Rookie mistakes

A few weeks ago, riding home at twilight, I was inspired by the silhouettes of bare trees, with a crescent moon falling through the top of the treeline. The sky was still pink at the horizon, with a really glowing light blue higher up. It looked like a nice basis for a simple ink drawing, with a watercolour wash for the sky. It was to become a bit of a project, due to…well, I’m struggling to find a way to put this that doesn’t mean “my inability to get any of the steps right.”

On another evening ride, I took a large selection of photos along that stretch. I chose a tree that appealed to me, with many, many branch crossings, and a vine running up the trunk, and copied it fairly closely using india ink. This step let me decide the proportions and most of the structure, and isolate the tree from its neighbours. Tidying up so my brain would have a chunk of pre-processed information to deal with when it came to making the tree again “for real.”

I’d passed this strip of trees many times (technically enough to call “thousands”) and not really observed them. Now I paid more attention and saw that the vines are rampant in the wood. Many have been sawn off at the bottom, and these are leafless, allowing me to see how woody and tightly woven about the tree trunks they are. I felt less friendly toward the vines, and decided to leave them out.

Soon after this, I began to make a lot of mistakes.

I prepared a carefully-masked crescent moon on some Frisk CS2 NOT-finish paper (“for superb colour washes”).

Aside: Wikipedia and, perhaps more reliably, tell me that NOT is a UK term for cold-pressed (“not hot-pressed”), which until now I’d thought would be a silly thing for it to stand for. Actually, having probed the depths of my soul, I find I still think it’s silly. If it’s capitalized throughout, it should be an acronym (and, in my opinion, all acronyms should be capitalized throughout, but that’s another digression).

I then attempted to wash in the sky as I remembered it. I overworked it spectacularly.

Reasoning that I could still completely screw up the drawing part, I swallowed my disappointment and traced the outer boundary of my first drawing onto the page with pencil, and set about inking with brushes and dip pens.

The damage done by overworking the wash had ramifications for the ink. The edges of my lines feathered, and I had trouble with blobbing. Now I had a hilariously-pathetic sky with an even more ludicrous tree. I liked the moon, but there was no denying it was time to start over.

I practiced washes on quarter-sheets (11″ x 15″) of student-grade Fabriano paper, working fast (for me), with the biggest brush I had (not big enough). I think this paper was more robust than the A4 pad I’d used before. I do happen to know that am able to destroy this paper, too, by overworking, so I kept a tight rein on my impulse to “improve.”

I selected one of the three or four pages to continue the exercise on, and was fairly far into the inking when I noticed some dirty-looking smudges of unknown origin on the page (my doing? the toddler’s doing?) and this was the last straw.

I worked a little more on twigs, but abandoned the ground. I did feel I owed the thing a moon. I drew it in pencil, then filled it in with gouache. I knew I was being careless with the moon’s placement when I did it, but in retrospect I regret it.

Trying to erase the pencil lines removed not only most of the gouache, but also some of the pigment in the sky. I also attempted to remove some smudging; this gave me yet more unevenness in the sky.

You may notice that, having “decided” the proportions of the tree in the original drawing, I let the trunk grow longer. I don’t think this was to its benefit. There are some more niggling issues with the tree, which I would adjust in any future revisions.

I think I’ve almost finished the preparations for this drawing. Maybe in a year or so I’ll have the stomach to look at it again!