The Apples Next Door

For the last six years or so, my wife and I have been taking natural history illustration classes from a retired illustrator, who lives not far from us. We study with her a two mornings a week, from fall through spring. Our subjects have included skulls, insects, moths, butterflies, shells, plants, flowers, and feathers. We frequently consider what the next-thing-to-draw will be.

Our neighbors have apples. There are a half dozen ancient apple trees on their place, which is just up the hill from us. The neighbors have a very busy life in the Boston area, don’t come here often in the fall, and are happy to let us pick what we can from their old, barely tended, little orchard. The fruit is almost never perfect. In good years we get enough fruit of decent enough quality to make bags and bags of dried apple slices, and to fill our freezer with a winter’s supply of applesauce.

This fall, as the time for drawing class drew near, we had been picking and processing apples for three or four weeks. The apples came in so early this year that we were almost too late with our harvesting. We had a box of rejects on the counter in the kitchen. They had interesting colors and shapes, so I took some with us to our first class of the fall, and selected two of them to draw.

The pair of “cull” apples, from the neighbor’s orchard. (photo, S. Casper)

We first make a sketch of our subject, on tracing paper. You try to get your proportions and relationships right. It’s a good idea to make as many of your mistakes as possible before you start drawing on good-quality drawing board.

Here’s what that sketch looked like, after a few hours of work.

The tracing paper sketch.

After the first two sessions, colors are roughed in. Four hours have passed.

Even at this stage, there are multiple layers of color. You start pale, and build up in intensity.

Another perfectly good week of classes gone by. Colors intensify, shadows build, details get tweaked in.

Still building up color layers. Working on shadow areas, both on the apple, and on the cast shadow.

Getting near the end. Blending colors, working on the cast shade. Shadow colors are incredibly subtle and complex. Another two hours will probably finish the drawing.

Two more hours will finish the drawing. Final details need to be improved. Thousands of black dots, in ink, will be applied. A final coat of blender pencil will go on areas where the paper still shows through.

Thank you, apples, for not getting rotten during the weeks of work.

Thank you, refrigerator and plastic bag, for making such longevity possible.

Finished, except for an application of fixative. The last task is applying initials, and the year completed, teensy, in pencil.

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One response to “The Apples Next Door

  1. Love this! My neighbor has an old hand-cranked cider press. Most years everyone comes over Columbus Day weekend and makes cider. This year it didn’t happen because there were no apples. His younger daughter’s school class made cider one morning, but the parents had to buy the apples to do it with — no windfalls and “seconds” to be had. Was it because they were early? I saw apples on some wild trees in early summer and thought it was going to be a good apple year, but it wasn’t.

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