This One Almost Didn’t Happen

I know last month I said that you probably wouldn’t be seeing any stippling during Inktober, but, yes, what you’re looking at is all little dots. Of course, without reading the caption I’ve added, it’s not going to look like anything more than that.

Inktober 12 - Plane Tree Bark (2)
Plane Tree Bark – Stippled Ink Drawing by Judith Kraus

This is intended to be a drawing of the bark on a plane tree, and like the tree itself, this drawing almost didn’t happen. I’ll explain.

First, the tree. The Plane tree is a hybrid. Most likely it’s a cross between the American Sycamore and the Oriental plane. These two species live far from one another, on different sides of the world, separated by a huge ocean. So, how did they meet and hook up, in popular jargon?

London Plane Tree and TrunkAt some point during the 17th century, a botanist — John Tradescant the Younger — visited the American colonies and returned to England with specimens of the American Sycamore. Others had previously brought the Oriental Plane to England, and that’s how these trees met, mated, and produced this hybrid offspring with its unusual bark — often described as resembling khaki camouflage.

Once I decided to use the plane tree for today’s prompt words, I did a bit of looking around online. Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh painted plane trees?

Van Gogh's Plane Trees
“The Large Plane Trees – Road Menders at St. Remy” Oil on Fabric by Vincent Van Gogh

Actually, today’s prompt words — worried, shattered, whale, dragon, tree — didn’t initially lead to the plane tree. When Cheeky Monkey Mind and I went through the prompt words last month to find our subjects, those words led quickly to the Madagascar Dragon Tree. I made a note, and we moved on.

DracenaBut yesterday when it came time to find a suitable reference photo, I realized that despite the intriguing name, the Madagascar Dragon Tree isn’t a tree at all. Well, not really. It can be grown outdoors in certain climates under certain conditions, but essentially the promising-sounding dragon tree is only the common dracena marginata houseplant.

Cheeky Monkey Mind and I looked at each other — not an easy thing to do, you realize — and wondered aloud… is it a tree or not?

I considered doing a drawing of it, but it didn’t feel right. My plan for Inktober was to draw trees — real trees — not some houseplant masquerading as a tree. Now, nothing against any dracena plants. They’re beautiful. But I was looking for a tree.

So earlier this morning I put in those silly search words again and went forty-nining, which is an old computer term for searches where you forego the first few pages of results and search deep into the links for obscure results. Of course, I didn’t actually find forty-nine or more pages for my little prompt words, but I did dig deep. That’s where I found a reference to plane trees.

Cheeky and I were off and running again. But, goodness, it was hard to find a reference photo that would be suitable. I considered just drawing the tree itself, but the idea wasn’t too appealing. I thought about drawing the leaves. That seemed a bit too challenging. But what about that bark? The bark is, obviously, the most distinctive characteristic of the tree, so why not draw that?

It sounded like a good idea until I sat down at the table with my reference and my pencils. Oh, indeed, I could draw the image — with graphite. But this is Inktober, and it’s all about the ink. How in the name of all that is good in the universe was I supposed to do this drawing in ink?

Well, the answer was obvious. I had to stipple it. Now, another artist, one more familiar with pen and ink techniques and with more talent, could probably have approached this differently. For me, stippling seemed the only possible way for me to create the different degrees of light and dark that this drawing required. Needless to say, at that point I almost tossed the reference photo aside. Surely I could find something else to draw today!

At the same time, I was drawn to the challenge. Could I really do it? Could I actually use stippling to show these different patches of bark? I had to give it a try.

I made it as easy for myself as possible, choosing a thick Sharpie instead of a finer point pen. I took my time, and you know what…? I actually had fun stippling this drawing. I didn’t over-do it by attempting any sort of perfection or even realism. I just wanted to do it for the sake of doing it, regardless of how it turned out. I spent about 45 minutes on the drawing, and I’m satisfied with what I accomplished. Not because it’s a good drawing. It’s not. But it was a good opportunity for me to learn and grow as an artist. As with each Inktober drawing I’ve done, this one taught me many things, and I’m happy about that.

And, yes, if you step back — far back — from this picture, and if you use a bit of imagination, you can maybe begin to see the camouflaged-looking bark of a plane tree.

All in all, I’m glad I pushed myself to give this a try.

What about tomorrow? Where will our prompt words lead?Cheeky

This one is probably obvious, but here are the search words:

  • Scared
  • Teeming
  • Guarded
  • Ash
  • Tree




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