I remember the first time I heard that art is an illusion. Maybe other artists have a natural awareness of that very basic truth, but for me it was an eye-opening, mind-jolting moment of realization. Yes, art is illusion.
That realization came during a lesson about drawing — what else? — TREES. We can’t draw every leaf on every branch of every tree. All we can do is create the illusion of them.
I’ve said many times since that moment that if I were to ever teach a class on art (don’t worry, that will never happen) the first thing I would do would be to instill the principle of illusion into my students’ minds.
Of course, it’s one thing to know the principle; it’s another thing to fully understand it. I can look at works by other artists and see where and how they’ve successfully created illusions. It’s a bit trickier for me to create those illusions in my own work.
But what does this have to do with Inktober and pen-and-ink drawing? Well, it began with these prompt words. Noisy. Divided. Tranquil. Mindless. Tree. What would such a ridiculous-sounding search come up with?
Google or Bing — not sure which — came up with information on how to use trees and shrubs to reduce noise and provide a tranquil environment. And the best tree?
The Leyland cypress is the most popular privacy tree in the United States, chosen because it thickens quickly to block noise and grows 3 to 4 feet per year. Reaching a mature height of up to 30 feet, this pyramidal shaped tree stays green year-round, is drought tolerant and thrives in most U.S. states and soils, including sand and clay.
I was smiling a bit at this. Despite the misleading name, the Leyland Cypress is a hardy evergreen tree, and even for me, evergreen trees aren’t all that difficult to draw. I found a few photos online. Here’s what the Leyland Cypress looks like.
“But it’s just a TREE,” shouted the monkey part of my mind. Well, yes, but wasn’t that the whole point?
The cheeky little monkey insisted on looking around for something a bit more artistic, and we found it on Pixabay. Take a look at this gorgeous winter scene. Now, I can’t say for certain that this is a Leyland Cypress, but this is the scene that came up when I searched for that species.
I was aghast at the very idea of trying to draw anything like this — in ink, no less! No way was that going to happen, at least not in this lifetime.
I turned away from the picture, but Cheeky wasn’t having it. “Challenge yourself,” he insisted. “It’s a beautiful scene.” True, yes. It wouldn’t be quite so beautiful when I drew it, I knew, so if for no other reason than to humor Cheeky and prove my point, I sat down at my drawing table.
As I worked on this scene in graphite, I was reminded again that art is all about illusion. How could I create all those twisted, snow-covered branches? How could I draw those bushes? How could I create the almost ghostly effect of this winter forest?
I couldn’t. I could only create the illusion of them.
With graphite, it turned out fairly well, but Inktober is about ink. So, in some respects, maybe this isn’t a legitimate Inktober drawing. It’s a mix of both ink and graphite.
I was pleased. I was also surprised by what I’d drawn. It was a genuine learning experience for me as I came to a better understanding of how we create illusion in art.
Cheeky was pleased, too. “I told you so,” he whispered, but then he was jumping off to another tree.
Tomorrow’s prompt words?