Another Lesson Learned

Today’s drawing of a Velvet Mesquite tree (Prosopus velutina) will probably be one of my favorite Inktober drawings. Although it didn’t turn out as I’d first envisioned, I enjoyed making the drawing, and it taught me a lot.

Inktober 9 - Velvet Mesquite (2).png
Winter Mesquite – Ink drawing by Judith Kraus

First, before you ask, I have no idea how the prompt words for today — broken, screech, precious, swing, tree — brought me to the Sonoran desert and this particular species of tree, but here I am.

Now, back to the learning process.

I learn from every drawing I make. Sometimes the lessons are little ones, reminders of what to do or more often, what not to do. Other times, though, the lessons involve those  aha moments when a concept or idea I’ve studied actually makes sense to me. That’s how it was with this mesquite tree.

Each time Cheeky Monkey Mind and I choose a reference photo for our fun Inktober project, we’re looking for specific things. I don’t want to go too easy, but neither do I want to choose a photo that’s too far beyond my capabilities. I want just a little push, that’s all.

I also look for photos that will help me improve specific aspects of my drawing skills. I think about areas I need to work on and search for photos that will help me improve.

Needless to say, I also look for photos I like, ones that appeal to me for one reason or another. It’s no fun attempting to draw a likeness of something we don’t like, right?

So, the photo reference Cheeky and I chose today had several important qualities. It looked do-able, not a simple reference by any means, but within my capabilities. The tree was filled with lots of twisting and turning branches — the quality I most loved about the tree — and that meant lots of opportunities to work on criss-crossing and overlapping. I’ve identified that as a weakness in my drawings, so this Velvet Mesquite tree would give me a chance to improve that skill.

I drew the main branches of the tree in graphite first, knowing I would want to use ink to add in more branches later. But how to shade the tree? My original intent, you see, was to create a somewhat realistic ink drawing, complete with leaves on the uppermost branches. I planned to add a brushy but indistinct background along the horizon as well.

As I started trying to shade, however, I knew that was a losing proposition. I spent time last month working on shading techniques with ink — remember that truly-awful rotten pear? I did that pear exercise again with cross-hatching and with scumbling. The results weren’t any better. I simply have to face the fact that at this point in time, my ability to use ink in shading is virtually non-existent. It’s something to work on, of course.

But not in this drawing. I was happy with the appearance of the tree, so I changed course, decided to once more do a stylized sort of drawing and focus on black and white. After all, it wasn’t the subtle shading that drew me in. It was how the branches twisted this way and that. It was all the fine limbs growing here and there.

That’s what this tree is all about, I said to myself, and that’s when I truly understood the idea of capturing the characteristic of what we draw. I’ve read this many times. It’s not about creating a perfect likeness; it’s not always about drawing what we see. Good art involves drawing our perceptions, describing how we see that particular thing, defining the qualities and characteristics that most clearly represent what that thing is to us.

For me, this was a twisty-turny tree. That’s how I saw it. That was why I wanted to draw it. So, I focused on creating the character of the tree. When it came time to add the leaves, I shook my head. My impression of this tree wasn’t about leaves; it was about all those branches going hither and yon, growing in different directions, bumping into their neighbors and continuing on their way.

Later I began to worry a bit though. Do mesquite trees shed their leaves? I was thankful to learn that they are cold deciduous trees, meaning they do lose their leaves in the winter.

I could have gone on for hours, adding more and more twigs, and I could have added in a few thorns, too. Mesquite trees do have thorns, I learned. But I felt I had captured the essence of this particular tree. I had used my pencil and pen to describe how I saw this velvet mesquite, and I had learned a lot about art in doing it. It was time to call it done.

Of course, I did still have a bit of background noise there, and a rather scraggly bush in the foreground. I went ahead and inked them in a bit just because they were there. I don’t like them, but, oh, well. I like the tree, and that’s what this is really all about.


  • Jump
  • Gigantic
  • Flowing
  • Pattern
  • Tree





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