Project 1 – Exercise 3: Study of several trees

In order to find interesting group of trees and focal points I went outside and did quite a few sketches (sketchbook walk). At this time of the year with not so much foilage on the trees I was looking for other interesting features. Most trees, especially the further distant ones, look like a silhouette in front of the sky (it is flat land around sea level in my area). For some sketches I looked straight up to the sky through the trees. I find this ‘frog perspective’ quite interesting and I will keep this in mind to future works.

Stefan513593 - project 1 - exercise 3 - sketchbook

Stefan513593 – project 1 – exercise 3 – sketchbook

For this exercise I was looking further till I found an interesting scene: a few trees (birches and others), water on the ground (moor land), and an interesting tonal variation in four layers (sky, background trees, middle ground with the main trees, water in front plane). Also I liked the strong I decided to do some sketches on composition and colore usage for keeping the white of the birch trees appealing (wax resist, masking fluid). I was glad to have a viewfinder at hand so that I could depict better shape relationships and dimensions. I decided to make two studies: one in charcoal for finer drawing of the black/white contrasts and a second one (for the next day) a more experimental color drawing using some learned mixed media techniques.

project 1 - exercise 3 - sketchbook scene

project 1 – exercise 3 – sketchbook scene

Study 1: Charcoal

I selected a horizonal format in order to enhance the four tonal areas (sky, background trees, middle section, front plane water) and to highlight the visual pattern of the background trees. After blocking in the main shapes and drawing the selective composition (with viewfinder) on the paper I continued with marking roughly the background trees and strenghtening the shadow areas of the trees. I decided to continue with charcoal only and adding color at the end so that I could focus more on the main shapes and tonal contrast. With a putty and a plastic rubber I was careful to keep the white and light areas of the trees as light as possible. The same for the left middle section where the sun light hits the ground (sun is coming from the right). Considering my tutor’s feedback I was careful to apply a variety of marks: shorter horizontal for birch, vertical longer rough marks for background trees, some dots on the ground, broader marks at the right front side. I kept a certain visual depth with the main planes: background (trees), middle (main trees and ground), front (water, branches). At the end I took a picture of the charcoal to be able to compare with the final picture with color.

Stefan513593 - project 1 - exercise 3 - study#1 - pre

Stefan513593 – project 1 – exercise 3 – study#1 – pre

I applied selectively color, mainls for the water (blue pastel) and the middle ground and front branches (ochre pastel). The color adds a different layer, pronounching the white of the birches. At the end I noticed that I put too much blue in the lower center on the water with a shift in visual impression: water comes forward. I left the sky white as an additional visual contrast against the background tree pattern and to keep visual depth

Stefan513593 - project 1 - exercise 3 - study#1

Stefan513593 – project 1 – exercise 3 – study#1

I did not like so much the left free space therefore I decided to look at a possible cropping. Here I find the composition more balanced with clearer focus.

Stefan513593 - project 1 - exercise 3 - study#1 - cropping

Stefan513593 – project 1 – exercise 3 – study#1 – cropping

Study 2: Acryl, ink and pastel

For the next study I intended a more experimental mixed media drawing with more focus on color and markings. I prepared a cardboard (with a color matching nicely the middle section of the scene) with white acryl to map out very roughly the main light areas (sky, main trees, water). I decided for a vertical format to focus more on the characteristics of the trees (some have an interesting twisted trunk). I felt the horizontal format rather was more focusing on the horizontal tonal patterns. With this primed support I went back the next other day to the scene (same time of the day) and marked the shadow areas of the trees with an oriental brush. Considering the feedback received I rejected dip pen as the left marks would have been too small and I wanted for this scale broader marks (scaling up topic). From my sketchbook studies I liked to visual effect of the marks done with a semi-dry brush and ink. I left such marks for the water surface. Similar, I applied vertical and denser marks for the background trees. The acryl primed surface makes these marks quite unique. I continued with brush and oriental brush pen markings to render more the objects and areas.

Stefan513593 - project 1 - exercise 3 - study#2 - progress

Stefan513593 – project 1 – exercise 3 – study#2 – progress

I added colored ink marks for the middle section and the water. For some other trees, I applied ochre tone to distinguish them better from the birch trees and for increasing visual constrast. Learnings from the previous study: I left the bottom center of water surface white blank to convey better the illusion of sky reflection.

Stefan513593 - project 1 - exercise 3 - study#2

Stefan513593 – project 1 – exercise 3 – study#2



  • Taking more time to consider scale and upscaling issues, kind of drawing support, negative space, and composition is helpful (based on my tutur’s feedback after assignment 2). I took 2 hours for each study on the scene plus some studio time for afterwork.
  • A viewfinder is a handy tool to get relationships of shapes right in the composition. Especially when working outdoors to keep better focus.
  • For the charcoal I worked parallel with a putty rubber and a plastic rubber to work harded into the surface. I didn’t used a plastic rubber before, and I felt it could be even harder. Key is to have a sturdy support that can hold the pressure.
  • To think and draw first overall shapes and major tonal areas together with key compositional lines.
  • Considering a variety of marks (broader marks for the front plane and smaller marks (eg. dots) for more receding planes) to create more appealing visual depth (learnings also from my visual research on Van Gogh).
  • Priming a cardboard with acryl paint was quite helpful to create a surface for new markings. Applying marks on it with a semi-dry brush and ink makes interestings marks that could not be achieved on a smoother surface.
  • Careful and selective use of color. In study #1 I learned how color not only adds a new dimension but also can manipulate the overall tonal contrast of the picture.

Next time:

– To work more with markings to create deeper spaces and depth.
– To consider more compositional impact to avoid post cropping (study#1)
– Considering tonal values of color deeper in relationship with black/white contrast as it can easily shift the visual effect of the final picture.
– I added a few branches to the left, in the middle and to the right to create visual depth. I didn’t study this before but rather applied them on the spot. At the end I have the feeling I made too much. Leaving only one or two, eliminating the middle group would have made the composition more focused and balanced.
– I left the background plane uncolored, next time I would like to discover more the visual depth and tonal variations of colors.


  • What techniques did you use to distinguish one species of tree from another?
    By different mark making (horizontal shorter marks for birch, vertical marks for other trees, scribbling marks for conifer), by using color (white for birch, ochre for willow or other), by directional lines (bending longer lines for willow, flowing parallel longer marks for silver birch)
  • How did you convey the mass of foilage and spaces between?
    Unfortunately at this time of the year the trees are rather ‘naked’. Although for conifers I applied single lines ith a few areas of deep hatching and scribbled marks. For the silver birch I intentionally left white spaces in between the group of fine long twigs.
  • How did you handle light on the different parts of the tree?
    By contrasting black/white areas for shadow and lights side of the tree. Keeping the light side rather unmarked, at times only with  a single outlines mark. Somehow I feel I did not use so much variety here. I guess with more close up views I could modulate more tonal variations.
  • Did you manage to select and simplify?
    I tried to draw only the key elements of the tree to convey its characteristic features (trunk, branches, bark). I used a viewfinder to focus only on the main trees for more detailed drawing, marking the more receding trees rather roughly
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