Twisted tree trunks and branches – pencil on paper

It is impossible to capture every detail of a landscape in a sketch. Whether drawing from harbour walls, a panoramic landscape or seascape, or in this case the woodland interior, I can only respond to a fraction of what I am seeing.

This is the joy of plein air sketching, I feel. No matter the subject, my response will be different from the next persons. The never-ending layers of trees that retreat into the distance are so overwhelming at first glance that I am forced to make choices on what I draw and how. I think the woodland is the most detailed and intricate landscape I have attempted in my sketchbooks. The branches, leaves and twigs are infinite.

Often when drawing harbours and buildings (that were my main subject a few years ago), it is easier to break everything down into more simple shapes of dark and light or to use lines in a gestural way that only hint at the complexity of the scene.

Photograph of woodland trees receding into the distance

Capturing the endless layers of the trees in photos

With the woodland sketching, it has been more challenging for me to do this – it is just impossible to know when to stop! Mainly it is dictated by the limits of time, which is a good thing. I am not able to sit there all day – although in the future I may well do. But for these sketches, and with say twenty minutes or half an hour to draw,  I have to make decisions on what to add and what to ignore.

I have a feeling that I will get better at this – simplifying over time and as I get more familiar with what I am drawn to the most about these woodland scenes.

I take tonnes of photos too. They help me back at home and in the studio to think of the many layers and in particular the atmosphere – the wonderful way details appear and disappear into the distance. My thought is that the photos are not a tool for me to add everything in when I am working back in my studio but they do allow me possibilities to take my sketches further. Maybe there will be some details that show up in the paintings. Maybe not. We shall see!

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