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More Complex Than Meets the Eye

Here’s a new painting fresh off the easel: Fallen Trees and Striking Contrast:

Dan Scott, Fallen Trees and Striking Contrast, 2024
Dan Scott, Fallen Trees and Striking Contrast, 2024

I painted from the photo below. This was a hidden parkland that I stumbled across with my daughter. It may look like a simple landscape, but there’s actually a lot going on, particularly around the water.

Dan Scott, Fallen Trees and Striking Contrast, 700W

Let’s zoom in on the water around the bottom.

Dan Scott, Fallen Trees and Striking Contrast, 1200W

Notice what’s happening:

  • There are several cast shadows on the water from the trees and plants.
  • The water’s surface is partially reflecting colors from the land and sky. These reflections vary based on the angle and the stillness of the water’s surface. Broken water=broken reflections.
  • There are a few bright white highlights. They concentrate around one area and then scatter out from there. (I published a video on painting the highlights with a palette knife here.) 
  • We get a glimpse of the river bed in some of the shallow areas.
  • The water has a yellow tinge to it, which influences our perception of anything below the surface.
  • Several trigs and leaves overhang the water. Their colors melt in with the reflections on the water.

All this is happening around the same area. It’s like an intricate dance between all the cast shadows, the bright highlights, the reflections, the water, the ripples, the overhanging trigs and leaves, and the river bed. When one element steps forward, the others step back.

Now, how did I go about painting all this? The same as any other subject. I observed the colors, mixed them, and placed them in the right spots. But I had to do so with a bit more care given the complexity. If I rushed it, my mind would overly simplify the subject and I would overlook the important nuances. Simplification is good, but in this case, it’s the nuances that make the subject.

I’ll have a timelapse video of this painting for you shortly. If you ever want to learn more, come join us in the Landscape Painting Masterclass.

Happy painting!

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Dan Scott

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Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.


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