Artist Dina Brodsky wowed us with her miniature landscape paintings last year, and she has since embarked on another nature-inspired series she calls The Secret Life of Trees. The basic idea behind the project is to illustrate 126 different trees from all corners of the world, celebrating these life-giving plants that so many of us overlook in our day-to-day lives. In an email, Brodsky explains to us that some are “drawn from observation, some from imagination, and some from photographs and stories shared by people who want to contribute to the project.”
From the barren, gnarled branches of a tree in Sweden to a vivacious tree in Spain with leaves the size of your palm, Brodsky captures the diverse shapes, sizes, and phases of trees that surround us. The New York-based artist sketches varying breeds, representing the cyclical stages of life—from a frail, wispy sapling to a majestic, sturdy tower.
Using simple drawing tools like ballpoint and gel pens, Brodsky first plunged into this project while pregnant with her first child. “The tree project was a way for me to keep making art, while no longer being able to do it the way I was used to,” she told us. “It also allowed me to vicariously see the world through the tree images people sent me, and in that way to keep traveling as well. My plan was to keep making them until I was capable of resuming painting (also, trees seemed an organic thing for my mind to drift to while thinking about upcoming children/life changes and whatnot).”
Since giving birth to her son, the artist has continued to add trees to her project, which can be followed on Instagram. She’s even injected a bit more color to the series with gouache and oil paints. There are also some limited edition prints available through her Etsy shop.
Dina kindly answered a few more questions we had about her captivating project. Scroll down to read our exclusive interview about The Secret Life of Trees and the deeper meaning behind it.
What inspired you to start this project?
I've been an obsessive sketchbook keeper for the past 15 years, ever since I first started to study art. Trees were always something I was visually drawn to. I believe that, initially, I would draw them as others drew portraits of people. Each species was different, obviously, but so was each individual tree. Much like people, they are formed by a combination of their genetics and their environment, and also like people, they get more interesting as they age. This project is a chance for me to focus entirely on something I've always been interested in, while also seeing what trees mean to others. As I've been asking for tree stories, photos, and artifacts, I have received some very beautiful and unexpected things, ranging from poems and quotes, to tree-related traditions in different parts of the world.
What do you feel is the significance of trees in your project?
Trees are something that are both very simple and infinitely complex. It is easy to forget how much of our lives are spent walking by them, being surrounded by them, reading books printed on them, breathing oxygen made by them, living in houses and using furniture built from them, etc. The paper used for this project was once a tree itself, so in a way trees are both the subject and the material of this series, both the means and the end.
Also, why 126? Does this number hold special meaning?
It's considered a lucky number in the Jewish tradition. I believe it's 7 times the numerical value of the hebrew word for “life”, which I felt was appropriate, since trees are so strongly associated with life—a tree of life is a symbolic motif in many ideologies.
Could you walk us through your process?
The process depends on whether I'm working from observation, or from a photograph, but both involve intense, uninterrupted examination. First I start with the structure of the tree, its anatomy or skeleton, then I move onto the leaves, the branches and finer details. I draw with ballpoint pen, so there's no room to correct mistakes—this is the way I prefer it, since it forces me to concentrate fully.
What do you hope viewers take away from this series?
I hope that what viewers take away from this series is a keener perception of how miraculous and varied our universe is, how ordinary things that surround us daily have the capacity to become extraordinary once we fully concentrate on them. This project is certainly about trees, but it is a form of visual storytelling as well, each tree drawing working separately from the rest to tell its own chapter, while working together with the rest of the images to form a larger narrative.
And here's Brodsky's own little sapling next to one of her drawings.
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Dina Brodsky.