'I often find that luck or chance play a pivotal role in what inspires me,' says Sandra Orme.

'Many of my pieces have been created from what I happened to see whilst walking my dogs, rather than from those times I specifically went out seeking artistic inspiration. This piece is one of those lucky occasions.'

Winter Trees, charcoal and pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, (65x45cm)

'In the late afternoon, just as the winter sun began to break through the fog the trees lining the promenade near the river became backlit by a gentle diffuse yellow light. Their strong forms were silhouetted against the soft shadows and shapes of further bushes and smaller trees behind them. I was struck by the contrast between their outlines and the winter sun behind them, along with the beautiful limited palette of the scene. I knew that recreating this scene in my favourite medium of pastels and charcoal would have many challenges, the first of which was that the artwork would have to be a certain size to enable me to draw detailed branches in charcoal pencil.

'When creating the light most of the work comes when adding more small branches in pencil or when using the electric eraser. This is something that is repeat with multiple layers. It’s another challenge – you need to balance this building of layers with making on-going judgements about how much detail you want to have. Keep taking a step back to look at the overall effect. The idea is to create the bold shapes of the trees and interesting angular branches without over-doing the detail and making things too busy. Pick out some branches with interesting shapes that you like and add stronger tones to them; move them to different areas if need be, for example in front of the light. Use your judgement to decide what to include, move or leave out. Do this by not getting too caught up in fine detail. Keep taking that step back!'

Sandra’s top tips for creating atmospheric woodland scenes:

  • Bear in mind that you are trying to evoke a sense of place, not draw a diagrammatic representation of trees.
  • Limit your palette to six harmonious shades that range from light to mid-grey through the yellow spectrum.
  • Before you start, check your charcoal for bumps and lumps so you don’t scratch the soft surface of the paper.
  • Always use the side of the pastel at the first stages and don’t use white yet. You’ll use that later to create a dramatic sun highlight.
  • Try practising trees first on a piece of scrap paper using different angles/edges/directions. Explore stop/start mark-making to achieve a more jagged twig like mark.
  • Use a strong yellow with a pale yellow on top near the white sun to achieve a hint of warmth coming through.

Demonstration: Winter Trees

'Here the challenge was to evoke a sense of place in charcoal with a limited palette. I’ve explored different ways of generating textures with marks, erasers, pastels and layers. These are skills you can develop further and explore in your work

'I find that Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper is a wonderful surface for charcoal; the medium is captured by the tooth so you can add many layers and build up strong tones. I taped down all edges of the paper as I was going to be pressing hard. You can work at a slightly smaller scale but with anything less than 25x35cm you would struggle when adding fine details.

'I used Light 1, Light 2, A7, A10, RE 13 and Grey 6 Unison soft pastels. However, you simply need white, pale yellow, warm yellow, strong yellow, warm beige and a warm grey. So you can use whatever colours you have to hand as long as they are Unison or at least a good quality soft pastels. The cheaper chalky pastels won’t allow you to build up the layers in the same way.'

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