In his book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon urges his readers to get comfortable with the idea of taking inspiration from other’s work, stealing the best ideas and making something new with them. Look at the work of other artists and naturalists as a smorgasbord of ideas and techniques. Don’t just sit there and say “wow, that is soooooo good” but mine art your respect for ideas and techniques that are portable. See what you can take and use in your own work. I do this all the time. A close look at my work will reveal echos of Clare Walker Leslie (the author of my first and most influential book on nature drawing), Hannah Hinchman, Cathy Johnson, and other wonderful teachers. Find work that you like, figure out why you are drawn to it, then try those new ideas yourself.
This step-by-step tutorial of how to draw aspen in winter is a good example of how I take other’s ideas and make them my own. Click on the first image to start a step-by-step slideshow that takes you through the process of drawing the trees with watercolor and gouache.
My friend and jouranling teacher Laurie Wigham suggested to start by finding what it is you love, and then finding the medium or way to express it. A wonderful approach. It turns out she got the idea from journaling master Andie Thrams. I wonder where she got the idea? I was drawn to calligraphy of patterns of aspen bark and the contrast of white bark against a darkening winter woodland.
I painted the bark with pale ochre-green and added a second light coat of grey. I left the edges of the trees white to suggest backlighting. I got the idea of the little frames around a study like this from looking at sketches by Cathy Johnson.
In her book A Trail Through Leaves, Hannah Hinchman includes a sketch of aspen against a dark background. This is one of my favorite sketches in the book. Though I was not aware of it at the time, I am sure that it was in the back of my head as I painted the contrasting background of Indatherone Blue watercolor.
A little diluted Permanent White gouache suggests distant trees. I lifted out the bases of the trees with a damp brush to make them blend into the watercolor. The little branch was drawn in with a white gel pen. My last step was to add a little texture to one of the background trees- not too much or it would have popped into the foreground.