Autumnal Landscape Project

So, on a ridiculously warm September day, my mind wandered to the upcoming cooler season. There was a longing to not be sat sweating in my shorts and camisole and to be sitting comfortably in long sleeve tops and pyjama bottoms. Now, I am not a fan of pumpkin spice, but I do get extremely excited when the leaves start to turn from green to gold, even more so when they get that bronze hue. An idea started to form, in the month of October (very much known as a creative month with all ‘Tober prompts), I would release a landscape based on autumn every other day. Another idea came to me as well, I would start earlier so I would not overwhelm myself during the challenge. In the past, I have tried to participate in October Art Challenges before and I find I just miss everything I love about the month. This little series would not only allow me to immerse myself in everything I love about it, but actively encourage me to go out and experience the changes myself. 

With the help of a friend, I built a playlist of songs that inspire the mood; and I went through my archives and selected images to work from. Whilst I could obviously do some more imagined scenarios, I wanted to look through what had captured me previously and translate them through illustration. Having trained as a photographer, I trusted my composition in the images and was more than happy to work directly from them. The artistic joy for me was always going to be answering the challenge of how to recreate them using my traditional tools; and of course very occasionally tweaking the images to give new meaning, or capture an element I wasn’t initially able to photograph. 

Whilst I wanted to experiment, I still wanted the images to have my voice and look like they’re part of a set. I used the same paper for each one - Khadi Papers, gotta love that texture - and always reached for materials I would commonly use in my illustrative process. I just let myself have fun figuring out how to have each photo be represented through traditional illustration, even if it was a break from my usual process.

And so, allow me to share the process and thoughts behind my Autumnal Landscape Series.

Painting of a field with standing stones and two trees with orange leaves

The Lost Village of Dode.
As the title of this one suggests, this was directly inspired by the amazing wedding location The Lost Village of Dode down in Kent. I went there for a handfasting a few years ago and was absolutely enchanted by the autumnal vibes, so I spent much of the day wandering around and capturing several elements of it. In fact, not longer after attending the handfasting I did some little studies of the place in my very own sketchbook. For this piece, I wanted to use more or less just the limited supplies I had for those original studies, which was pretty much just my Daler Rowney Watercolour Set and a white pen. Imagine if you will, this piece was done on one of the warmest days in September (but quite late at night when it was more bearable to work) and I was trialling songs for my eventual autumn playlist. 

Painting of a sandstone spire reflected in a puddle on the side of a road, with a visible pavement. Gold leaves float on the water.

The Spire In The Water
This was next for me so I could break my brain out of the idea that the series would only work in a purely landscape formal. I also wanted to introduce lineart into the series as that is my preferred method of working; whilst I do love dreamy impressionism and bold colours that don’t need linework… sometimes I do just love the comfort of a black pen line that clearly tells me when I’m supposed to paint. Anyway, this is very much one of those “aha, I am trained as a photographer” references, where I am very glad that past me was smart enough to get this image. It features one of the gorgeous mills we get in the north but from a different angle than one might expect to see it. Also one of my favourite parts of autumn is leaves carpeting the ground and transforming common elements; whilst the reflection would have been interesting on its own, possibly with a bright summer sky, the leaves just add a whole new dimension to it. This illustration took a while for this one to come together for me, mainly because the other image had been so bright and ostentatiously autumnal, that this one felt way too subdued. I think getting some more subdued colours in early allowed that standard to be set for later images. 

A tall orange hedge with an arched gateway in it. Through it, a sandstone wall and small green bushes are visible. There are green pine trees flanking the hedge. The floor is covered in leaves.

The Portal 

One of my friends described this piece as ‘Cosily Melancholic’ and it fully encapsulates the feeling of late autumn for me. This image was referenced from a photo I got in November, when we are more firmly into the oranges and browns on the leaves, with more greys in the sky and the days getting shorter. With that in mind, I did somewhat boost the colours from the original photo to create a much brighter piece. I did my initial line work with a water resistant red pen, delicately creating the leaves on the hedge to create texture. Then I had a lot of fun doing gorgeous autumnal washes to allow the colours to blend together. And then I went “… ah, you kind of can’t see all the red line work now”. So THEN I went back over the leaves with a brown pen; and let me tell you, khadi paper is textured so can really resist penwork, my hands were aching by the time that hedge was finished. You can see what just the red line work looks like at the front of the image, which worked well for the ground, but the hedge needed that much stronger definition to stand out. Hand pain aside, I think going back over it really aided the image; and I do like that you can still see the original red lines.

