Thursday, December 29, 2011

Playing Around With my Five Color Palette

Work in Progress

Notes From My Tree Journal

I go back to this five color palette each winter. I really love it. It is a great north Florida palette.

Mars Black (Golden)
Ultramarine Blue (Old Holland)
Yellow Ochre (Old Holland)
Cadmium Red Light (Windsor and Newton)
Titanium White (Golden)

In the spring and summer I add Cad Yellow Lemon and Cad Yellow Medium for truer greens.

I am ever amazed at the variety I can get from the 5 palette. It is really great for plein air work. Any time I begin to lose control of my color mixing, I can go back to this palette and get myself straightened out again.

A reader asked about Pin Oaks.
This is what I found on the web. They do not grow in Florida according to this information:

The Pin Oak tree (Quercus palustris) is also known as the Marsh Oak, althoughthe name of Marsh Oak is a bit misleading.  The tree is rarely found in marshes and constantly humid conditions.  Nevertheless, flooded river valleys often become home to some of these trees.
Coming from Eastern north America, the tree is a relative newcomer to European lands.  It was named Marsh Oak by a German botanist from Hameln called Otto II of M√ľnchhausen, who wrote the first valid description of this tree in 1752.  The scientific name Palustris comes from the Latin word meaning "marsh", and its is in the family of Fagaceae (Beech trees).
The original natural home of the Pin oak is  the east of the United States of America and of Canada, from Tennessee and Virginia to the areas  of the Great Lakes in Canada.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Physics of Trees

This very interesting tree information came from NPR and National Geographic

Hurricanes topple plenty of trees, but when you think about it, the more amazing thing is that many trees can stand up to these 100-mile-per-hour winds.
Now a French scientist has come up with an explanation for the resilience of trees. And astonishingly, the answer was first described by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago.
Leonardo noticed that when trees branch, smaller branches have a precise, mathematical relationship to the branch from which they sprang. Many people have verified Leonardo's rule, as it's known, but no one had a good explanation for it.
French physicist Christophe Eloy wasn't particularly interested in trees, but he does specialize in understanding how air flows around objects — objects like airplane wings and such. So he decided to see whether he could solve the mystery of the branching trees.
"I just did it because it was a nice problem, but I think there are some implications for real-life applications," Eloy says.
Leonardo's rule is fairly simple, but stating it mathematically is a bit, well, complicated. Eloy did his best:
"When a mother branch branches in two daughter branches, the diameters are such that the surface areas of the two daughter branches, when they sum up, is equal to the area of the mother branch."
When you see something like that that hasn't been explored fully, it's a very nice challenge for a scientist.
Translation: The surface areas of the two daughter branches add up to the surface area of the mother branch.

'A Very Nice Challenge'
While Eloy was on a break from his day job as an assistant professor of physics at the University of Provence, he started playing around with some calculations, and he came across something rather amazing. From an engineering point of view, if you wanted to design a tree that was best able to withstand high winds, it would branch according to Leonardo's rule.
Apparently, trees have figured out the sophisticated engineering principles all on their own.
Of course, engineers have known for a long time that they have to think about wind when they're building things.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A conversation about trees

Notes From my Tree Journal

I had an interesting discussion with my friend Teresa yesterday. She is a school teacher. She was looking around the Loft Studio and thinking about the tree paintings. We got to talking about what trees mean to us and she feels that trees represent stability and reliability to her. She feels strength in knowing that the trees are always there for her and that she can lean on them for comfort and strength. I love it that she shared those feelings with me, as I feel that too. I don't want to give you the idea that I am silly about trees, I'm not, but I do feel they are a very special part of our world and they have much to teach us.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Painting Trees en mass

Notes From My Tree Journal

Painting a large mass of trees can be difficult and confusing to the beginner. It is easier to do when you develop the pattern of tree shapes as you process through the mass of trees. You will begin to see areas of dark, light. and mid tone values and it also helps if you get a good feel for the changes in color temperature in the tree masses. Here in the south it also helps to use the Spanish Moss and large tree limbs and trunks as markers throughout the painting to give you an idea of where you are. It is easy to be completely overwhelmed by the various shades of green and multiple shapes and values, so it's a good idea to do a couple of value maps of the scene before you begin. Here in Florida you are liable to see this kind of scenery everywhere, dense, jungles of various textures and lots of subtle differences in color temperatures throughout.

