Saturday, 28 May 2022

What to consider when creating an image of Birch (or Aspen) Trees

 I know that tolerance is a good thing..............but it is something I sometimes lack, and when it comes to images of trees, I have recently seen rather too many images of Birch or Aspen trees, which I find difficult to be tolerant about!

I appreciate this is subjective.  You may like these images, and my "tolerant" self says you are entitled to like what you like.  However, please let the intolerant me show you what I dislike, and then I will explain why!

Here are two examples of things to perhaps avoid:

I can almost hear you saying "not a lot wrong with those, what is she on about?

Well - to my eye -

The top ones look flat, like stage scenery.  The change of scale between fat trunks and thinner is varied, which is good, and the spacing is interesting too, but where is the sense of a round trunk?  And the fact that a tree trunk is organic, not absolutely straight up and down? Why does the one on the left look like a train signal?  

The second picture looks like a row of fence posts...all evenly spaced.  One of them gets fatter in the middle, which to my eye looks odd;  all of them have straight tops which are catching the light despite being inside a canopy of leaves...??... and again, there is no sense of the curve of the trunk.

So what do we need to look for with these kinds of trees? 

Here is a sketched pair of tree trunks.  The one of the left could be a strip of white glass, with black lines.  It could also be a ruler!   The one on the right looks more like a tree could start as a straight strip of glass, but a little work with a grinder could shape it, and a little dust of dark powder would give a shadow on one side, for the form, and the texture could either be painted on, or the powder pushed into position.

Here are some photos with explanations to help you sharpen up your observation. 

This trunk above looks curved...we know it is curved because it is catching the sun on one side, and the other side is in shadow. A flat plank of wood could not do this.  Also, the marks curve around the trunk, they are not straight lines.
Another thing to note is how nicely organic and varied in size the bark marks are.

This is one of my own, rather ancient glass images.  I confess there are things I would do differently today, but just for learning purposes.....notice that the trunks go right up to the top of the piece and right down to the base, so the eye of the viewer extends the tree in both directions.  Notice too that the branch stretching out to the right is slimmer than the trunk, and looks natural and organic and not at all like a train signal.

Another glass piece by Anne Cavanaugh....a tangly copse of silver birches:
again...Anne has encouraged us to realise how tall and elegant these trees are, by showing the bases of some trees, which are behind the ones in the very foreground, yet they stretch up and apparently beyond the top of the glass.  They are willowy, and natural in form, and their little side branches are narrow and willowy too.  They are not all upright like telegraph poles, some lean slightly;  they bunch together in places; leaves obscure the trunks in places too and there is a sense of roundness in the trunks despite no obvious sun or shadow, it is all done with the marks.

Silver birches, and Aspens, are tall and slender, generally. (If you are very close to one, you will only see a section so it will appear rather fatter than trees in the distance of course} So a piece of glass that is a tall rectangle may help you to emphasise this wonderfully tall, leggy character of these beautiful trees.

Observation is the key.  If you plan to create some images with these lovely white trees, it is really a good idea to go out and look at them carefully.  See how their shapes alter, or IF their shapes alter and where...see how the trunks and boughs and branches differ...observe how the light shows their form.....notice how their dark marks curve...some of them dipping down, as you look down, others curving up and around as you look up the tree.

You do not have to create "realistic" trees of course, you can choose how you want to create them.  You can abstract, or stylise your trees, to create something more suggestive - a personal view. If you do want to use abstraction, you probably do not need the "form" in the same way.  See how this is all about flat shapes and non-literal colour, no sense of curving form:

 However you choose to work, one thing I recommend is to look first, and create later.  Then you may find yourself more pleased than you expected.

For more learning, and to begin to really sharpen your powers of observation, I have  tutorials with general art instruction for creating well-observed and crafted trees, and also aspects of composition, on my website, just click below and then go to the tutorials page:  look out for "Capturing Trees in glass" and also for "Creating Depth and Dynamic Design in a glass landscape"

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