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Wishing on a very special Kentish tree

Ever since I visited Coldrum Long Barrow Stones near Trottiscliffe in Kent, I’ve been wanting to paint them, and in particular the wishing tree that stands near to the stones. I was told before I went that each ribbon tied to the branches was a wish, that someone had left there…I wasn’t aware how MANY there would be! A real wow factor!

The Coldrum stones are on top of an ancient Long Barrow and are well known in the area by various people as a spiritual place for pagan celebrations. I immediately fell in love with the ancient stones, as well as the wishing tree that stands a few feet back from them.

And I knew I wanted to paint them too.

But there was a problem, as the stones immediately infront of the tree are not the famous view of the Coldrum stones. The Coldrum stones are a few feet away from the tree, so you can’t see the obvious view of the stones, with the obvious view of the wishing tree…. so that gave me a challenge to consider, as to how I was going to capture the two together, to get the magic that made them.

I had a think about it, and then came up with the idea that I wanted to do to do the painting.

Since the stones had to be painted in the way they are recognised, it meant that the wishing tree would be behind the viewer, so I had to bring in some artistic thoughts about how I was going to do it…then I realised that the tree is about the ribbons tied to it and as long as they were depicted in the picture, I had the soul of the tree.

I also knew I wanted to paint it in watercolour as I get more magic within those sort of paintings…as the paint sometimes does things that I haven’t planned, but they make the picture better through it..

I drew out the stones, and put them quite low down within the picture, there is a lovely tree slightly behind them, but lower down the bank so not as in sharp focus as the stones. I drew out the branches of the wishing tree above, and angled as a diagonal from the left hand side, which meant they pointed partly at the stones, but also at the tree on the right hand side. When I was happy with the composition I applied clear water with a large brush to the stretched watercolour paper (I’d stuck it to one of my boards the day before to make sure the paper had fully dried and stretched – theres nothing worse than buckled paper from it not being stretched properly). And then on the wet paper I loosely put on large washes of pale pink, pale yellow, pale blue, pale gold, on a diagonal from top left across to bottom right, which gave a nice good diagonal to the image – as the sky. When that was fully dry I put on the grass using veridian green and quinacridone gold. When that was dry I could paint the stones, since they were going to be the darkest blocks of colour. I used Paynes Grey as the darkest parts, I didn’t want to used a flat black as sometimes its overpowering.

Then I had the palest colours, and the darkest colours in the picture, so I could do the pale pinks with hints of blues of the tree on the right hand side – hinting at the branches, and sunlight shining through them – not in sharp detail, but enough to make it clear that its a tree.

Then it was time for the fun bit – the branches of the wishing tree and the ribbons tied to them. I also made sure that there was a lot of movement in the ribbons as if the breeze was blowing them. I wanted different colours, but wanted them to stand out against the sky, and the tree on the right hand side. I also added more twigs to add to the feel of the tree, and when I was happy that it all looked right, I added some splatter to add more movement, and more character to the tree, the ribbons, and the feeling of the breeze, all towards and over the stones.

I really like this picture, I love the delicate sky tones, and the hint of tree on the right hand side, the solid stones, and in particular the wind in the ribbons. I feel I’ve done the place justice.

What do you think?