Friday, 16 January 2015

Drawing & Painting Nature (iv) - Up close and personal with Winter twigs !

I may well have written a post about winter twigs on the blog before, but it's that time of year again when my eyes are peeled looking at trees when I pass them, to see how the buds are coming along.

This time, with the help of some amazing close-up photos I can show you 3 tree species and their winter twigs and buds in minute detail.

It may seem that trees are more difficult to identify in the winter months, but rest assured it can be an easier task than you think.  If it is an isolated tree in the landscape you can quite often stand back and have a look at its overall shape, but if trees and shrubs are often bunched up together such as in a species rich hedgerow, it can be more difficult to tell.

The painting below is an old one called Twigs of Kingcombe Hedgerows.  It is an old favourite and always raises much discussion about the variety of colours and textures, as well as beauty in winter twigs.  It also shows that if you look carefully you can soon tell the differences and start to identify trees on your winter walks.

Can you tell what species they are ?

© Sarah Morrish.  Twigs of Kingcombe Hedgerows

For my latest project I do really have to get up close and personal with winter twigs and the characteristics of each tree species.  I need to know every single bit of detail, especially of the buds, as I am going to be producing enlarged paintings of the buds themselves.  They are not going to be HUGE reproductions of the buds, but probably 5-10 times their actual size dependant on the tree and shrub species being studied.  So, onto my research.

A photographer friend came for a visit with his super macro lens and carefully went to work in capturing so much detail.  I could see the detail under microscope but I also needed digital images for reference too.

Here I am measuring the length of an Alder bud

An Alder bud up close

The female cones of Alder become darker and shed their seeds during winter

The male catkins of Alder, new this year, which will eventually turn more yellow and pendulous

The young twigs of Dogwood can appear slightly downy, although they are smooth to the touch.
As they age they become more shiny and redder. 


I was amazed with what I saw through the microscope.  Looking at them with the naked eye you just couldn't see the 'hairyness' of the young buds and bud scales.

The female flowers of Hazel emerging from their buds.

An enlarged version of the bud.  Underneath my hand you can just see the scale bar of the actual size of this bud and flower.  Here I am using a sable spotter brush

The edges of the bud scales often have a fringe of pale coloured hairs in places.  Along with this the twigs can often be quite hairy.

The beauty of the male catkins of Hazel.  They slowly open and release the pollen which then makes its way in the breeze to the female flowers

In this image you can clearly see the lenticels on the twig.

I hope you have enjoyed this close up view of winter twigs and their buds.  This will be an ongoing project, so I am sure there will be plenty more blog posts showing further features of other tree and shrub species.

If you would like a further read of other news, my winter newsletter is now published.  If you click on the link at the top of the right hand column, you can view and read a PDF of it.

There is also a link below that, that will take you to the page on the Natures Details website of the Summer School courses coming up in 2015.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Drawing & Painting Nature (iii) - with all good intentions !

Wishing everyone a very happy and creative new year !

The change of routine over the Christmas break was a welcome respite from the intensity of last term and the lead up to Christmas.

I didn't abandon my creativity completely, and spent some time trying to finish a couple of paintings for the SBA exhibition coming up in April.  Still a bit more to go until I can reveal them in their entirety.  One thing I did want to do was to get outside and do some sketching at Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.

I have spoken of this wonderful place before on this blog.  One end of the reserve overlooks the Solent towards the Isle of Wight and you have the reserve on one side of the road and the beach on the other.  At low tide I love exploring the shallow pools and scavenging for treasures to sketch along the strandline.

We had planned the day of our trip carefully, ensuring that we would go at low tide when some of the wintering birds may have been feeding on the scrapes area of the reserve.  The weather was icy cold and in the morning the reserve and surrounding area were covered in a mystical mist, that soon disappeared once the sun tried to push through.

Ice topped reeds on the reserve

Rather than take my full sketching field kit I had just packed an A4 cartridge pad and an F pencil.  I soon realised that I wouldn't be brave enough to sketch in the icy cold conditions, and I soon became mesmerised by looking through the camera lens and capturing what I saw in that way !  Nevertheless I came away with several images that I can incorporate into artwork.  

Wrapped up warm against the chill

Frozen lichen

A very distant view of a Kingfisher.  We watched it from one of the hides for about 5 mins, fishing from the 'bendy' reeds

Defrosting seeds and 'fluff' on a majestic Bullrush

The absolute highlight of the day was seeing a flock on Bearded tits move around the reserve.  These are birds that I have always wanted to see, I certainly wasn't disappointed !  

The first more distant image of the Bearded tits.  Despite not getting close-up images at this stage, it is always a delight to just stand and watch them and observe their feeding and communication behaviour.

I was in for a surprise after having a warming cup of tea in the cafe.  As we came out the Bearded tits had moved round to a point where you could really observe them closely, and the images below are the results.

If you would like to find out more about these stunning birds the RSPB has a good information page on the species.

Male (left) Female (right)

So the moral of this story, is not to become too bothered if field-sketching does not occur.  Just enjoy your time watching and observing the wildlife.

Meanwhile, in the studio I have had two visitors over the Christmas break.  Two Little owls on loan from the museum service.  My aim was not to complete a finished painting of them, but use them as reference for a study page in my natural history illustration sketchbook.

Little owl - work in progress.
Graphite pencil on cartridge paper.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed the first post of 2015.

Soon I will posting information about the courses and workshops that I will be teaching in 2015, along with exhibition dates too.

Can I just politely remind blog visitors, that all images on this blog are protected by copyright and may not be copied or reproduced in anyway.  I do not allow any images to be used on Pinterest.

Many thanks, happy painting !  Sarah