The Olive Tree


Olive trees are great – when they get old they become wonderfully gnarly, and they produce olives, which are good to eat – but you don’t find many growing in the woods around here. They are neither native nor naturalised in Britain, but they can and do grow here if suitably nurtured. I am fairly certain that there is one growing in the gardens at The Vyne, a National Trust property near Basingstoke. (There is a rather nice ancient oak there as well – I probably ought to visit at some point).

But this olive tree is in Portugal, where it is a native. I was in Lisbon recently (probably not a prime olive spotting place, but there are still quite a few around). I found this tree growing outside of the The Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. The wall behind the tree was uncharacteristically plain, and a bit boring, so I used some carved stone decorations from a completely different church (Nossa Senhora da Conceição Velha) elsewhere in the city. There were some lovely green men, in the form of foliate heads, on that doorway but they were too distractingly interesting for the subdued background that I wanted, so I chose some foliate arabesques instead. I drew them in Inktense pencil, and softened the effect with water.

The Olive Tree, 14 x 11″, ink and Inktense on kaolin-coated board, £350