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COLOURED PENCIL TOPICS

PENCIL SKILLS

TREES

This topic amalgamates two topics on the old website. Trees and foliage are a lot easier with watercolour pencils, but not imposssible with wax type pencils which do not dissolve in water.  I am going to look first at the structure of trees  and then look at the techniques I use to produce a landscape picture with trees in it.  Three essentials to bear in mind are 1/ light and shadow are crucial to a picture of a tree in leaf  2/ A tree in leaf will have many colours in the foliage from bright greens of fresh leaf to browns and reds of autumn.  In the UK we can often see a range of these colours at any time from Spring to Autumn. 3/ A winter tree will usually show only timber. A branch grows thinner the further it gets from the trunk and the ground.
TREES  in your Landscape  1 This section is in TWO PARTS 1/ discusses the shape and structure of trees and is not just specific to CP 2/ will look at the methods for working trees in CP SHAPE, STRUCTURE & COLOUR The main thing to get right at the beginning is the overall shape of the tree.  If you have the structure right, the shape will be right whether you are painting a winter tree or a summer tree (or one in between).   The  first step is to establish the height of the tree relative to the surroundings  and it’s overall shape.   This can be done using a feint line in CP which will establish the limits of where the outer branches go It will also establish the overall shape and enable you to keep to that shape. Shown right, is part of a CP picture of Winter Trees that I did a few years ago.   The basic tree trunks were lightly pencilled in and the overall outline of the outer branches marked as a dotted line, which established the shape. I then turned the paper upside down and worked lines for the branches wending their way out to the outer shape & getting thinner and thinner as they go. The dotted line on the outer limits merges in to become the fuzz of tiny twigs Look at a number of tree shapes, below.  BUT BEFORE YOU COMPLAIN ! This is not a comprehensive study on British Trees - I have only sketched out one or two to make my point. Check out a book like the Observers Book of Trees if you intend to do a lot of landscape and need to identify and show shapes exactly .  For most landscape work you don’t have to be specific over the exact variety of tree you include unless you are painting a commission and the eventual owner is an expert on trees, but it helps to be aware of the different shapes.
Upright forms like pines, firs and poplars tend to have fairly recognisable shapes More rounded tree forms like Birch have a very light open structure and a light leaf cover. You can see a lot of sky through it.   The Oak tends to have a more solid appearance with a strong wide trunk and dense leaf cover. Trees like the Sycamore and Sweet Chestnut have a similar round form to the Oak but more open appearance and often many holes in the leaf cover
You will see that I have indicated the pattern of the branches.  This helps to direct the foliage shape when you work an image of a summer tree.  The foliage will usually form blocks of leaf which will show light on the tops and shadow underneath each section.  This will help give form to your summer tree.
The Skeleton of the Tree I have seen it stated several times that the amount of timber per cubic foot in a tree is the same amount all the way up to the outer limbs.   The tree carries the wood as solid material in the lower trunk and as each branch leaves the main stem, the tree trunk loses the same amount of timber per cubic foot as the branch takes away, and the main limb therefore narrows slightly to accommodate the loss. The result is that there is (I am told) the same total weight per cubic foot of twigs at the extremities of the tree as in the trunk at the base.  I must admit that I have yet to see a branch that gets wider and heavier as it extends out from the tree, and the trees in the wood behind my house all seem to obey the ‘rule’, so until someone proves it to the contrary, I will go with it ! I always apply this principle to any tree I draw or paint, and ensure that the branches get progressively narrower as they go out from the trunk.   The way the branches grow is always a fascination - from the wriggling branches of an oak tree to the straight branches of a poplar.   Just look at the limbs on some of the trees shown in my photographs alongside. Obviously the branches are more visible in winter when the trees have no leaf cover, but note that even in high summer timber is still visible.   One of the joys in looking at woodland with a view to painting it, is looking for contrasts of light and dark, seeing how the sky is visible through some trees and not through others. Seeing how light produces silhouettes of branches and highlights some leaf cover against dark, shadowed backgrounds. When painting trees, it is always best to work from a reference And look very closely at exactly what light and dark areas exist within the image.   Don’t look at the leaf cover as leaves Look at it as areas of dark and light colour exactly as you would when painting, say, the reflections in the surface of a  metal vase. Paint what you actually see, not what you know is there.
