Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

The Witness Tree Project – art inspired by nature

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

The Witness Tree Project (photo)

A Witness Tree is a very old tree that has “witnessed” great events in history. There are such trees all over the world, which are treasured by those who know them. One example is a honeylocust tree in Gettysburg, which is the only tree still standing that was there when Abraham Lincoln dedicated the battlefield cemetery in 1863. Witness trees are living links to the past, yet they don’t last forever, and it’s always sad when we lose one to storms or disease.

Ancient pecan tree being taken down

Ancient pecan tree at the Hampton National Historic Site

In 2009, two professors at the Rhode Island School of Design, in collaboration with the Hampton National Historic Site, created what would become the Witness Tree Project, now in its third year. Professors Dale Broholm (Furniture) and Daniel Cavicchi (History) and the National Parks Service designed a program where students study and produce artworks from witness trees that have recently fallen. It is interdisciplinary learning at its best, as students study the history and culture surrounding the tree, and use that to inform their work.

As their website explains: “In addition to classroom study, the Project variously involves field trips, guest lectures, exhibitions of students’ objects, and other events that highlight the significance of material culture, landscape, and design in learning about American history.”

The first tree used in the program was a pecan tree that had lived for over 150 years at the Hampton National Historic Site, a former plantation near Baltimore (see photo above). In 2010, they worked with trees from both the George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Sagamore Hill (the homestead of Theodore Roosevelt). This year, students are working with an historic Elm from the Olmsted site.

Below are just a few of the pieces created by students from 2010, and you can see many more amazing pieces here. Artwork from the current year’s project will be posted to their website later this year.

by Athena Lo

Athena Lo

Elish Warlop

Elish Warlop

Ben Kicic

Ben Kicic

Clara Zavani

Clara Zavani

Brett Dunnam

Brett Dunnam

Christopher Gent

Christopher Gent

Brendan Kiem

Brendan Kiem

Desmond Delanty

Desmond Delanty

Yu-Chuan Liu

Yu-Chuan Liu

Ming Yi-Wong

Ming Yi-Wong

Additional reading: Students Collaborate with National Park Service (article).

Writing books and pruning trees

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Apple trees in spring

Spring is here, and that means gardening season.  The parallels between writing and gardening are many, and have been appreciated by writers for generations – planting a seed, nurturing the sprouts, weeding out what is unnecessary, watching it blossom, etc.

A few weeks ago, I set out to prune an apple tree and was confronted by a massive maze of branches. The spindly sticks overlapped in all directions, making it nearly impossible to see which branches constituted the main structure of the tree, the ones that formed the backbone and needed room to grow.

I could not think how to begin, but I did notice one branch that obviously needed to go. It twisted up against another branch so that they seemed to be wrestling to the death. So I picked up the shears and lopped it off, and it came down with all its spindly branches like a giant urchin.

As soon as this branch was gone, my view of the tree became much clearer, I could see the main shape as it should be, and noticed other branches that could be taken away. With each branch I cut, the true nature of the tree became clearer.

So it is with editing a manuscript, sometimes just taking away one piece will allow you to see the rest with more clarity. And pruning a manuscript has one distinct advantage over pruning a tree – if you change your mind, you can always put the words back.

A tree for all seasons

Friday, March 18th, 2011

When people think of looking at trees, March is not usually the month that comes to mind. At least in the northern climates, March is a month when the world seems colorless, trees are bare, and the ground is either frozen or soggy. We are exhausted from winter and just want to see spring.

But I think winter trees, stripped of all their leaves, can be really amazing to look at. You can see all the twisting branches, the intricate patterns. Light falls differently in the winter, weather changes often, and nearly every day creates a different view.

A Swedish photographer named Stefan Jansson photographed the same tree every week for a year, to observe how it changed. The results are truly remarkable, as you can see the tree as it passes through variations that most of us don’t even notice. Look through the slideshow above or view his whole set of photos on Flickr to see the amazing variety from this one tree.

So don’t wait until autumn – trees can be appreciated all year long, if you just take the time to look.

Arthur Rackham’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday, November 12th, 2010

TreeNovember always puts me in the mind for Arthur Rackham, one of my favorite illustrators. I especially love how he draws trees, which are like living, breathing creatures with personalities all their own.

With a limited palette and spare lines, his paintings are full of raw emotion, and he finds beauty in the most gnarled and thorny landscapes. His palette was mostly due to the limited color printing process at the time, though you can tell he’s right at home with it, and can channel a thousand subtleties in its limited range.

These illustrations are all from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. For a tale so entwined with nature and magical creatures, Rackham is the perfect fit. Notice how the characters and backgrounds are seamlessly blended together, so that the landscape becomes a character in itself. When not illustrating, Rackham did a lot of sketching landscapes outdoors, and it shows in his work. I encourage you to find books with his illustrations, to see all the amazing detail.

Also see my post from last year about Arthur Rackham’s amazing trees.

* * *

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

* * *

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

* * *

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

* * *

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

* * *

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

* * *

The Sibley Guide to Trees

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

The Sibley Guide to TreesAutumn is a great time to look at trees, and a new tree guide was published last year by David Allen Sibley, best known for his bird books. The Sibley Guide to Trees is more than just an identification guide, it is a veritable encyclopedia covering over 600 kinds of trees found in North America. Best of all, the book doesn’t use photographs, it uses illustrations, all painted by Sibley himself.

Why take the time to draw each tree and leaf rather than photograph it? As the author explains in the video below, an artist has the ability to create a more representative image by combining many examples, and can show the object in the best light for the viewer to see and understand.  The artist can also emphasize certain details, allowing us to see things in a new way.

Art and science were far more closely aligned years ago, in the days before cameras, when the only way to document the world was to draw it. But the benefits of drawing have not gone away. To draw something is to know it better, and a drawing can often teach us things about the world that a photograph cannot.

