• Olly Pyle

The Winter Hawthorn

Updated: Jan 22



Beauty does not have to conform to the construction of societies, nor indeed should it. Despite having all the prickliness and hostility of Prime Minister's Questions, this hawthorn tree creates a scene that is remarkably attractive.


Defining beauty is highly subjective, perhaps an impossibility. Yet surely one of its most prevalent attributes is contrast; light and shade, sweet and sour. Another might be individuality, and set in its surroundings this wizened old hawthorn certainly has both - by the bucket load!


You will find it on the Ashdown Forest in Sussex, midway between Millbrook and Nutley. Its gnarly defiance always grabs my attention. The last time I was there it was so misty that I couldn't make out anything in the background - too bland for a painting, but ideal for black and white photography.


I have been meaning to paint this tree for some time, and finally decided on a setting that would enhance its characteristics. I set about creating a soft, misty atmosphere, with delicate colours and muted tones - so redolent of Ashdown Forest - the soft pine trees in the background acting as the perfect foil for the crisp definition of the hawthorn's erratic shape and contortions.


It is a beautiful landscape, and in many ways the perfect subject for watercolour, where restraint, subtlety and contrast play to the medium's strengths. It seems crazy to me that watercolour normally sits in the corner, neglected in favour of oils and acrylics - "it's what we used at primary school," being a particularly tiresome observation. Well it's the hardest medium to use, the hardest medium to master, and I couldn't think of anything better to capture the British landscape!



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