A painting of a red tree which stands at the side of a still pond with tall evergreens visible in the background. The tree and evergreens are visibly reflected in the pond. The right side of the image has thick dark foliage.

The Red Acer
I do love a good acer tree, and the ones at Thorp Perrow Arboretum are particularly spectacular. This is actually the first of four images from this series that are taken from Thorp Perrow Arboretum, as that place truly shines during autumn. This is another image that I’d painted before in a sketchbook spread, which you can see a video of me doing here, and I once again wanted to use the supplies that I’d initially used in that image. This was me going into my M.Graham watercolour paints, pencil crayons, and then very occasionally breaking out the Japanese Watercolours - which ended up being a staple for the series. I went back to doing lineless for this one as I really wanted the colours to stand on their own. Whilst the bold reds were clearly an autumnal feature, it felt very strange reaching more for the cooler greens and blues than the warmer tones, which to me feel way more autumnal. As mentioned, the day itself was incredibly ‘crisp’ and I hope those cooler tones help carry that across. Whilst I was doing this image, it really solidified the “oh heck, I’m really doing this aren’t I?” with regards to the whole series happening. It was the proper turning point for me and I am super grateful. 

A painting of a green victorian lamppost stands in front of green and gold trees, the leaf shapes are visible through the brush strokes.

The Lamppost
I’m just gonna say it, the word lamppost doesn’t look right. Anyway, this is the standout favourite for a lot of people, my mum even bagsied the original before anyone else could. And yeah I’ve gotta say, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of this one. From seeing it last year and capturing a video of it, identifying it as one to draw, sketching it out, painting the leaves and lamppost, photographing it, then sharing it. The leaves were created with a really neat angled brush I got from a Scrawlrbox Subscription and the process was a genuine joy. This was also the first image that I primarily used my Japanese Watercolours for; and I’d identified them as the tools I wanted to use way back when I first caught the image. It was a real triumph to have everything come together in the image. Additionally, completing this meant 1/3rd of the series was done; even though the previous one was actually me more acknowledging that the series was actually happening, this was the one with a noticeable number attached to it. 

A painting of a flock of sheep in front of a wooded hillside with a visible hamlet and smoke coming from a chimney. In the distance a green pine forest is visible alongside electric pylons.

The Flock

So, I captured this initially when my friends and I went for a walk and we were just hurling abuse at the landscape, “Alright tin chocolate box country, we get it, you’re pretty!” and “Wow do you wanna be anymore twee? Outrageous.” You had to be there. This was where I was able to pleasingly work with some of my limitations when photographing the scene and recompose it slightly when sketching it out to something I preferred. I put down the watercolours for this one and settled into using gouache, I really wanted those bold colours and ability to layer, more than I can get with using watercolour. The sheer amount of tones and colour in this one ended up making it a challenge to complete in the time I had - as by this point I was firmly in October and pretty much catching up to the release schedule - and I needed a proper rest after finishing it. I would go so far to say this piece probably took the longest to complete out of all of them.

A painting of a dry stream bed going through an open green woodland. Two twisted tree trunks are visible, the leaves are mostly light green but are starting to turn gold and orange at the end of the branches.

The Base of Cadair Idris

After a challenging previous image, this one was very much back to comfortable form. Line art, simple landscape, obviously colours and focal points. Although, adding a lot of green in the image made me a little concerned that it read far too much as summer; but one of the joys of autumn for me is very much when the first signs of it start to peek through a green canopy. Early September is very much a part of the season as the more reddish tones of late October. This was from a hike I did up Cadair Idris, which was utterly stunning and had some breathtaking views from up the slope and can be seen in this video, but this little moment scene really had the spirit of the changing days. Certainly, it is more recognisable as autumn than some of the other images and footage I got from higher up. An unexpected highlight of this image was painting the trunk of the right hand tree, I really enjoyed getting all the tones through.

A painting of a woodpile in a sparse but golden woodland with the occasional sap green tree visible.

