Drawing Willows with Willow Charcoal.

2013 Willows: Last year I made some drawings of the Willows at Perry. It was April.

pollarded 1bg    pollarded 2 bg

willow branches bg     willows1bg 


2014 Willows

Today I went back to the same spot. There are new pollards and the pollarded trees from last year have sent out huge strong shoots.

perry-willows      3-willows

Three sketches of the same log. The one top right was from last year. Now like some magic hedgehog it has sprung long spines. I made some pen and ink sketches. The shapes of the new stumpy pollarded trees are strange. They give the landscape a desolate look, ruins of old tree.




Pen and Ink sketches A4 And the 3 in charcoal.


Exuberant growth from last years pollard.


The twisty truncated branches on their short bases remind me of some trimmed internal organ.


Charcoal Sketches 12 x16 inches  Perry Thursday 13th March.

It is rather special charcoal ..more of that in my next post…..

Tuesday Walk and the Humming Pollen Tree

The morning is glorious, new corn shoots mist the rolling fields with pale green. There are tiny flitting chattering birds who fly alongside me, white, yellow and multicoloured butterflies, more and more bees, many beeflies and tiny dancing black flies. In one of my favourite secluded sun drenched spots I find a willow, heavy with pollen laden catkins covered with bees and butterflies. I stop for a while to watch.

To watch and listen, to the bees collecting pollen, to an owl in the nearby wood, to see the drifting shape of a buzzard pass overhead, to watch a flame tailed bumble bee collecting moss, to see the delicate long-nosed beeflies hover and dart.


A pollen drenched honey bee


A high flying buzzard


Bombus lapidarius collecting moss


A Peacock Butterfly


A little solitary bee at the field edge   It’s a much loved place of mine, on an old road. In its summer flora it reveals odd traces of cultivation and there is a stand of ancient oaks nearby.


My sketch of the Humming Willow Tree on the old path, with its glowing catkins set against the dark leafless hedges and trees. There are a few hints of green appearing in the nearby hawthorn branches. Watercolour 5 x 7 inches.

I might choose this willow to be my main tree this year. Willows become more and more fascinating the more you learn about them. But today is a day to be out, to forget your troubles, to be warmed by the sun and cooled by a spring breeze. On the way back I passed the place where a big dead tree fell across the path last year. It has now been chopped back leaving a waving stump. From one angle it looks like a cheery waving figure.. Old Man Tree we call it.


Waving Cheerfully on this lovely day.. Old Man Tree

Early April Willow Sketches

Last week I had my first sketching walk of the year, not so much a walk as a stagger, but it was good just to get out in some almost warm sun. I went down to the nature reserve where they have been cutting back the willows. There is a curious look to the landscape. Fallen trees, half cut down trees, old pollards with new shoots and new pollards with nothing but stumps. The willows rise up out of swampy ground and there is an odd feeling of desolation, of a war torn landscape reminding me of some of Paul Nash’s bleak paintings. But here, rather than destruction, it is just life on hold, just waiting to get going again. In fact you have to admire willows for their vigour and ability to regenerate after even the most severe pruning. In the sun the stems glow yellow, purple and greeny brown. Some are almost orange. There were a few catkins here and there.

willows1bg     willows2bg 


pollarded 1bg     pollarded 2 bg

The stumps of newly pollarded trees and below the exuberant growth of whips from an old trunk.

willow branches bg

The old fallen willows are covered with an abundance of moss. In amongst the moss bracket fungi grow. Beautiful delicate things. I liked the shapes, the points of the fern fronds, the waved edges of the fungi and the random placement of twigs and one leaf.

moss sketch bg    moss bg

These were made a week ago on the 8th. I am sure things will have moved on by now. With more of a promise of Spring I will be out again very soon.

Willows: A Start. The whys and wherefores of a drawing

Starting with Willow I decided quite early on that I would make a start on the Residency with some work about the Willow Tree. Looking over my sketches from the summer the willows are so often there. It is an iconic tree of this currently sodden, watery area and they line the Reservoir.
There are local names for some varieties, the Bedford Willow, the Huntingdon Willow. They are everywhere and there are many different kinds. One book  notes 18 UK varieties.
I like to start things with drawing and research. The purpose of both are to get to know my subject. I can read and learn but I don’t think I really “see” unless I draw.

What is the purpose of drawing.. for me

Drawing, for me, is all about learning. Initially it’s about trying to record what I can see.  Accuracy at this stage is important to me because the more accurate I try to be, the more I must study the subject.
Through drawing I will learn about structure, line, colour and form, but most importantly I begin to discover what it is I like about something. And that is really important. My first exploratory drawings of the willows are just a few leaves.

I am still not out and about much but I brought some tatty old leaves back from my shoreline walk about a month ago. Once inside they dry out,  twist and form wonderfully curled shapes.


My drawing and models

My way of arranging them for drawing is to throw them onto white paper and see what happens. This works much better for me than carefully and deliberately arranging things. It is also the way my Filipino gardener friend Pedro, back in Leu Gardens,  plants seeds and bulbs. His handling of plants was one of great empathy, respect and understanding. He was well rewarded.


“ Three Willow Leaves”  pencil on hp paper, 10 x14 inches

So here is a drawing of the leaves. I loved the curling shape and the way the cast shadows tell of a shape you cannot see. The desiccated surface of the leaf makes the central vein more prominent and I could see the layers of the surface, some were peeling away.  Tiny bits broke off. These things are very brittle and fragile.

The hours it takes are all a part of the slow absorption of the information. It’s a very peaceful process and totally absorbing. It reminds me of my old “leaf of the day” drawings.  I will be doing quite a few more study drawings and some sketches and colour notes. There may be a lot about willows this coming year!

Some Willows and a Wren

This is my last Feb post and next month I will have to concentrate more on idea for the Residency.
With this on my mind on Monday, in a bitter wind I went for a short walk on the muddy reservoir shore. It was my first visit since late November.


The reservoir is still very low which exposes thousands of shelly, fossily things which have washed out of the Blue Oxford clay. There are silvery fresh water mussel shells and bits of mud encrusted rubbish. All of which I find completely fascinating.

But my purpose was really to look at the willows. With the water so low the roots are exposed and of course the branches are bare. This time of year is wonderful for seeing the structure of trees.


One of the willows by Tern rocks


Looking East to a stand of willows on the shore, a favourite haunt of rooks in the summer. I only made a couple of sketches, it was so very cold.


Rook willows: I am standing where the water usually is. At the right hand side there is an old fallen willow where new branches are growing up from the fallen trunk.


Scrubby willow branches, which grow up from fallen branches. Large blocks of stone mark the edge of the reservoir and the normal water level.

Willow Twigs and the Tiny Wren.

I know there are several willow species round the reservoir but I am not sufficiently sure of the species yet to be confident in naming them. I am guessing there will be both white willow Salix alba and crack willow Salix fragilis.
But I do know there is Goat Willow, Salix caprea, because this is our lovely Pussy willow. I found some and brought a couple of branches back. I put them in an old indoor watering can which I had bought for my mother many years ago.

I put the can by the French window where I hope they will blossom over the next few weeks.There are some other willow branches as well. The Pussy Willow twigs are more robust with the lovely silky buds.  The window looks out on the paving where the tiny wren has been very busy for the last few days, little stubby tail up in the air pecking between the paving slabs looking for insects.


Mum’s blue can with willow twigs and wren. She would have really liked this sketch :).