|6/25/21 A nature journal page of our neighbor's sour cherry tree|
We’ve been enjoying many al fresco meals this month on our back deck, which is shady almost all day. (Although we eat out there every summer, it has seemed like more of a treat during the pandemic; even Thai takeout is special when eaten outdoors on a warm evening.) Because I’m out there so often, staring at our neighbors’ trees and our own unkempt yard, I think about them as sketch subjects more than I usually do.
The neighbors behind us have a large tree growing right next to the fence between our properties. It explodes into a profusion of small white blossoms that I enjoy welcoming as a harbinger of early spring, but the rest of the year, it’s one of those amorphous trees that I dread sketching. I can’t back away from it enough to see it from a distance, so it remains formless and shapeless – a green blob. I can’t even see its trunk well behind all the messy foliage (theirs and ours).
During a recent meal, I suddenly noticed that the tree is now covered with small red dots (barely visible from across the yard). Curious, I examined the fruits more closely. They looked too tiny to be cherries, but with the help of my ever-knowledgeable social media followers, I learned that it is a sour cherry tree (Prunus cerasus). Learning this somehow motivated me to try to sketch the tree along with the fruit. And what the heck – why not make it even more challenging by using the primary triad I’ve been experimenting with?
This time I thought I’d look for the triad in non-soluble Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils. The hues I picked out are nearly the same as those I used from the Museum Aquarelle palette recently (Caran d’Ache’s hues match in both lines), except I found a yellow Luminance that I think is closer to Prismacolor’s Canary: Lemon Yellow (240). In fact, I think it blends better with Purplish Red (350) and Phthalocyanine Blue (162), so I found it in the Museum Aquarelle line and swapped it for the Yellow (10) I had been using. For the darkest value, I used Luminance’s Bleu De Nimes (135). Unfortunately, that color has been omitted from the Museum Aquarelle line – I think it should be added! It’s not quite as neutral as Prismacolor’s versatile Black Grape, but it’s close.
|Caran d'Ache Luminance primary triad: Purplish Red (350), Lemon Yellow (240) and Phthalocyanine Blue (162), plus Bleu De Nimes (135) for the darkest value.|
Although I’m not much of a nature journaler (you might say that I’m a backyard nature journaler), I like the tradition of drawing a tree with small insets of its leaves, blossoms, fruits, cones or other details, so I planned the page that way. I had to prune the tree a bit to leave space for the cherries, but my 7 ½-inch square-format Stillman & Birn Zeta worked out well otherwise.
|Plein air studio (also known as folding camp table)|
Seated at my comfortably shaded plein air studio desk (also known as a folding camp table), I squinted violently, repeating Kathleen Moore’s mantra: “If I can’t see it when I squint, don’t draw it.” The shapeless, formless blob remained so, but Kathleen’s classes have trained my eyes to better see the values in the formlessness. (I resisted drawing red dots for the cherries because when I squinted, I couldn’t see them!) Working with a limited palette always has some challenges, but I must say I am really starting to love and appreciate the simplicity and ease of three primaries. The highly contrasting yet harmonious hues seem to vibrate optically.
Using the same triad, I finished the page with a few cherries and a leaf. These proved to be even more challenging than the tree. For botanical studies, my impulse is to always use as “realistic” colors as possible, and the triad wouldn’t give me the red I wanted for the cherries. Once I climbed over the barrier of “realism,” however, I was pleased by the cohesiveness of the page.
|Comfy in the shade just before our historic Heat Dome hit!|