The secret wood

I have recently been lucky enough to  become a member of a group called the Arborealists who are passionate about nature and in particular trees. Each artist in the group uses a different style or  medium  and the work varies from tiny to huge-  There were   watercolours  of at least a couple of metres long  in a recent exhibition and there are also wonderful etchings, oils, prints of trees made on  handmade paper using leaves from the same tree,  huge  draped, dangling installations of abstract work on paper made by a collaboration of artists and much more. It is really exciting .

What is also very inspiring is the number of projects that are being lined up  throughout UK and in France too.  I joined the group just in time to be involved with a project that will  culminate in an exhibition in Uk next year. There is a secret wood that has been unmanaged for many years as an ecological experiment and barely any humans have entered it for decades. The group have been given permission to  visit the woodland  to gather information, paint and draw and  the resulting works will  be exhibited. We paid a spring visit to the wood  recently and will  return in the autumn. It will be interesting to see how  the atmosphere changes  with the  different plants and cycles of vegetation, the differing colours and  weather of a new season. This  theme is endlessly fascinating to me.

When we visited in April the wood was a shimmering haze of  tender greens, flecks and speckles. White stars of wild garlic shone out from the  earthy floor and ferns with their shuttlecock feathered leaf patterns   sat snugly among last year’s crunchy bronzed leaves . I sat under   a group of  ancient yew trees  to paint the textured bark and twisting shapes of the trunks.  It felt like a dark oasis of earth   and shadow  under the  evergreen trees. Through the gaps  I could see  the  delicate  filigree and sparkle of the  sunlit foliage in the more open woodland beyond.

As I made my sketches I began to feel that perhaps what I had chosen as a subject did not best capture the overall atmosphere of the wood . I had spent a long time earlier wandering through the varied tangled treescapes looking, listening to birdsong, smelling the scent of the wild garlic,looking again, soaking up the feel of the place  before settling. I  remembered the words of my late father in one of his books*:’ I like to settle quickly wherever I happen to be and see what I can make of the material immediately available, looking at in terms of interesting patterns.” It saves endless time spent walking around  looking for the paintable subject.’  Sound advice as it is not what the subject is but how we interpret it that can make it interesting. I noticed one of the other artists had immediately settled in front of  some shrubs that to me looked uninspiring and noted how she stayed there for the whole two days , painting it in detail. Perhaps I should have chosen something earlier? Maybe I should be painting, not sketching? In fact , what I had  been drawing was probably  complete rubbish in comparison to her amazing work!  I realised that I could go two ways with these thoughts. I could either learn from them and act accordingly or allow all my insecurities and doubts creep in. I decided that  the lesson I would take from this was to be more confident about my  decisions because it was how I interpreted the subject that mattered.   My paintings are not ‘of’ the woodland’  but  ‘about’ it and the arguably ‘wasted’ time spent  gazing and absorbing the sense of the place was actually crucial to my way of working, as it becomes more towards abstract and less about representation.

               ‘fallen tree’ in the secret wood.

I found it fascinating and sometimes worrying over the weekend to get a glimpse into the way other artists work and discovered a few things about myself.  I decided not to allow other  artist’s  creative decisions feed my  negative self doubts  but  let the experience  strengthen  my sense of being ‘me’ . Creativity is not hierarchic. There isn’t a ‘best’ way to do things.  Whatever I or any of us decide to do artistically can be  unique and valid.


* ‘Watercolour -Practise and progress’ by G. John Blockley published in 1985 by  A&C Black ( out of print)


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