One thing to be careful of is not overdeveloping the sky and land mass around the trees unless you want to negate the trees as the area of interest. Since the tree masses were the area of interest for me in this scene, I left the grasses very simple, and muted the cloud formations in the sky.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oak Trees

Notes From My Tree Journal

A reader inquired about Bur Oak trees. I was not familiar with them because they don't grow around these parts, so I did a bit of research on them HERE. I have asked my friend Rick Knellinger to write a bit about the trees he has on his land at Fair Oaks. I will post that for you when he has time to write.

My favorite oak is the Live Oak which grows prolifically here in North Central Florida. I can't seem to paint them enough as they are fascinating to me. HERE

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A question from a Reader-Notes From MY Tree Journal

Notes From my Tree Journal

A reader wrote to ask for information on tree roots. I found this excellent web site giving lots of information about TREE ROOTS.

This month I have spent most of my painting time in my loft studio. It is the nheavy shopping season so the gallery downstairs has been open long hours, so I have stayed open too. Today I decided to do this little painting in a cool temperature palette just for the fun of it. I am usually a warm palette painter.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holy Ground Field Trees

Notes From My Tree Journal

I'm a terrible photographer, so this image is blurry and not excellent.

This is a favorite scene for me at Fair Oaks, where I am an artist in residence. The trees are actually lined up on the rim of a pond which is now dry.  I wanted to create some intervals between the trees so the composition would be more interesting, so I made some slight adjustments in the placement of the trees to create space between them. I also varied the temperature in the greens in the tree to create space betwen them. I'll try taking a better photo of the painting and put it up on my web site.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Richardson Farm

Notes From my Tree Journal

This scene is classic north Florida. Huge Live Oak trees with cattle. You can see this on almost every farm in north central Florida. I really love painting this theme over and over again.It is like eating fried chicken, corn bread and collard greens. Such a pleasure to experience.

This farm is adjacent to Fair Oaks, where I paint as often as I can. There are no cattle at Fair Oaks but across the fence in the neighbor's farm there are many in all colors. Sometimes they break through the border and visit Fair Oaks. I love painting them from a distance but I really like Fair Oaks without the livestock. It is clean, pristine, and the trees are undisturbed. The most beautiful land I know. The light there is like no other.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Just about done

Notes From My Tree Journal

I'm just about done with this painting. I sure enjoyed the process. I will take a look at it in the morning with fresh eyes to see if it needs any tweaking but I feel satisfied. These big trees are quite a challenge. I will do this one again, probably in a larger format next summer when I have more time.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Work in Progress

Notes From My Tree Journal

I have made some progress on this 18x24 painting this week.  I expect to finish it tomorrow unless the Loft Studio has a lot of visitors. I have two painting studios, one in the city called the Loft where visitors can come anytime. My other painting studio is in a no frills concrete block building behind my home in rural north Florida, about 17 miles from the city.

I really like this tree and this will not be the last painting I do of it. I would like to do a large format painting, about 30x40 or 40x48. That would be a wonderful process. I will learn this tree with this painting and then give it another shot in a large format , perhaps next summer when I have lots of quiet studio time. 

I find that I often want to do multiples of a single subject in various sizes and shapes, in order to really understand it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Work in Progress

Notes From my Tree Journal

I don't have an image of the painting yet but I'm working on an 18x24 painting of the above tree reference photo. The tree is growing in the new field at Fair Oaks in Evinston Florida. It is a magnificent Live Oak, simply massive. I'm well into the painting and should be through in a few days. I'll post it when I'm done.

Some of my students have asked me about my tree painting methods and I try to work in an organic way. By that, I mean that I don't do large linear strokes, just filling in the shapes and color. Instead, I vary the direction of my brush strokes, sometimes crossing over the shape in sideways brush direction, changing from warm to cool bark color back and forth, mixing purples, grays, blues, reds, oranges into the various parts of the tree as I go.Giving bark texture in some areas and some areas without so much texture. I like to push some limbs to another plane by cooling them as they recede into blues and grays. Trees are alive and they need that feel to them. They are not static brown and green like so many painters portray them. They are not predictable and drab. The canopy in this particular tree is so heavy and low to the ground that in order to paint it, I had to step under the canopy inside the core to the trunk, as that is the most interesting part. It is like a secret place inside. Because of this, most of the canopy in the painting will be behind the trunk area, and less important than the trunk and limbs. All of these issues have to be considered in a painting. So many decisions have to be made along the way.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tuscawilla Prairie Trees

Notes From my Tree Journal

I've been doing a few small paintings of trees at Tuscawilla Prairie. Last week when  I was there, I was able to get quite a few reference photos after I did my first painting. This week while people are out shopping, I'm in the loft studio for extended hours and so I'm taking advantage of the extra studio time to study those photos of trees at the prairie.

