(My "On the Easel" posts provide a behind-the-scenes look at what I'm working on, what went well, what went wrong, and things I learn.)
I recently put the finishing touches on Tree, Dappled Light. A simple painting with some challenging aspects.
I painted from the following reference photo. I believe it was taken in Tasmania some time ago, but the location is hardly relevant. This is a study of trees and nature rather than a specific location.
- Oil on Ambersand gessoboard. 18 x 24 inches.
- Main colors: Ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow, cadmium yellow deep, viridian green, terra rosa, and titanium white.
Refer to my supplies list for more details on what I use.
- Started fast, finished slow.
- Was careful to stop before overworking it, whilst the painting still appeared fresh and spontaneous. There's a fine line between finished and overworked. The following quote comes to mind:
"It takes two to paint. One to paint, the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it." William Merritt Chase
- The main challenge was capturing the tightly woven sky, clouds, leaves, and branches. Do I paint the sky first or last? How do I deal with colors inappropriately mixing on the canvas? How much detail do I use? What should I simplify? I ended up doing a bit of back-and-forth between the sky and the main tree. I started with simple color shapes, then worked on the main tree, then the sky, then the main tree again, and so on until the painting looked right. Another approach might be to meticulously draw the subject then paint piece by piece from start to finish. But I don't have the patience for that.
- This is a fairly large painting, coming in at 18 x 24 inches. I find painting on a larger scale to be more enjoyable and more favorable on the outcome. That might come down to simply having more room to move.
- This is a high contrast painting, with light lights and dark darks. Refer to the grayscale image below. It's the opposite of Fraser Island, High Key, which is compressed around the light value range. When painting high contrast scenes, I like to think of the lights and darks as distinct areas with their own range of values. In the light area, there are highlights and light mid-tones. In the dark area, there are dark mid-tones and dark accents. These subtle relationships are important. It's even more important to ensure the lights are all lighter than the darks.
Step 1: A thin stain of color, mapping the general color shapes.
Step 2: Work on the foundation of the painting, focusing on the large, dark shapes.
Step 3: Paint the sky, clouds, and tree in the background. Start painting the branches over the top. To reduce mixing in the wet paint, I used a loaded brush and dragged it over the surface with a loose hand.
Step 4: Work on the lights, add dappled light in the foreground, and refine. I used multicolored strokes for the dappled light to give the illusion of nature and detail.
Step 5. Sign and photograph the finished painting.
- For large paintings, use large brushes. Don't get caught up in the details.
- It's important to have a strategy when painting tightly woven objects like this. Think about what you will paint first, how you will paint it, what challenges you will face.
- If you're struggling for inspiration, take a look through your old photos. The photo I painted from was taken years ago. (If you need reference photos, you can grab some of mine here.)
- When painting high contrast scenes, make sure your lights are lighter than your darks.
- Use multicolored strokes to give the illusion of detail.