On my recent family holiday to St Tropez I became fascinated by the shape of these incredible trees. Fortunately there was a fine specimen just opposite our balcony with a fantastic view of some provencal roofs and La Golfe de Saint-Tropez behind it.
After a day or so I noticed how the trunks and branches became dark silhouettes in the midday sun. I decided that would be a great subject for a watercolour sketch. As I drew out the painting I concentrated on the structure of the trunks and the spaces between them.
I applied a light wash of cerulean blue mixed with a hint of lemon yellow for the sky and then added some ultramarine blue to it for the mountains in the distance. The solid foliage of the “parasol” was initially just a wash of lemon yellow mixed with cerulean and ultramarine blue. The tiled triangular roofs simply needed a hint of vermillion combined with a touch of cadmium yellow and plenty of water. I noticed that I had enough space at the bottom right to pencil in some very Matisse-like palm leaves, another symbol of the French Riviera. Having added a preliminary touch of dark tone for the trunks and branches (ultramarine, alizarin crimson and viridian) I decided it was time for lunch!
As I expected, the light had changed by the afternoon so I wandered off into the harbour area of St. Tropez to visit the lovely Musée de l’Annonciade, a converted church which houses a fine collection of neo-Impressionist, Nabi and Fauvist paintings by artists associated with the town. (This excellent museum will have a post of its own in due course).
I learnt more about late nineteenth/ early 20th century painting in one afternoon than in forty odd years of doing Art and Design! It really helped to see these paintings in the context of where they were made. When I picked up my paint brushes the next morning I felt the spirits of Bonnard, Signac, Matisse, Marquet etc breathing down my collar…
On the second day of painting I added an extra layer of blueish green to the distant hills of the Massif des Maures. I also quickly blocked in a splash of fairly intense cerulean blue to represent the sea. I darkened the tree trunks, using the same mix of ultramarine, crimson and viridian as before, but varying the amounts to get a more blueish trunk here, a more greenish or purple one there. I wanted to emphasise the central trunk so I made it the darkest tone and left the other trunks slightly lighter so that they would recede into the background. As lunchtime approached I quickly painted in the palm bushes and a stronger green colour on the solid mass of foliage.
I didn’t want too much going on in this little painting, I had already decided that the structure of the trunks was the most important aspect so I didn’t spend a huge amount of time on the foliage and background. I can save that for another attempt!
Later that day we walked into the town and I photographed this fabulous tree en route (or should that be “On root”?!)
A close-up shot of the signpost and main branches evolved into this rather “natty” graphic image after a couple of glasses of local wine:
Et voilà! I can’t wait to go back to “St Trop” for more drawing and painting on location…