This is a limited palette of:

Trans Red Iron Oxide
Ultramarine Blue
Ivory Black
Titanium White
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Cadmium Yellow Lemon
Yellow ochre
Cadmium Red Light

Expanded from the palette I have been using a lot lately by adding the cad medium yellow and trans red iron oxide.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Using Color Notes

Notes From my Tree Journal

In the fall now it is staying light until about 6:15, so the light is fantastic from 4:30 to 6:00 PM.

I love to soak it up looking at the fields on fire with light, the red in the swamp maples and in the tops of the pines. The sky is too hard to believe on some days with dark blue clouds rimmed in impossibly orange light. Let's face it. God is a much better painter than I am.

All the way home down the rural roads I gawk at the landscape in the late afternoon light. So, you think, what good does that do?

When I get home I get out my note pad and my color pencils/markers and I make color notes for future charting. While the memory is fresh, I write down most of the color I saw, the time of day, the places on trees where I was most likely to find the unusual effects of light and the sky shapes, colors and formations. I clip my written notes to my color notes above and store them. Because I have learned the art of observation, after having spent much of my time painting in the field and observing, I am able to close my eyes and remember most of what I saw, hours later. These little color notes are a bit of information that prompts my memory later, when I might need them.

One of these days, I'll be doing a painting and those notes and color charts will come in handy. Not to mention that this kind of research is just plain fun to do.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Quick Demonstration

Notes From My Tree Painting Journal

It's my view that a teaching demonstration should focus on a variety of techniques and ideas rather than on doing a refined lovely painting just to look good and impress your students. Painting Demos for patrons is another matter. You want to wow them with your expertise. The above 9x12  was a teaching demo today for a few students. It wound its way through many different brush work techniques, paint mixing advice, and glazing techniques. I did not focus on a sophisticated composition at all. I wanted the composition to be easy to follow, so I did a simplified version of another more complex painting done earlier. I use a five value family when I teach and for my own work. Light-half tint light-mid-half tone dark and dark. I teach using a variety of textures, a variety of color temperatures and values, gradually mixing variations for interest. I use palette knife, brushes, opaque and glazing with mediums. All good fun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning with a study series

Notes From My tree Journal

I have found that one of the best ways to improve skills is by working on a series of small paintings with the same theme. Right now, I am studying Cabbage palms as we call them, also known as Sabal palms. I'll do 10 - 20 5x7 paintings one after the other to study different ways, color palettes, backgrounds, etc. to learn painting techniques. I'll study leaf canopy, trunks, texture, sky behind the palms and tree canopies behind the palms to come up with good ways to paint them. This gathered information will come in handy to paint palms into larger format paintings.

I have done these theme paintings in small format for about 30 years.It is non threatening, ok to make mistakes and a great way to learn about painting trees for me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A study of the Cellon Oak in Alachua County

Notes From My Tree Journal

Yesterday I joined the Hogtown Plein Air Painters for their Sunday paint out. They were going to Cellon Oak Park, which is about 3 miles form my house so it was very convenient. I usually paint alone but it is one of my favorite painting spots in my neighborhood and I always enjoy painting the famous Cellon Oak. It is a massive tree, supposedly the largest live oak in Florida. My little 8x10 inch painting can't begin to do justice to it, but I really enjoyed studying it.

 Painting a tree that large in a small format immediately presents problems. It is almost overwhelming. Fitting it into the picture plane is prohibitive. If you fit it into the little format it looks insignificant, If you do it as I did, you have to crop it to give the viewer a notion of just how huge it really is. I did this painting in large format about 8 months ago and it was easier, though still difficult to show it's huge mass.

It's one of those challenging trees that I will continue to paint, hoping to get it right.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Figuring Out Light

Notes From My Tree Journal

I apologise for the wrong rotation of this image. I can't seem to get blogger to insert it in the right direction. Anyhoo, the main focus of my work as a painter is light and atmosphere in the landscape and how to successfully portray them. This 9x12 painting was an experiment in light beams and how they strike trees. I had a pretty good time with this. The location is a favorite field for me at Fair Oaks in Evinston, FL. Field Three, as it is called, is a magical place full of glorious trees. I just happened to be there at the right time to see this lovely sun beam cut across the two trees. A lot of the beam was done with layers of thin paint with glazing medium and then going back over it with opaque paint in some spots.  This is my first effort with sunbeams on trees, so I'm sure to improve my technique as I study the light on location further.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trees with a Painting Knife

