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The oak tree in Skjomendalen © Gerhard Sørensen-Fuglem and Cecilia Piccirilli Bjerkeset
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Plant Focus

A small but mature Alabama sandstone oak producing acorns © Patrick Thompson
A Critically Endangered dwarf oak 

Richard Geraint Evans: GPS Trees

The latest in our series of articles on Oak Artists features Richard Geraint Evans, a British artist previously known as a fine portraitist and for a series of meticulously beautiful paintings of clouds. Richard became a full-time artist in 2010, following a successful career in advertising and design, and recently he has focused his attention on trees. His latest project is GPS TreesTM, a series of pen and graphite drawings, the majority of which depict oaks. His drawings stand out not only because of their beauty and draftsmanship, but also because they include as part of the artwork the precise coordinates of the tree’s location. These serve as a beacon beckoning the viewer to set their compass and travel to see the real thing, the only way to fully experience a tree. Richard kindly agreed to answer some questions over email. Below you can read his eloquent and thought-provoking responses and admire a selection of his drawings. Click on the coordinates in the captions to draw up the trees’ location on Google Maps. To learn more about Richard, visit his website and the GPS Trees website, where you can purchase high-quality giclée prints of the drawings. You can follow him on Twitter for updates on future exhibitions and other information relating to Richard’s love of trees: @RGE_Art


An oak standing in the grounds of Petworth House in West Sussex.
An oak standing in the grounds of Petworth House in West Sussex, UK; GPS Tree location: N 50°59.867’ W 000°37.621’

What is your background as an artist?

My artistic education is not that unusual: an art foundation course, a degree in commercial art, and then a lengthy career as a graphic designer/art director. But I now know that life itself shapes our artistic path far more than years of formal training. I grew up in Derbyshire, on the edge of the beautiful Peak District. Here my love for nature was sworn. It’s a very green and pleasant land, chiseled from limestone and drenched in peat-scented mist. My natural surroundings were and still are baked into the artist I am now.

Most of my adult life has been spent living in London, alongside the two great oases Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park. The trees there were a gift to my current tree portraiture and a sanctuary from 10 million busy people. Richmond Park is world famous for its ancient oaks, thousands of trees originally protected by Henry VIII. I spent much of my spare time sketching and photographing these impressive trees. I now live near the coast on the edge of the South Downs National Park in West Sussex. Once again I’m privileged to be surrounded by more and more beautiful oaks. Not that far from the 1,000-year-old Queen Elizabeth Oak near Midhurst.

I’ve always been fascinated by the natural world and the decisions it takes as it grows. The physics of chaos, the patterns of self-simulation, the innate beauty of all natural forms. For several years I painted only cloud formations; my tree drawings are really an extension of that work—their remarkable shapes are fascinating to me. It’s impossible to succinctly explain my enduring love for trees in the space available. I do hope my numerous drawings speak of my passion and illustrate my level of commitment. I visit different trees almost every day. I think it’s an addiction!

A large winter oak standing in Broad Green Field, Binsted, West Sussex.
A large winter oak standing in Broad Green Field, Binsted, West Sussex; GPS Tree location: N 50°50.900’ W 000°35.610’

What made you create the GPS Trees project?

I’m concerned about the welfare of all our trees. Culturally, spiritually, and biologically trees are crucial to our own collective wellbeing. Frustratingly, many of us only notice a tree when it’s no longer there—we miss it and come to realize just how much it meant to us. I’d really like people to notice and appreciate trees in the present; I want to draw people’s attention to them.

I started drawing portraits of individual trees, just single trees in isolation against a white background. I presented them as pieces of art in their own right. But I soon realized that it was virtually impossible to adequately convey the romance of being with a tree in either a drawing or a painting. So I decided to invite viewers to visit the actual beautiful tree; my drawing skills are now simply a lure. My invitation to meet the individual tree came in the form of a GPS location reference, written beneath each drawn tree. A really simple device that gave my work meaning. No longer art in the traditional sense, the work was now far more conceptual. It aimed to change behavior with a powerful call to action. The GPS reference is the work’s real strength.

