with a finger or soft eraser; not suitable for rough papers so again experiment first

PLEASE NOTE: Wax resist, or adding chalk pastel when a work is almost complete will work with waterproof ink, non-waterproof ink or watercolour.

Non-waterproof ink may lift when you add wet gouache or acrylic.  You may lighten areas of non-waterproof ink or watercolour by lifting out with a damp brush and clean tissue. You can wet the paper repeatedly to lift out but do not rub the surface or it wil become damaged.  Paper is at its most fragile when wet.

The other reference artists chosen are :

John Piper; images of rocky landscapes

Paul Nash; trees and woods in the landscape, carefully considered compositions and delicate lines The Pin labelled Paul Nash at Tate Britain has an image of The Wanderer.  Do look at how the line and colour work together producing a magical narrative landscape where the distant figure has trodden a path through the field.

Ceri Richards; trees and foliage full of wonderful lines and marks evoking a strong sesne of movement

Wu Gannzhong

Lastly I have included the Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong, who died in 2010 and is often thought of as the father of modern Chinese brush painting.  Like Lorrain he has made wash drawings that wholly depend on wash but also those where line is the key element.  The contour of the land is well established so that however abstract his work becomes, it still convinces us.  We are still travelling the path with him and I think his work also has that timeless quality.

Aim to produce;

One considered drawing of a landscape with rocks, trees or both.

Foliage of trees may be suggested with ink but always remember the side of your brush can be very useful whether in strokes or “printed” against the paper. 

Remember to mix some washes up in advance of starting the pen/brush drawing as you may wish to add some wash while the ink is still wet, if you are using waterproof ink. Also ensure that all your equipment like brushes and a sponge or paper towel are to hand.

If you have time for a second drawing, try to make one that is different in nature to the first.  For example the first may be a calm day and the second blowing a hurricane or at least windy.  The first may be monochrome and the second very vibrant.

Enjoy drawing!

Your Drawings:

Mountains in Burma: ink pastel and watercolour by Ann
A tree in Umbria: ink watercolour and pastel by Ann
Mountains in Burma: ink by Ann
Ink and watercolour by Barbara
Ink and watercolour by Barbara
Ink and watercolour by Barbara
Malders Lane : Quink washed by Jan
Malders Lane: Quink and watercolour by Jan
Hoylake Sea View: Quink and walnut ink by Jan
Imaginary landscape: Quink and wash by Heather
Tree by Heather
Ink study by Jane
Ink and watercolour by Jane
Woods: ink and watercolour by Jane
Ink and watercolour by Jane
A Landscape from China: India ink and brush by John
The same landscape as above with ink and watercolour by John
High Gorges, kali Gandaki in the Himalayas: ink and wash by Roger

Dead Tree on the Thicket: inkand watercolour by Vivienne

Boulder and Inscribed Stone: Rotring Art Pen ink and wash by Vivienne
An Imagined landscape: Unipen and pastel by Vivienne
Totem Pole Windsor Great Park: ink and watercolour by Maricarmen
Study for the Totem Pole: ink and wash by Maricarmen
After Piper by Maricarmen
Rocky Headland: Art Pen and wash by Angela
Upper Loch Torridon: mixed media with Rotring Art pen and ink, acrylic ink, watercolour, gouache, soft and oil pastel on cartridge paper, and it still looks like line and wash!
Bluebell Wood: ink, watercolour and pastel by Elizabeth
Pen and watercolour by Elizabeth
Pen, watercolour and pastel by Elizabeth
Castell Coch: brushed ink and watercolour by Liz
Llanddwyn Lighthouse: ink line, watercolour, brushed ink and rocks textured with a sponge by Liz
Cison di Valmarino in the veneto: dip pen, black Quink and wash with washes of compressed travel inks by Sandra
Stourhead stage 1: India ink applied with tape nib, thin twig, mapping pen and thinned ink applied with a brush by Malcolm
Stourhead stage 2: watercolour washes applied by Malcolm
Tree Roots: Quink, India ink, watercolour and pastel by Sarah
Coffee and India ink by Sarah
Overgrown Garden: coffee, Quink and India ink by Sarah
Lake near Cheapside : india ink, watercolour with wax resist on lake by Sarah