(My "On the Easel" posts give you a behind-the-scenes look at what I am working on, what went well, what went wrong, and things I learn).
Here's the latest painting off the easel, Tree in Perspective. This is one of the largest, if not the largest painting I have done, coming in at 24 by 30 inches. It depicts a tree from an extreme perspective with a background of deep blues. A simple yet challenging composition.
Here's the reference photo I painted from. Notice how I used my artistic license to exclude the not-so-graceful powerlines on the right.
For larger paintings, I typically do a small study to map out my thoughts. Here's the study for Tree in Perspective.
- Oil on stretched canvas. 24 by 30 inches.
- Main colors: Ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, viridian green, raw umber, titanium white. I also used a touch of cerulean blue for the bottom of the sky.
(Refer to my supplies list for more details on what I use).
- There's something enjoyable about painting on such a large scale. You get to use large brushes and broad strokes. But, there’s a logistical problem when working large:
"The great difficulty with large canvases is that they should by right be painted as fast as a sketch. By speed only can you gain an appearance of fleeting effect. But to paint a three yard canvas with the same dispatch as one of ten inches is well-nigh impossible.” Joaquín Sorolla
- I used the reference photo tool to grayscale and grid the reference photo. The grayscale allowed me to pinpoint the general value structure, lightest light, and darkest dark. The grid aided with my initial sketch and overall composition.
- After staining the canvas, I drew a rough 3 by 3 grid in the wet paint (see below) to correspond with the grid over the reference photo.
- When doing the initial sketch, I focused on big and simple masses; not individual branches and leaves.
- I started quickly but carefully. It’s important that the foundation of the painting is accurate (small errors early on may end up being significant errors at the end).
- A key aspect of the painting is the extreme perspective of the tree. As I painted, I actively tried to follow the contours around the form of the tree. Is the tree leaning toward or away from me? Is the tree tilting left or right? Where are the pinches and edges of the tree?
- The other key aspect is the deep blue sky. Deeper than what you typically would see in landscape painting due to the extreme perspective (looking upward rather than across the horizon). At the top, I used ultramarine blue plus a touch of white. Around the bottom, I added more white and even a touch of cerulean blue.
- I followed a theme of warm lights, cool shadows, and warm dark accents (refer to the closeup below to see one of the warm dark accents.
- I left most of the detail work until the later stages of the painting. This allowed me to work fast whilst the paint was still wet.
- I used many different techniques: blending, palette knife work, impasto strokes, scraping with my fingernail, smudging with my finger, linework, "roughing up" paint with a paper towel—whatever gets the job done.
- Notice the subtle dance between hard, soft, and lost edges. Hard edges depict shadows on the tree and some edges between the tree and blue sky. Soft edges depict clouds and most of the greenery. Stray leaves and branches create lost edges (by breaking up hard edges).
I sometimes use my phone camera in grayscale (I change color saturation to zero) to see if my values are on point. Below is a screenshot of my phone to show you what I mean.
Finished Painting Detail
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