When people take the time and make the effort to visit the actual trees, a strong emotional bond is made. The effect is profound—many times I’ve witnessed people’s reactions as they visit the actual tree. From a monochromatic drawing to the glory of natural living color, visitors witness the true scale and mass, they smell the bark, they hear the leaves rustle, and they meet all the tree’s dependent wildlife. Once “connected” I think people are more likely to care for the tree’s welfare, they may even invite others to meet “their tree”, to see how it’s doing. This emotional bond makes GPS Trees the most rewarding work I’ve ever undertaken.

Last Christmas a customer named Andrew bought his wife a print of one of my Welsh oak tree drawings. On Boxing day they both drove in the rain for over an hour to visit the actual tree. The couple were overjoyed to finally meet their mighty common oak (Quercus robur). My drawings are detailed just enough for people to recognize the tree as they approach it on their first visit. This particular Welsh oak stands in a recreational area close to a main road and ordinarily Andrew and his wife probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it. These polite GPS invitations have real power. Wouldn’t it be great if we could “connect” every single person with an individual tree?

Key to my GPS Trees work is the fact that I avoid drawing the “famous” trees. I consciously avoid the tendency to concentrate on only the oldest and the largest trees. From a conservation perspective I prefer the trees that people ignore and walk past daily. I also prefer to draw trees that might be in danger from developers or are vulnerable in some other way. To me, every tree is remarkable.

A large oak standing in Richmond Park, South West London.
A large oak standing in Richmond Park, South West London; GPS Tree location: N 51°26.326’ W 000°16.344’

Oaks feature prominently in GPS Trees. Why do you think that is?

Oaks are all very different, they each have a distinct visual character particularly as they reach old age. Their shapes are extraordinary and often inexplicable. They appear to adapt well to hardship and their immediate surroundings, far more than other deciduous trees (perhaps with the exception of sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa)). There’s also a cultural romance with oaks, particularly in the UK. They once built our homes and our ships, they inspire poetry, prose, and paintings, they are where we meet our friends, they comfort us with their longevity, and they punctuate our landscapes with a reassuring familiarity...

Can you estimate what proportion of GPS Trees are oaks?

I would say 70% of the trees I draw are oaks. This is partly due to my continued close proximity to this particular genus.

Had you drawn oaks before embarking on GPS Trees?

Yes, along with many other genera.

RGE drawing an oak
“Oak branches twist and turn and as such are wonderful to draw.”
A 900-year-old oak standing in the grounds of Petworth House in West Sussex; GPS Tree location: N 50°59.513’ W 000°36.842’

What is different about drawing an oak as compared to other trees? Any particular challenges posed by oaks?

I prefer to draw oaks without their leaves. Oak branches twist and turn and as such they are wonderful to draw. Their labyrinthine forms take a long time to accurately portray, sometimes weeks. As I draw, it often feels like I’m growing the actual tree, the numerous growth patterns become familiar and bring a precious affinity with the oak genus. There are also many different oak bark textures, which all present their own challenges. My drawings are relatively small (roughly 25 cm square) so only a certain amount of detail is possible. Larger drawings are much easier but take far too long—I want to draw more different trees and so connect many more people. I really do grow attached to all the trees I draw. I often shed a tear when an original drawing is sold and shipped to its new owners. But I can still return to visit the actual trees, I do this often and I often notice changes, particularly after storms. In a way, the oaks become long-term friends.

Future plans for this project?

I’m committed to this project for the rest of my life. I’ve only drawn around 300 trees, but I’ve emotionally connected them to many, many more people. That’s my goal: to connect as many people to as many trees as possible. This project really is about people as much as it is about trees—because a tree’s long-term welfare is in our hands. Sometimes I wonder if my grandchildren will visit all the trees I’ve drawn. To see how they’ve changed. To see if they’re all okay. I’d love that.

Richard Geraint Evans
Richard Geraint Evans among the oaks of Richmond Park

GPS Trees logo