A huge oak tree. not a branch in sight
COLOURS Tree trunks are generally grey or greenish grey.  Brown is usually only found among conifers and exotic trees in the UK.  Look at tree trunks when you take a walk next time.  The surface of tree trunks varies enormously from ribbed to scaly, to smooth.  The colour will also vary depending on the amount of natural moss and algae growth and the prevailing wind direction which will discourage surface ‘extra’s’.     Woodland will have a mixture of young trees and low bushes as well as mature trees so keep an eye on how you bring in lower growths within the main trees.  Colours will also vary, even in high Summer as well as in Autumn.
Tree foliage will vary enormously between Spring and Autumn and it will rarely be possible to get by with just one colour for each tree or bush.  Watch out for those areas of deep shadow and how the light shows up certain areas of leaf in highlight against the dark
Look particularly at the last image of a bank of trees ( below left ) and how the forward trees are highlighted against the ones behind and the shadowed areas. I show some of them again (below right ), in close up.  Note how the green colours differ from higher up in bright sunlight, to the lower close up taken of the foliage out of the sunlight.
TREES  in your Landscape  2 Ways of working a tree using coloured pencils
This page will look at Techniques for showing trees in Coloured Pencil We discussed Trees and foliage at the April 2010 Knuston Hall course when Foliage was the topic for the second (Intermediate ) day. It is clear that people have a lot of difficulty with trees and foliage generally. They can either ‘do’ trees - or if they can’t, they shy away from landscapes altogether. Clearly it would help if I could show some ‘recipes’ for doing the foliage. Looking at the work on the course, it is also clear that what works for one person can offer an impossible barrier to others. Trees and foliage also differ a great deal, not only in different parts of the world, but in different parts of the same wood. To describe a method for doing this or that type of leaf cover on these or those types of trees, begs the question that we should be solving as artists. What do we see when we look at something ? How do we interpret what we see ? And how do we translate what we see in three dimensions into two dimensions ?
This is the scene above the harbour in Polperro, Cornwall, UK.
Let us see if we can make sense of this problem. First of all look at a reference of a hillside with some trees and bushes in mixed vegetation. See how there are trees on the edge of the hill that are in silhouette and show sky through the branches.  In these trees you can see the shape of the tree clearly. Coming down the hillside  there are quite large trees on the left and in the lower centre we have smaller vegetation and bushes.  To the extreme right we have open ground which folds and shows shadow and therefore shape.  In bulk, trees show their shape only in the way that light catches the tops and the protruding branches and the resulting shadows show the undersides and give form. The whole exercise of painting foliage is one in showing the shape of the trees through the shadows cast by light and the colours of the leaf cover. I am going to work with this picture (above), but first of all let us look at a smaller sample of a different tree cover as this may make basic explanations easier
What do we actually see ? Areas of light and shade Where is the light coming from ?        Above, and slightly ahead and the right, picking out the protruding branches against the shadowed undersides to the leafed area.
 I suggest you look again at the examples shown in Trees section 1 and see how the light and shadow differ in different examples. You can also look again at how colour differs.  Not all leaves are green. And green comes in a whole load of different shades, not only in the leaves themselves, but in how far away they are from the viewer.  Don’t forget the rules of aerial perspective.  The further away from you the subject is, the more reds will disappear from the spectrum and the more blues will predominate.  Similarly, distance adds dust to the atmosphere which blocks vision and tonal contrast decreases, so further away subjects are paler and bluer. This means that we can differentiate between nearby trees and distant trees, by adding more warm tones and greater contrasts to the foreground subjects, and reducing tonal contrst and adding blues to distant tree colours.  This may not be exactly how the reference shows it, but it  makes a big difference to how the eye separates out the layers in your picture into foreground and distance and gives a more three dimensional look to a two dimensional image. I can now go ahead and work my picture, and if I am using only wax type coloured pencils, I will build up layers of colour from the paper in very light layers.  This is no problem, but it does take time and I prefer to reduce time taken if it can be done easily and with a good result.  For this reason I will first show you how I set about the actual finished picture of the harbour seen below. Back to those trees ……….. So let us have a look again at the trees on that hillside This is the first stage of the picture.  I am only showing a small part of the whole - the final image will show a larger view of the whole picture.  To start with, I have used a cold pressed paper.  The image is a large one for Coloured Pencil - 17 inches by 11 inches and was started out on a stretched piece of paper in A2 size.  When I prepared the board, I found that Cold Pressed paper was all I had in the size I needed so that was used.  In fact it had a lot of advantages in showing the harbour mud , but I will come back to that later. I made up a selection of thin watercolour pencil washes on a large white plate (as described elsewhere in the site, and put down a general underpainting of the whole picture - and the image below shows the area of trees we are looking at.