Sample page from The Sibley Guide to Trees

Sample page from The Sibley Guide to Trees

The illustrations by David Allen Sibley for his tree guide (as with his bird books) are accurate and precise, yet also have an artistic flair all their own. They capture the essence and texture of the natural world. And he doesn’t just depict trees from a distance, but also shows the individual leaves, the bark, the seeds, the flowers, and whichever details are most pertinent to that tree. And the pages are large enough to let you really see the art. The text perfectly complements and explains the pictures, and both work seamlessly together.

Below are some additional links to learn about the author and his work:

David Allen Sibley official website

The author’s information about trees

An interview with the author about his tree book

Another interview with the author about his books

Finally, here is the author talking about how he created his tree guide, and why he prefers illustrations rather than photographs.

* * *

The Secret of Kells, the beauty of nature

Friday, April 9th, 2010

kells07

There are many reasons to love the new animated film The Secret of Kells, and not least is the way it portrays nature. More than just a picturesque backdrop, nature plays an integral part in the story, and is practically a character in itself, personified by the forest sprite Aisling. She is a vibrant presence in the film, both childish and wise, who protects the forest and yet is vulnerable to the dark forces that lurk there. She teaches Brendan, the cloistered hero of the film, about the beauty of her forest as well as the dangers.

kells09

The visual portrayals of the trees and plants are spectacular, and the stylized lines and animation make you feel the growing, thriving life that dwells within. In one scene, Brendan scales an impossibly tall and twisted growth of trees to find the small berries that grow at the top, and the symbolism of life and rebirth is subtle but powerful. The film is filled with such small moments, that add up to a collective tapestry of the natural world as a vital force all around us. The book that Brendan helps to create not only contains images inspired by the forest, but the inks are made from ingredients found there. Nature inspires art, in more ways than one.

Below are some more images from this magical film. If you want to read more about The Secret of Kells, I wrote about it over at the Creative Juices blog. Better yet, go see it!

kells02

.

kells13

.

kells04

.

kells09

.

kells06

Arthur Rackham’s Amazing Trees

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

bw_trees1Many people stop looking at trees after the leaves fall off, but this is when I think trees become the most interesting. And one of the best artists at interpreting trees in all their raw, twisted glory is the great Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). He was famous for illustrating classic fantasy and children’s books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and influenced generations of artists who came after him.

His trees are especially unique, and often become characters in the story. The world of humans and nature come together, and it is often hard to distinguish between his whimsical characters and their surrounding landscape. He had a flair for making his trees seem like living creatures, often literally with faces and arms, but also just by their organic and sinewy shape, as they grip the earth with their claw-like roots.

So the next time you go walking in the winter, stop to notice the trees, and you may be pleasantly surprised. I will discuss more of Rackham’s work in future posts, but in the meantime, here are just some of his amazing trees.

Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood

Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle

Grimm's Fairy Tales

Grimm's Fairy Tales

Tales From Mother Goose

Tales From Mother Goose

* * * * *

Autumn artwork by Kristina Swarner

Monday, November 16th, 2009

kristina_swarmer_autumnboy

Autumn is fast disappearing, as the few remaining leaves manage to cling to the trees. It is a season of transition, all the more precious because of its fleeting nature. Here are some beautiful fall images by artist Kristina Swarner that perfectly evoke the feeling of autumn, when leaves are turning, seeds are scattering, and birds are flying south.

Kristina is the illustrator of several children’s books, and her lyrical work is very much inspired by nature. You can see more of her work at her website.

kristina_swarmer_vineyard

kristina_swarmer_leafboy

Images © by Kristina Swarner

* * * * * * *

The nature drawings of Andrew Millner

Monday, October 26th, 2009
40º 53' 54.5"N, 73º 54' 45.3"W (Wavehill Dogwood)

40º 53' 54.5"N, 73º 54' 45.3"W (Wavehill Dogwood)

Andrew Millner is an artist who creates digital images of plants and trees, exploring the natural world and the way we see it. His method is to take photographs from many angles and trace contour drawings on a computer tablet. The resulting images are amazingly detailed and very unique. Here is an excerpt from his own artist statement:

What is “nature?”  What is “natural?”  These questions are increasingly difficult to answer as the borders of the natural and artificial continue to blur.  As the sphere of human influence grows larger, questions about our relationship to the “natural” and our place in it prove ever more pressing.

The digital medium describes all things equally; the near and the far, the large and the small, without the prejudice inherent in our familiar acts of looking. The idiosyncrasies of my hand trace over photographs taken from multiple points of view. Through the process of zooming in and out, the drawings capture information outside the experience of the human eye or camera. The closer one gets to these works, the more one can see.  It is a pure act of drawing, evoking a mental map of the natural world.

For his gallery shows, Millner prints out his works on a huge scale, allowing the viewer to explore them in all their scope and detail. The monochromatic palette focuses attention on the patterns and forms, and lets us marvel at the maze of branches and leaves. The relationship between the digital and natural world is a something we have only begun to grapple with as a society, and these works are a beautiful example of how art can help us move towards a better understanding of our world.

Andrew Millner’s work is on display through October 28th at the Miller Block Gallery in Boston.  I also encourage you to visit his website where you can see close-up/interactive views of his drawings.

38º 39' 16.66"N, 90º 18' 43.6"W (Red Bud)

38º 39' 16.66"N, 90º 18' 43.6"W (Red Bud)

38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.9"W (dogwood)

38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.9"W (dogwood)

Cribbed Cacti 2

Cribbed Cacti 2

38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.4"W (brwn/white cherry)

38º 39' 8.5"N, 90º 18' 46.4"W (brwn/white cherry)

* * * * *