Seasonal Foliage (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I didn’t intend to draw trees without leaves as my first colored pencil project, but my attempt to create fall colors quickly left me disheartened so I shifted my concentration to bark and limb. Below are few beginner (as in, I’m a beginner) tips I’ve gleaned so far. I’ve linked to the products I’m using but am not an affiliate with any of the companies.

  • Begin with the background. One positive about drawing a tree that will be in much darker colors than the sky is that you can first create the background layer and build on it. Once I move back to including leaves, I’ll have to leave dead space for where they will be placed. In order to layer sky colors, I paid extra attention to some brilliant autumn mornings as my inspiration.
  • Outline the tree in your mid-tone color. I’m using Faber-Castell pencils, so I outline the trunk and branches in walnut brown and add the highlights and shadows later. This choice makes it easy to adjust without creating weird lines between the branch and the trunk.
  • Consider limiting your color choices if you are just starting out. I purchased the full set of colored pencils from Faber-Castell but am only using about 15 or so to create my drawings currently. This has greatly reduced my stress and has prompted me to think about how colors blend together. I’ve most enjoyed making purples and peaches in my sky by blending two or three colors together.
  • End the branches in triangles not squares. I made a tree each way and the blunt-ended squares made it look like it was dead, whereas using a thinner, pointed end for the branches allowed it appear at rest. This is obvious if you think about trees, but didn’t register for me until I finished a layer.
  • Consider proportions before placing any strokes. I got too enthusiastic on one of my trees with the grasses underneath, and they turned into a seaweed shape. The trunk to branch proportion has also been difficult for me to get my head around. I think the width of all the main branches should probably very slightly thinner when added together as compared to the trunk, and there should only be a few main divisions (one of my trees had a super-wide trunk with many main branches off of it and it did not work for me).
  • Burnishing is where it’s at! I’ve been using Gamblin gamsol to burnish the sky colors together (lay down a layer of colors, burnish and repeat), and using my Prismacolor colorless blender pencils on the tree portion. The tree is draw over the background, so there is a great chance of smearing it if I tried to use the oil. Burnishing allows the colored pencils, especially if they are oil-based like the Faber-Castell, to appear more like paint.

My tree, if I am able to make one that I feel is good enough to include on a card for my In an Open Hand deck, will be set in winter rather than fall. I almost gave up on the whole enterprise after my first set of leaves looked ridiculous, so I’m glad I found something I am able to create that has potential.

If you are starting out and you get overwhelmed, I encourage you to break down the elements of what you were trying to draw and to see if you can perfect one component at a time. After drawing all the trees to get to one I like, I think I’ll be better prepared for that elements once I start including leaves. Please leave any colored-pencil tree drawing tips, beginner or otherwise, below!

Autumn Endings (Daily Works of Art)

Autumn is a season of contraction in my mind; a pulling inward of impulse and energy in order to prepare for the bitterness of winter. I tend to find my emotions trending more negatively and my outlook on life a bit dimmer as the sunlight arrives earlier every evening. Autumn is casting off, letting go and a hiding of secret treasures.

I released my given name a few months ago, replacing it with a chosen name of my own. Many days since have involved calling and emailing and mailing all manner of companies, telling them who I am now. I’m excited for the eventual newness, but am more in a place of reminding and replacing each piece of my life right now.

For my daily work of art, I collected a leaf that had been dropped by a tree. It was a strange find in that it was still green and soft, whereas most leaves at this point in the season are brittle, brown and fading. It felt like my previous name in a way, not retired because I died, but ensconced into my history as a memento to who I was while some of the life was still in it.

I am still who I was, but there will likely be a richness and fullness of presence I’ve only been able to achieve by transitioning to a new name that represents myself past, present and future more robustly. It’s bittersweet, in the way I’m sad to see the trees become barren, but yet I hold a tiny flame burning in anticipation of the explosion of green the spring will bring. What is autumn to you? What are you letting go of or secreting away, knowing it is necessary for growth?

Drawing in Season (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I combined photography and drawing to trace and color a leaf* on Adobe Draw (a free phone app). I struggle with fine motor skills and tend to give up on drawings because I have to work from an outline. As I understand copyright law, I don’t think it is legal to trace someone else’s photograph and then draw it as my own if I want to share it. I was excited to realize that I can use my camera and take my own photographs in order to have something from which I can work.

Leaves are turning very colorful and falling from the trees where I live, so using that as my focal point made a lot of sense. My artistic knowledge is pre-K if that is a fair comparison, but one element of drawing to which I’ve been attending is the idea that adding black lines around and within a drawing seems to elevate it. I included several brown and red colors to my leaf and then drew in the veins which made it pop. What is in season where you live? How might you go about drawing it?

*I couldn’t figure out the resolution so unfortunately I am not able to share it here. I cannot wait until I get Adobe Illustrator and am able to include my own artwork!

Spending Time in Nature (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Intimacy with nature need not involve a miles-long hike into the deep forest. Anything of the earth can provide a touchpoint that reconnects to our senses. With this in mind, for today’s simple pleasure, I took a walk to a local park to enjoy the start of the fall foliage.

I began my walk through my backyard which is filled with trees and bordered by a stream. I heard a rushing noise and thought it was odd that the stream was flowing with so much intensity on a bright, chill day. I finally perceived that the sound was instead being produced by the slightly-dry leaves rustling against each other in the birch trees. It is at once a gentle and a playful noise that I wish I listen to on repeat.

The scene then transitioned into viewing the stream which, as it enters the park, is filled with reeds. The grasses of the reeds are browning and mowed down, but a few solitary cattails stand proud. I was surprised to see insects and a bird hopping around as we had frost last night; the last breath of summer could still be heard.

After steering my dog past a distracting bunch of humans, I made my way to a park bench lodged underneath a tree. The shade the tree provided was cold, with an edge. I centered myself on my present awareness of my senses and my body’s response to those senses and felt soothed.

As I made my way home, the colors I saw seemed to radiate with a vibrancy I find only in fall. Green, red and blue seen in low humidity are crisp and energizing to me. I could make this walk a hundred times a year, but it is only when I direct my attention to my surroundings moment by moment that the inherent beauty of nature makes itself known. What was the most recent experience in nature you had? What impression did it leave on you?

Today’s Simple Pleasure: Observing a Plant

I didn’t have to go far to find a plant in whose presence I wanted to meditate. I have a young maple tree, planted a few years ago, growing near my house. I observed it using both my vision and my tactile senses.

Its leaves are beginning to turn brown, perhaps from disease, heat stress or the coming fall. As I touched them, I realized that they still feel “alive” and waxy, rather than dry and rough as they will once they fully die. The mottled surface drew in my eye as the green fades into various shades of brown.

The tree as a whole reminds me of a lanky teenager. It seems to sprout up each passing day, growing in height much more quickly than in circumference. Its shadow is small enough that, to find shade beneath it, one would need to move around again and again. I wonder what that is, to be a few decades removed from my adolescence–do I now cast a wider shadow? Has the frame of my existence filled out? What replaces growth as season after season passes by? I’m on the cusp of beginning to crinkle and develop some age spots. The tree seems content in its inbetween-ness, can I find the same easiness of presence?

Where are you at in the growth-transition-dying cycle of life, either overall or in a specific area? What is drying up and what is staking out its place in the horizon?