Burnham Beeches is famous for its ancient Beech pollards. A few years ago I drew one of these trees with its gnarled hollow trunk. The tree may be 500 years old, and possibly began life as a bundle of saplings planted together in one hole, so that as the young trees grew their trunks fused together. Later they may have been pollarded, so that the new growth would be above the reach of grazing animals. All of this history has had an impact on the form of the gnarled old Beech tree we see today. My drawing therefore does not just represent a native species, but also part of our cultural heritage, which is why I thought it was suitable for an exhibition depicting our native flora.
I began my drawing by using proportional dividers to plot the basic structure of the tree from a photograph on to the paper. This is rather like plotting a graph and is essential to get an accurate portrait of the subject at that moment in time.
When I am working on the twigs and leaves of a tree, I find that as I walk past any tree of the same species I notice the angles at which the leaves and twigs are held – this varies depending on whereabouts on the tree they are growing, because the function of leaves is photosynthesis and the twigs hold the leaves at exactly the right angle for them to absorb the most light. I make quick sketches of leaves and shoots at the top of the tree, the sides, those low down at the front and also of leaves at the back of the tree and silhouetted against the sky. All these details need to be used in the correct places on the drawing so that the final piece incorporates as much of the character of the species and the actual tree being drawn as possible.