A drawing gains its strength from paying close attention to the world, which, as poet Ted Kooser points out, is “as important to good writing as is good writing itself.” Perhaps it was with the intention of being a better writer that, a few years ago, I set myself a drawing exercise. From March to May, I drew the cherry tree outside our kitchen window every day. I drew it with pencil and ink, charcoal and watercolour. I started at the end of winter when there was snow on the branches and kept drawing as buds and leaves and blossoms appeared. The blossoms fell and the rain came and the sidewalk grew slick with white confetti. Green nubs appeared where the flowers had been. I stopped drawing just before the cherries ripened but by then I knew every knot, gnarl and branch on the tree.
This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine contained a beautiful piece called “how To see a Tree” by Michael Kimmelman which features five pages of glorious photographs by “tree stalking” Mitch Epstein. Moody and romantic, towering and totemic, it’s amazing to learn that all of these trees (including the ancient English elm shown above and a massive weeping beech) were shot on the streets of NYC.
p.s. Ted Kooser’s meditative new picture book, House Held Up by Trees, is out this Spring. With illustrations by Jon Klassen, it promises to be a heart-satisfying and eye-pleasing experience.