Kathryn Poole writes about her drawing commissioned by the Harris and The Courtauld Gallery, and the process that she uses to draw whilst surveying her garden.
I enjoy investigating the habitats that exist in and around urban areas, mainly along the edges of busy roads that cut through fields and farms. For The Artful Line exhibition I wandered around the Redscar industrial site where the old Courtauld factory was, up to the Red scar woods, observing how nature had overtaken and completely reclaimed the woods. Along the Longridge Road I found an unidentifiable grey bird that I drew for the exhibition, which acted as a snapshot of the local ecosystem.
Redscar I +II, pen and ink, 2020, Commissioned by the Harris Museum Art Gallery and Library, Preston and The Courtauld Gallery, London
Without access to the roads I usually search for animals on, I’ve decided to investigate my own local ecosystem in my back garden. When I first begin a drawing I use a system of gridding that helps me achieve as accurate an image as possible. I thought this gridded drawing technique would work well with the method of quadrat sampling used to measure biodiversity in ecology. A quadrat is a frame, usually of a set size, that is placed randomly in a habitat, the animals and plants within the quadrat are then counted. For this exercise I’m going to be making a very small frame to isolate and draw selected areas of my garden.
I started by making the quadrat frame. In proper field ecology they would be 0.25m x 0.25m but that’s quite large for my purposes so I made mine 4cm x 4cm. There are a few ways you could make your quadrat. You can cut or mark a grid on tracing paper, use an artist’s viewfinder, anything that allows you to isolate an area or your chosen habitat, and divide it for easier measuring/drawing.
Here is a step by step guide:
- Measure, then cut out a 4x4cm square (Img 1+2).
- Mark out holes in 1cm increments along the edge of the hole and poke them out with an awl (3).
- Use thin thread, to sew through the two holes opposite each other and secure the thread in place with masking tape (4+5).
- Once your quadrat is made you can choose an area you would like to draw or place it randomly (6).
I discovered after the first drawing to pick somewhere with natural shade – for your own comfort and also ease of drawing as the shadows in the leaves and grass change less.
Once you have settled into your chosen location start preparing the grid on your drawing paper, then begin to observe. Removing this segment of earth from the context of its surroundings allows you to pause, observe and reflect on this small slice of the environment. It can be useful to have a few spare sheets of paper nearby to test shapes, practice drawing the leaves and blades of grass, how they fall, bend, and intersect with other objects in the square. Pay close attention to the negative space in each grid. This space holds the soil, grit, and foundations of the plants you’re drawing.
When the pencil outline is finished I move onto building detail, tone and texture with stippled ink. Stippling is my preferred method of drawing, although these drawings should be about your own personal observations, and so it is best to use the materials and techniques that you are comfortable with.
I start with a flat uneven mid tone, preserving my lighter areas, from here I deepen the shadows and begin to define shapes and textures. Pay attention to the shadow edges, a combination of sharp and soft edges will leave your drawing more naturalistic. Keep building up layers of tone, go back and make darks darker, blend out the soft edges and try to reproduce the different textures. My drawing took a few hours from pencil to ink, but this differs depending on technique, process and patience.
Eventually you should have captured a small fragment of your garden or wherever you chose to sample.
The quadrat drawings are one of a few surveys I’m conducting of my garden, all building towards a larger project that I’m using to give me focus and structure during this uncertain period of time.
Feel free to use my method as a starting point for your own observations, whether through drawing or not. By dedicating a period of time to simply observing you will be able to perceive more in your own local environment.
Written by Guest Blogger - Kathryn Poole