The Woodpile
Whenever I refer to this image I have to stop what I’m doing and listen to Bellowhead’s version of Roll The Woodpile Down, I unironically adore that cover. And yeah, I just did that; now, back to this blog post. This is by no means my favourite image in the set, but it’s the one that triggers the biggest sensory immersion from looking at it. Maybe piles of wood are just something we commonly expect to see in autumn, or perhaps the specific shade of yellow I used just captured something beyond the visual. It was nice to do an image that was unashamedly bright. I remember back in Primary school we would write poems about how grey and rainy autumn can be, but I have much stronger memories of golds shining in clear blue skies; and I was very glad to be able to show that particular part of autumn in this image. 

A painting of leaves with warm hues of red and orange and gold. Light shines through them from behind as seen through the hazy golden forest in the background.

The Glowing Leaves
Another one from Thorp Perrow Arboretum - not like you can tell - but I always loved what I captured through the lens and I really wanted to see how moving it to illustration would work. Going back to basics with watercolour to get the lights and shadows to properly work with each other on a botanical image was a huge joy. Whilst I did bring back some colours with my more saturated Japanese Watercolours, pull back some highlights with white pen, and use some cheeky pencil crayon to deepen some tones; it was a very rewarding experience to just pull it all back to my watercolours. Of course I was always going to do an image for an autumnal series that focussed on leaves; and I had plenty of references to work from, but this one still felt like a landscape in its own way. There is a part of me that wants to redo this without the background, there was something very satisfying when it was just the leaves on the white paper. Perhaps I’ll do it next year!

A drawing of two acer trees with red and orange pencil work that gives them a breezy appearance.

The Bright Trees

In a project with 15 images, there was always gonna be one that really didn’t work for me. It’s this one. Not that I dislike it or anything, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. This is another reference from Thorp Perrow Arboretum and I’d been so taken with how much red just bloomed across the landscape. I wanted to try something different though, something that focussed far more on pencil crayons with watercolours being more of an accent, a switch from my usual output. I think this was the wrong image to try that on. Then again, the pencil crayons have totally transformed what the image was in the reference and give it far more movement, the image seems to breathe more than others. I think my other slight negative bias is that I really remember feeling the burnout from the project on this one; and I don’t think I gave it the time it needed to tie everything together, or to even restart it to what originally drew me to the photo. However some folk do like it and one person commented that I was veering into Van Gogh which is a compliment I will happily take. I will be curious to see what I think of this illustration a few months from now when the feelings of doing it are far more distant and I’ll barely remember what the reference image looked like. We shall see.

A single tall pine tree stands in the middle of the image on a cloudy day. It is framed by green and gold leaves and trees. At its base there are visible red trees. There is more to the landscape that fades into the horizon.

The Lonely Pine

This was a lovely view I stumbled upon back in spring, it’s actually not too far from where I was brought up. I had an urge to return in autumn to see what it looked like and I was far from disappointed. There’s just something about how this one is framed that in its own way makes it feel unreal, but it’s there and it’s awesome. This is another image that favoured the Japanese Watercolours, mainly because it provides a huge palette of greens that allows me to get a huge range of shades. And of course, the colour wheel tells us that adding those contrasting reds will make an image pop; and it really does here. On the day it really felt like that gorgeous apex of the greens hanging on whilst the autumn tones creep across; I loved being able to do those combinations. A challenge with this one was trying to get the layers of tree canopy, especially without linework; however this result was needed after the previous one had been a little disappointing. Also, I really like the sky on this one, it just works. 

A chapel in a graveyard or cemetery with a single orange tree in front of it. The graves have plants growing from them. A path leads to the church and just past it. The sky is cloudy. The top of the image has leaves and branches framing the top.

The Churchyard

So, given that this series was being released in October, it’s hard not to acknowledge the seasonal spookiness at times; and whilst I didn’t want it to be a focus, I wanted to pay homage to the vibes of the month. This is based off an image I captured whilst the project was ongoing rather than based off an image in my archives, as I was still making sure I was giving myself time to enjoy the season alongside quite a challenging project. Going for walks and looking for inspiration was all a part of it; and seeing this was a perfect opportunity to get some of the melancholic feelings of autumn into the series. We are back to a comfortable process with lineart and watercolour, compared to the previous lineless pieces. Creating the structure of the image with the lineart gave me more freedom to experiment with the more subdued colours, whilst still creating fun blends on the leaves and grave plantlife. It’s interesting to me that this reference image was captured this year - well into October - yet most of the trees are still green, compared to previous years where trees were gold by the end of September. There’s a part of me that wants to see if I can arrange the images by the time in the season they were captured and then see if there’s any obvious signs that they were caught in different years. Anyway, it was nice to go back to a very standard way of working for me with this one, whilst still pushing myself with creating a detailed image.