See how there are a number of layers added to the paper in the patches where shadow will be strongest. The aim - as ever - is not to worry about detail, but to get a feeling for the lights and darks of the subject and apply the appropriate colour base to kill the white paper.  This will give colour strength when we add CP later. Though in this case we are also going to work with dry watercolour pencils as well so the result should be quite vibrant.  There is no great difference between wax non soluble pencils and watercolour pencils used dry - excepte that the ‘feel’ of watercolour pencils tends to be less ‘slippy’ as the formula has to allow for the pigment core to dissolve if required. The sky alongside the  hillside is a basic watercolour sky wash laid down in a traditional way on wet paper on a tilted board.  The strongest pigment is at the top and clear water is added progressively  to reduce the strength of colour as it comes down the paper, replicating the effect of the strongest blue sky above and the palest blue on the horizon.  For more information on washes with watercolour pencils, please see the Aquarelle section of this site.
The graphite or pencil drawing can now be erased from areas where it isn’t needed as we will work on the underpainting with reference to the photo I have now added some further drawing into the picture using Derwent Watercolour Pencils.  Several layers of colour are put in dry so that the pigment can then be manipulated with a damp brush.  You can see how the relatively rough surfaced cold pressed paper gives a grainy effect to the new dry colour added.  This is not a problem. Also note how there is quite a lot of sepia and lighter browns added to the green mixture in the layers of dry pigment.  There is sky showing in the trees on the edge of the hill which I want to keep.
Here, you will see that the colours have been blended with a damp brush and in some cases have been shaped and lifted with kitchen tissue to reduce the colour levels.  Some more dry colour has now been added to define edges and tree trunks. The overall colour level is now much greater with the addition of water to the dry watercolour pencil medium. As a matter of interest the same treatment has been done to the buildings where dry colour has also been added to show roof lines and windows more clearly
More dry point pencil is added to bring up those areas of deep shadow and also add in more ochre shades in to the yellows - and some white to pick out the light highlights such as on the bushes below the top house.  The amount of detail doesn’t look great in the image below, but the actual area we are looking at is about 6 inches wide x 5 inches high.  As far as colour balancing of the images are concerned these pictures have been taken by camera with available light, and quite long periods between photos, as the picture was started in October 2009 and finished in May 2010.  The sky will give you one idea of the constant as that is unchanged from the start.
POINTS YOU MIGHT WANT TO CONSIDER Colours ( and definition ) are quite strong - which you will get when you use Watercolour pencils dry and then damped down and manipulated.   That suits a cheerful image like this. The finished picture below is actually two reference photos amalgamated. The left hand house, Hydrangeas and the three nearby boats are on one photo, and the hillside and the rest of the harbour are on another.   You don’t actually see the same view of the harbour and hillside from the slipway by the hydrangeas. The slipway is actually about 100 yards nearer the hillside and you don’t have this view of the left hand side buildings from it. The muddy floor of the harbour is exactly how it was left from the initial washes. Some of the boats on the right do not exist The wall of the left hand house has a light wash of pale blue on it ( compare to the paper white around the windows )
For those readers who were hoping that this page would offer a ‘magic bullet’ to solve all their foliage problems, I don’t think it will. I don’t think there is a single technique that solves the problem. There are a lot of instant solutions and special brushes to do foliage in Watercolour, but I suspect that many are simply creative ways to generate art material sales. It all comes down to looking carefully And painting what is actually there      -      That applies to any medium If you find a method, different to mine , that works for you, please share it with me - and I will share it with the readers on this site Thanks  PW
In the Aquarelle section of the site, I have included a demonstration of how to use watercolour pencils to complete a simple tree and foliage using entirely watercolour pencil techniques ( putting down the dry colour on the paper and then working the pigment with a damp brush ).  That is another solution to trees and foliage but the results are entirely different and not so ‘controlled’. I intend to work a similar picture of trees using non soluble wax type pencils to illustrate the alternative - entirely dry - approach.  This exercise will be carried out over the coming winter ( 2017 -18 ) as a joint step by step on-line with members of the Topics Talk group, and should appear here shortly afterwards