vendredi 18 janvier 2008


Trees, more specifically the drawing and painting of trees, never cease to fascinate me. Often, the winter cold prevents me from drawing or painting them on site. In the spring I venture to the banks of Rivière-des-Prairies near home to draw their form. It is a great time of year to do studies of trees because their foliage has yet to obliterate trunks and branches. Many parks, including the nature park Île de la Visitation lining the Back River, anticipate my arrival to sketch and contemplate their trees.

The Rivière des Prairies (Literally River of Meadows, sometimes called the Back River) is a delta channel of the Ottawa River in southwestern Quebec. Flowing west to east, it bisects the Hochelaga Archipelago and rises in the Lac des Deux-Montagnes. It divides the Island of Montreal to the south from Île Jésus and Île Bizard to the north, and flows into the Saint Lawrence River at the eastern tip of the Island of Montreal.

Most of the sketches illustrated here were drawn on Montreal Island. Some were sketched with a 2B or 4B graphite pencil. Others were inked with a waterproof pen. Values were then added with a Graphite Aquarell pencil, either HB, 4B or 8B. A reservoir paint bush was used to dilute the pencil strokes in order to quickly render the subtle tones of the forms.

The universal subject of tree forms is an excellent motif for the beginner to tackle. They usually present themselves as rather flat shapes. Therefore one does not have to deal with complex rules of perspective. A few strokes with a drawing tool will indicate a tree or part of one. Yet John F. Carlson devotes a whole chapter to trees in his classic Guide to Landscape Painting. The author answers the beginner’s question: “How do you paint a tree?” with the retort, “By understanding trees”. Later in the text Carlson says: “The painting of trees is best accomplished by much drawing of trees.”

Most of us, even city dwellers, do not have far to go to draw trees. Some stand right outside our homes. You can even draw trees from a photo as I have done of a huge spruce that stood on our property until recently. Aging gracefully it fell and I was drawn to do a last testimonial of it by sketching sections of its trunk from a photo. We all can get emotionally attached to trees, especially those that grew up with us or that we matured around. Posted below is my daughter’s verbal salute to the tree that loved us both.


Stoic witnesses, Oak, Elm, Pine et al.
Are you loved? Have you hugged a human today?
Wrapped leaves and bark and blessed the lips of kings and thieves?
Who knows your curves and cores and fallen branches?
I do, I think I do, of some, of a few.
Where thick the games of camp, you see the prowling paws of youths,
(we hid under boughs and kissed your feet,)
And spell out magic in unending green sheets, coded text replete,
Finding your patterns, pines to valleys, deciduous to peaks
All roots entangled passing our histories via sap; You know us far more than we do you.

In city you hold your breath in cubicles of cement
The tempo of your span marbling with the click of heels and streetlight counters,
Blessing the busy with respite from their urban jungle
A convent of nodding leaves.
Global shifts inter the tallest, oldest, cracked, felled, here and there,
and we sigh and remember
How you grew, how many hands knew you.
A romantic breeze jostles, a kid climbs, a kite catches, a kat’s curious, what fun
An updraft whips your sleeping buds, we look for clouds
An avid gust shakes your trunk, records circular hold tight within
as we scurry indoors, warned by a rare creak
take cover

Wind, jealous, invisible ax.
And only now can I lay my hands on your heart and count the years
I knew you. You will heat my bones, you will melt to sheets
so that I may tell and pen and root my history

Poem by A. J. Murphy

Art by Raynald Murphy sca

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