A painting of inkcap mushrooms growing on a log with some leaves. Most of the leaves are orange and dead but there are some that are green.

The Mushrooms
In direct contrast to the previous image, this one goes back to being lineless; and it is carried by its lighter shades rather than the darker tones. This was originally captured when I went for a walk with my friend; and they told me all about mushrooms you can get in the UK and how they’re all safe to touch (not eat though). They had a little app which helped them identify mushrooms and it was utterly delightful watching them get excited by the mushrooms. We kept pressing down on these ones so they bounced and wobbled a little. I loved looking at the different colours on the same types of mushrooms and working to get that same effect with watercolour, the little group in the middle are my favourites. It struck me that despite it being a close up image, this still looked a little like the broader landscapes of the series, almost like the mushrooms were little trees. There was a part of me that was itching to neaten this one up a little, even now I still wish the log and leaves were a little shaper, but I am happy with the wash of softer colours on this one.

A painting of a wooden bridge over a small stream with the bridge reflected in the water. A tree leans into the image on the right and on the left is a pine tree. There is the path on the left which also goes the bridge. The leaves are orange.

The Bridge

Our final one from Thorp Perrow Arboretum and the penultimate image. I was initially unsure on whether to create the image with or without lineart, but I decided to focus a little more on brush strokes for this one, given the way the colours blended into each other and the various shapes of the trees and branches. I had considered doing the good old “lineart on the surface, brush strokes for the water”, but there was a very dreamy look to how the light shone through the trees that added to the aforementioned blending of colours. In the end, it was most important that the little bridge remained sharp and a focus whilst the rest could expand into a more impressionistic style. I do have to admit that this one was rushed a little, the end of the month got very busy and that final hurdle was very steep. I think with a little more time I would have given more definition to the trees and some of the ground, but I am happy with what I have. It certainly feels like an image that just lets autumn be autumn, there’s no additional “ah, this one focuses on the leaves and that’s important” or “this captures some of the melancholy of the season compared to the crispier days of these ones”, it’s just an image that lets the season breathe and shine. For a second to last image, I am happy with that as the feeling it gives me.

A painting of a path with stone walls either side and with a lamppost illuminating the ground. Trees are leaning over the left side of the image with green and brown leaves. There are orange leaves on the floor.

The Path
The final image, the one that brings us into the season of winter and round off the series. I knew from the start that I wanted to round off the series with something that was either more openly Halloween themed, or that leant itself into the drearier autumn vibes without being too overtly based on a holiday. This was another image I captured whilst the series was on going and I knew instantly that I wanted it to be the last illustration of the set. Despite it being caught in October, there’s something that feels very late November about it, most likely the very desaturated and muted colours. I was very glad to add an image that showed an element of darkness, especially since by the time this image was released, we were into the clocks going backwards and us being collectively surprised by how dark it gets at 5pm. In terms of creating it, the lineart played a huge role in order to try and get some of the darkness across. Whilst I do love watercolour, it can be a little limiting with its darker tones; at the very least, I was pushing the paper to its limits with the amount of layers I was doing. In the end, using a combination of lineart, watercolour, and pencil crayon allowed me to get the darker tones I wanted.

So that’s the series. It was a lot of work, very occasionally I got burnt out and exhausted, but I truly enjoyed creating the images. Importantly, it helped remind people that autumn can be beautiful, even as the cooler days and darker nights affect their moods. It helped me for sure. I was always excited to tackle a new aspect of the season that I loved and to figure out the puzzle of transferring the photo to illustration. I know I learnt a lot, even from the images that didn’t work out as intended. It reminded me how much I enjoy painting landscapes, reaffirmed my confidence in that I can capture well composed images to draw from, and it was my own love letter to the season.

Hope you enjoyed it too, thank you for reading. 

Using Format