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Under the Tulip Tree...

As an artist who draws trees I am always looking for specimens that will make good subjects.  Some species are normally so tall and thin that they do not lend themselves to be drawn singly. Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) tend to fall into this category. However at Taplow House Hotel, near where I live, there is a Tulip Tree that a local legend says was planted by Queen Elizabeth I. Not only is this a wonderful gnarled tree, but it is also shorter than many mature Tulip trees, which made it a good subject.

I enjoy sketching in the field,  and on a pleasant summer’s afternoon began drawing Queen Elizabeth’s Tulip Tree. When drawing in the field it is important to get the right proportions. I do this by holding a wooden, or at least opaque, ruler vertically at arm’s length to get the height, and then horizontally to get the width.  These measurements will not only decide the size of the drawing but will be my reference  lengths.  

The regal and possibly royal Tulip Tree - Summer

Each time I make additional measurements I first check that I am holding the ruler at the correct distance to give the reference measurements I started with, I then move it to right or left or up or down to give the measurements that I require. When I am drawing the outline I normally use the trunk as the reference point and so heights will be measured from the base of the trunk and widths will be measured as the distance to the left or right of the trunk,  I had drawn the outline of the tree, and was beginning to fill in the trunk and the heavy lush foliage, which masks many of the branches in summertime when I discovered tiny drops of honeydew, possibly from aphids in nearby trees, all over my work! Fortunately the drawing was in its early stages, and so I learnt that it is great to observe trees and make sketches and notes in the field but the final pieces are best completed indoors.   

My favourite workplace is a table in a north facing bay window, here I have good light but no direct sunlight. This also means that I can plot the basic outline of the tree from a photograph using proportional dividers. However having done this it is important to study the bark, twigs and leaves of living trees to fill in these details so that the tree is brought to life and the finished drawing will reflect as much of the character of the tree as possible.

Tulip Tree - Winter

However much I think that I have studied a tree, it is only when I come to draw it that I really come to know and understand it.  I first drew the Tulip tree in summertime, but as I worked I quickly realised that I needed to draw it in wintertime because the foliage masks so much of the structure. In wintertime the unusual two trunk structure of the tree, which may explain its relatively squat stature, is evident as well as the bark and the manner in which the twigs grow.

Pamela Taylor

October 2019 

About the Tulip Tree:  Leriodendron tulipifera : 

It is a deciduous tree in the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) the Botanical name Leriodendron comes from the Greek for ‘lilytree’ and tulipifera means ‘bringing forth tulips’. The latter refers to their yellow cup like flowers.  L. tulipifera is native to Eastern North America. 

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