Friday, January 8, 2010

Habits of branching

Here are two wildly different sorts of trees . I am sure you know that's an oak on the left and birch on the right. There are many different trees out there, where you live (particularly you guys in Malaysia and Australia) have a whole different set than we do here in New England. I am no expert on botany, although I know what most of the trees I see are, I observe their differences as an artist at a level useful to me. I am pointing out things to look for that are hopefully common to wherever you are working.

Different trees throw their branches at their own preferred angle. The oak, for instance on the left, above, sends its branches out at a right angle to the trunk, the oak is a hardwood and extremely stout and strong. Look at this close up of the branch leaving its trunk.

Those enormous branches are cantilevered out into space, there is also a buttress on the trunk, a swelling beneath the branch to help carry its massive weight. The smaller limbs and even the twigs of the tree look to some extent like this too. It is sort of that trees personal "style" or habit. Below is a close up of the branches of a birch.

This is a different habit, The branches fork. They do it at pretty much the same angle, but it is a different angle than the oak. Again that angle is repeated all over the tree from its largest branches to the smallest and into the twigs.

So there is a formula, a mathematical angle that a tree will usually install into its branches. That angle which the tree prefers, differs from specie to specie but each sort of tree has one. Below is an old maple that has a different sort of habit.

This maple likes to send its branches out in a rounded elbow shape. They come out from the trunk and then turn upwards in a gradual curve. To draw these trees it is good to observe how they hold their branches and then characterize it a little. Show that you know it, and then express it to the viewer. Just a little, don't lecture, but show em how your tree works.


Anonymous said...

I feel as though I know THOSE birches -- can you say where you took that picture? --Elizabeth

Ann Buckner said...

Excellent reading. Now I'm looking at trees trying to note the differences in the way they branch.

Robert J. Simone said...

"Just show them you know it. Don't lecture." Good advice!

Billy Guffey said...

You know, Stape, a grove of aspen trees are actually one organism. Some say the largest organism in the world. All the trees connected by a common root system. The trees are actually "stems" coming up through the ground from the root. Each grove of aspens have trees that are identical in the angle of the limbs from the trunk.

Philip Koch said...

I love this series of posts on trees. I don't think there is anybody else out there who writes this stuff.

There's the old book by Rex Vicat Cole, The Artistic Anatomy of Trees from perhaps around the turn of the last century or there abouts. It got way too bogged down with too much information that to my mind got in the way of an artist really looking and connecting to actual trees. Stape's account is succinct and much more useful to my way of thinking.

Philip Koch said...

About the birch tree photos- I'm forced by evil spirits to live south of the Mason Dixon line (a pitiable existence, trust me). Here the only white birches we have are planted by homeowners. The darned little trees literally wilt in the summer's scorching sun and look like they'd like to be put out of their misery.

I didn't know that fact about aspens that Bill Guffey writes in. Very impressive thought!

Mary Byrom said...

I did botanical illustration in college and these descriptions are wonderful for painters. And such nice pictures showing the character of the tree.
Bill, very interesting fact about aspens. I found it easy to paint trees in Idaho, there seemed to be only a few different types compared to what I see in New England. It was the lack of atmosphere in the air I found most difficult to adjust to.

billspaintingmn said...

Very helpful advice Stape. I like
trees in my paintings, and their
character.So to show 'em I know 'em
says I'm barking up the right tree!

Lisa McShane said...

We planted a quaking aspen in our front yard once. I can attest to Bill's statement about the aspen being the largest single organism in the world. It created friends, everywhere, including across the street. But it was lovely. Was.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Those birches are at a pulloff in the white mountains near Conway.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I didn't know that. I have painted out in Colorado where they were everywhere' and thought how like birch they are.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, one of the things I did tyo prepare for writing this was to reread R.V. Cole. It has about ten times too much irrelevant information.But these posts are heavily informed by that,and my having painted about a zillion trees.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Life's a birch and then you die.

Stapleton Kearns said...

New England has a lot of different kinds of trees, I think I heard once that it had the most in the US, but I don't remember where I heard that.
I love painting out west.Livingston MT. is a good place to start.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Landscape painters are tree painters for the most part.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It sounds like you had to remove that aspen?