Sunday, January 20, 2013

Winter Drawing

Go Draw a Tree or Two!

On Friday, Todd joined me for a long day's roundtrip to New York. I had a delivery to make at my New York gallery, and we wanted to steal a few moments at the Metropolitan as well. We managed two hours in the museum, and a bit of time in the museum shop. And I came away with a new Constable book. (I might as well confess it now: it's one of at least a dozen.)

Evans, Mark, John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publishing, London: 2011

In 1983, I attended a lecture on Constable, given by Graham Reynolds, at the Metropolitan Museum. Afterward, I was introduced to him and he autographed my copy of Constable's England, the catalog for the concurrent exhibition at the museum. Through a friend, I subsequently received an invitation to visit Reynolds and his wife on my upcoming visit to England.

At that time Reynolds was the recently retired Keeper (curator) of Paintings at the Victoria and Albert in London, and was the indisputable Constable expert.

Off I went to Bury St. Edmunds, spending two nights with Graham and his wife Daphne (who was a well-regarded artist). They were tremendously kind to me, and Graham and I spent hour after hour speaking of Constable. For me, through his scholarship, Graham became Constable's oldest living relative----and for me it was bliss.  Let me assure you that in 1983 I had a very bad case of Constable.

Since then, though I've had brief flings with some other heroes, I always seem to come back to Johnny. Thus I was doubly pleased to see that my new Constable book is dedicated to Graham Reynolds.

So what has this got to do with drawing trees?

Well I'm getting to that. 

Most of my students, to my dismay, don't spend enough time just drawing. It would be a great deal easier for many of them to paint a tree if they had some idea of the tree's form, under the leaves.

Winter is the absolute best time to learn about trees. There are no great masses of green to get in the way. One can easily draw from the car if the weather's too bitter, and the even, gray light is a nice neutral background.

So let me encourage you to do so. 

Of course you'll probably think that I won't know whether or not you took this advice. 

And I won't----except when we're painting outside in the Spring, or in England or France in June. 

If you've taken the time to do some learning now, you will paint trees en plein air as you never have before. And you and I will both know.

Now back to Constable.

In 1824, John painted this oil on paper, Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree.

John Constable, Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree, 12 x 9.75 ", oil on paper, 1824, Victoria and Albert, London,

My new book tells me a bit about Constable's impact on Lucien Freud, arguably the greatest British artist of the 20th century. 

"(Lucien Freud's) 2003 etching after (Constable's) Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree was made in homage to a work he had admired since the age of seventeen:

Lucien Freud, Elm Tree after Constable, 2003
Victoria and Albert Museum,

 Of course, Freud's etching is the reverse of Constable's oil sketch. But what particularly struck me, from this giant of  modern painting, was his remark about his experience:

' I'd seen the little painting of the tree trunk, close-up in the V&A...and I thought what a good idea. That's the thing, I thought. Trees. They are everywhere. Do one of those. A close-up. Real bark. So I took my easel out and put it down in front of a tree and found it completely impossible.' "

Now, when I stop to think about what a miserable figure painter I am, I'll take heart from Freud's collision with the task of drawing a tree. 

So go draw a tree. You don't want end up like Lucien Freud.

Donald Jurney, graphite on paper, 1994. This is a scary, pollarded tree from the French sketchbook. It has always seemed to me, afterward, that it had one eye fixed on me. I didn't notice that as I drew it.





  1. Very interesting, Donald. We loved seeing your latest works in progress and the tree that you just recently did, too. Thank you. I look at yours, Constable's and Freud's, here on the blogpost, on my Mac screen, how many degrees removed from their original state. . . and even so, manage to see in all of them something that wants to come alive and move, like animation in Fantasia! To me, that is part of the magic of art. Among other things!

  2. OK, thanks for the advice. Will do (my inspiration (attempted, of course) is JD Harding - love his drawings...

  3. Hahaaa...Nice parting comment, "You don't want to end up like Lucien Freud". What a real treasure this book is. The tree you posted here was my favorite image in the book..funny. It's largely a collection of small landscape oil studies and sketches, the close up study of the tree stands out amongst of my take always was how simple it was. It does make one want to take the painting gear outside to a tree and get cracking.

  4. I picked up a copy of this Constable book on the day we visited the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute - it is a gem.
    And one can never draw or paint too many trees....they are all so different. Today, perhaps from a warm window - it's cracking cold out there!