Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A "Duh" Moment

While drawing the kitchen-window tree today, I noticed that one of the limbs has practically no bark left on it.

Of course, I have seen this every single time I drew it, and each time I would think, "What an interesting contrast in texture", and that's as far as my thinking went.

Today, for the first time, it occurred to me to wonder why the limb is losing its bark. It's too high to be rabbits or deer, and there's no bird that could do that. Squirrels don't eat bark.

Is the tree dying? Does it need to be trimmed? Is it a late symptom of the stress from the big ice storm eight years ago? Or is this just part of its life cycle? Will the bark grow back? Can the tree survive without bark?

I'm also wondering why it took me so long to make this connection. I think it's because the mental effort of drawing usually doesn't allow any "outside" thought at all. That's one reason it can be a very nice rest from life's usual run of problems. It's all you can do to handle the problems of getting the tree, or some part of it, on the page, and anything else has to be blotted out of your mind. But I've done this tree so many times lately that my mind felt able to let that one little thought in while dealing with the drawing.

Today I studied the bark, particularly the places where branches split off to become new ones. I tried different ways of using the pencils to see if the texture changed. (it did.) I tried a paper stomp, which I don't usually use, to see if it improved the smoothness of the barkless branch or the roughness of the barked. I think it contributed a bit to the round shape of the tree when used sparingly at the edges, but I don't think it helped the smooth trunk at all.

I'm realizing that I have never once done a sustained drawing of this tree or any other. I sometimes manage a graceful gesture, occasionally capture the idea of a massive trunk, but I always quit too soon to get any more than that. After that little bit of drawing, if the tree still attracted me, I would usually move on to paint or pastel. I'm not a detail painter and don't want to become one. My paintings go for big blocks and major movements.

But studying the subject in detail with different media, over and over, helps to develop a knowledge of the tree, an understanding that will strengthen the final product. Who knew?

That's why I call this a "Duh" moment.

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