It all started with some gardening ...
After a particularly windy day, we found one morning that one of our gum trees had lost a large part of its trunk which was lying on the ground. Amazingly, the upper branches had completely missed a smaller blackcurrant tree, falling either side of it and leaving it completely untouched!
While helping my husband and son to clear away some of the smaller branches (to be honest they were doing most of the work!) I started looking at the leaves and gum nuts on the branches as I picked them up. I was struck by the differences in colour and leaf shape as well as the differences in the nuts, some of these had opened up and released their seeds while others were still closed. The ones that had opened were gnarled, brown and dry while the ones that were still closed had retained their mustard and green colour and smooth outside skins. You know, I look at these trees everyday and I always find it amazing that you can look at things but not really see them!
So I collected some samples of leaves of different shapes, on and off the branches as well as broke off some small parts of branches with gumnuts and leaves on them - just selecting what caught my eye.
Coming up with a design ...
Laying these out on a white background I took some photos just to record the shapes and colours even though I intended to work from the leaves themselves. I am certainly glad I did this as after a few days the brilliant colours started to dull and fade off and the plain white background really brought the colours to life.
My initial concept was to do a piece on white A3 paper of just a simple layout of different leaves that could be used for many ideas and also as an experimental piece to find out what worked and what didn't.
I pictured a rendering of the leaves in a 'relaxed details' sort of way using inks.
My new set of 36 Derwent Inktense blocks had just arrived that week which I thought would be perfect! Talk about excited, I couldn't wait to use them! (I always love getting new art products!!) I hadn't tried them before but was hoping they would be even better than the Inktense Pencils which I love, such rich deep colours.
Well after using them a little bit I can say they are great! The texture of the block is unexpectedly soft - firm enough to draw with them and still have that soft non-scratchy feel I so love with Derwents (if there is one thing I hate it is scratchy pencils). And the colour range - so nice to have inks in such a good range of colours. And you can paint with them too! I digress... but I do love these Inktense blocks - so versatile!!
To begin, begin ....
After reviewing the photos, I decided that I would focus on the leaves at this point, I selected these from my little collection, picking them to display range of colours and shapes and came up with a layout i liked. I then simply used the leaves as templates and drew a quick pencil outline around them to lock in my design.
I started each leaf with a simple outline in black pen and worked on building up colour and details of each leaf. Initially i would apply rough light shading using the inktense blocks like a pencil, then washing in and blending.
Never one to just attack with bold colours straight off, I found the soft natural tones of the gumleaves a perfect subject for me, allowing me to build up to colours in stages and try to bring the leaves to life. I found they still lacked something and it was then that i noticed the shadows and lightly painted them in with a brush - voila - perfect - exactly the effect I was after!! Putting the shadows in lifted them off the page.
My approach to building up the colours was looking at the basic tones and putting down a few quick strokes using the ink tense block like a pencil. I then used a brush to blend the colours in and when dry added deeper or different tones where needed. After initially using the inktense blocks as pencils, when the base colours were down i simply used them as paintbox with a bnrush. When I was happy that the colouring was finished and dry, I then outlined the leaf using firstly a plain black ballpoint and going over the top if that with red or green ink just using calligraphy pens. It is incredible the colours and details you see when you start looking. Some of the leaves might appear to be shades of green but they had a little red outline at the edge or gold/orange at their base. I have tried to pick up on these details in my drawing and also just using a black ball point added in some of the little black marks and bumps on the leaves.
Overall, really happy with the result, especially since this was my first piece after a few weeks of no art practice. It also suited my way of working which is more often stolen moments here and there in between other things and doing one leaf at a time meant I could just do that leaf and walk away and come back later without losing continuity. Something to remember for future projects!