Walking at twilight on a crisp winter evening with the light stretched thin across the landscape and the exquisite forms of unrobed trees exposed against the crepuscular sky, it is easy to see why artists lust after the beautiful contours and shapes created by their dark-limbed outlines.
As a fully paid-up nemophilist, I recently joined the Facebook group Britain’s Ancient and Sacred Trees, where I regularly share posts and photographs with fellow tree-huggers across the land – along with those who admire our trees from afar – to further indulge my passion for these quiet sentinels of our countryside. It was here that I encountered the extremely talented Marie Roberts, a trained fine artist, who produces astonishing work across multiple mediums - painting and printmaking, sculpture, and textiles, all informed and inspired by the natural world, although it was, quite aptly, a post of one of her ‘tree pictures’ which caught my attention.
Visiting Marie’s website is like wandering through rooms full of precious curios: there, amongst delicate gilded birds’ nests, decorated animal skulls, painted seashells reminiscent of small fragments of Delft china, and intricately embroidered bugs and spiders, you will find her joyous and expressive paintings in celebration of trees. Clearly enthralled by the natural world, Marie is inspired by the beautiful and diverse surroundings of the village of Kinver, in South Staffordshire, where she lives and works. Since childhood she has been fascinated by trees: “especially the older trees which have stood for so long and seem so noble and wise!”, and her local woodland provides rich inspiration for her work. For 2019, she has undertaken to paint a tree for every month of the year (January’s tree is shown here), each one depicted inside a mandala, or sacred circle, painted with water colours, earth pigments and ink, and embellished with 24 carat gold and pure silver.
Another happy find from the same Facebook group is Sarah Jameson, an artist originally from Wales, now living and working in the Shropshire hills. She too works across different mediums, including photography, monoprints, and pen and ink drawings, also gleaning her creative inspiration from nature. Her sensitive and atmospheric photographs and drawings demonstrate her obvious love for our trees and woodlands as she records them throughout the seasons. She says: “I have drawn trees since I was a child and am lucky to live in a part of the world where there are so many beautiful trees, woods and hedges.”
An indispensable book for any tree lover is ‘The New Sylva’, written by Dr. Gabriel Hemery, with 200 exquisite drawings by internationally renowned artist, Sarah Simblet. Subtitled ‘A Discourse of Forest & Orchard Trees for the 21st Century’, the book is an interpretation for modern times of the book ‘Sylva’, written in 1664 by horticulturist and diarist John Evelyn. Within its sumptuous pages, Gabriel, who amongst other things is a Silvologist (or forest scientist to you and me!), describes our most important British trees, with in-depth sections looking at their cultural, environmental and economic history. He also writes the forestry blog gabrielhemery.com ‘celebrating the wonders of trees, forests and woods’, and is Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation, an environmental charity he co-founded in 2009, besides being a talented photographer of trees and forests, which he features in his website The Tree Photographer.
Each season has a beauty of its own, and winter is undoubtedly the best time to fully appreciate the magical forms of trees, sometimes powerful, sometimes graceful, sometimes ethereal. Although our forests, woods and trees may seem devoid of life during the winter months, do not be deceived into thinking that nothing is going on as you walk through the quiet woodland; the trees are simply resting. Their leaf mould has become a deep and fertile layer providing food and cover for countless insects and animals, and will enrich the woodland floor with precious nutrients for the continuation of life. Soon, and almost imperceptibly, fresh leaves and buds will reappear on the twigs and branches, birds will return to claim their territories and set up home in the green canopy, and we will once again hear the soft hum of bees as they go about their business. Make the most, then, of the quiet grace of our leafless winter trees and the dark lattice-work of their branches against the sky, before we celebrate the return of spring, and with it, the vibrancy of new life.