Notes From my Tree Journal

Saturday I taught a knife painting workshop in my Loft Studio. Naturally I used trees as my subject for the above demo painting. I don't often paint with only the knife. To me the best paintings use both brush and knife, but I needed to do it all with my knives to show my class you actually can do a painting from start to finish with them. Unlike most painting knife painters, I don't like thick paint. I usually scrape the paint quite thinly over the surface of the support, in multiple layers. Acrylics are an excellent medium for painting knife because they are clean and crisp; drying very quickly to paint multiple layers. My two favorite paintings knives are the long narrow oval and the slanted chisel edged knife.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Working with Intervals

Notes From My Tree Journal

I think one of the most important elements of composing are Intervals. Creating multiple natural looking spaces between objects is a good idea. It keeps the viewer in the painting longer and they act as visual directive cues. I see a lot of paintings that have the same trunk, limb heights, sizes in trunks,distance between trees,limbs,etc.  I think that could be improved. For example, The trees in the above field were actually lined up along the same line. This is common on a lot of farm and ranch lands as they provide natural barriers, fences, and wind breaks.  Visually, they are not the best or most interesting composition. By changing a few of the intervals in the tree line, pulling a few branches out into the field, bringing the large single tree down further into the composition, adding a few palms to the single one that was actually there, while gradually making them recessive, and adding some nice atmospheric color to the distance, the composition is more interesting. (Sorry for the run on sentence, art major here.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Fun Study

Today's Plein Air Study
5x7 inches

I painted at an event today at a lovely farm that was new to me. I like to do small format paintings in new places because it takes time for me to get a feel for the place. There were lots of distractions as well, with a large crowd of people, fairly loud music and so forth. Not the best time to paint but it was for PR. I enjoyed the scene and the trees in front of me. I'd like to paint there again on a quiet day when I can focus. There were a couple of really grand pine trees, old and gnarled that I would enjoy painting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today's Tree Painting

Notes From My Tree Journal

I finally had a day in the studio to begin painting trees again. My week at the coast went fast and now I am back to work on more familiar subjects. This is field II at Fair Oaks. I am really beginning to get some good control with this limited palette for fall and winter. I find that using a limited palette for a season of work really frees my focus, so that I can think about other elements of painting. If you know what your palette will do for you, you can think about composing, values, and other principles and elements of design. Using a limited palette prevents the nasty color mixing surprises that sometimes happen. I really like to have palette control. One thing I learned and tell my students frequently is to mix on the palette, not the canvas. I make sure my mixtures are thorough before I ever add them to the painting. I often see sloppy mixing where lots of ugly variations end up on the painting because the painters have failed to mix properly. Here is another little tip that works well for me.  As I begin to do a color mix, I will vary it slightly as I work through the painting. I am adding small bits of other colors into the paint mix. It is not totally noticeable, but instead, subtle variations occur near each other to add depth and richness to the color mixtures. I almost always do this with my paintings. It prevents the flat illustrative look to my paintings that I see so much in other acrylic work. I've never liked that hard edged,flat look and try to avoid it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Winter Trees

Notes From My Tree Journal

I've always loved painting in the winter here in Florida. We are moving into my favorite painting season now and it is flying by. I am crazy about the color of winter with it's more muted greens, rusts, wheats, and smoky blues and purples. There is a lovely palette late in the day from red and orange to the latest evening light, blue green with long shadows across the fields.

My Winter Palette:

Zinc white
Ivory Black
Cad yellow lemon
Cad Red Light
Yellow Ochre
Ultramarine Blue

My accents include:
Trans Red Iron oxide
Naples yellow
Cad orange

I will often do a painting with the basic six colors and then add a bit of an accent color to the end of the painting to make it pop.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Color Mixing Research

Canaveral Seashore Paintings

Notes From My Color Mixing Journal

I know this is a tree journal but my travels take me to many locations with different color than my home turf. I thought it might be interesting to talk about that on the tree journal before I get back to my usual tree painting efforts.

I spent two days painting at the beach under the beach pavilion. It was excellent because I was able to paint in the shade while viewing the ocean and sky. The first day I painted ocean waves and that was the real challenge of the paint out. I had been practicing waves in my studio for a few weeks in anticipation. That was fairly easy, working from a photo reference. Doing them live, on site is another matter entirely.The three paintings I did were pretty good as studies. I was really fond of one in particular. It was minimal and really appealed to me. The important discovery was the color mixing improvement I got by working for an entire day on waves. I had been mixing improperly in the studio with too blue a mixture. The ocean that day was much grayer and greener than blue. I have noticed that many artists, me too, automatically mix water too blue. I learned a lot about the mixture that day.  I used ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, ivory black, titanium white, and a bit of lemon yellow for the high curl of the waves. Of course in different areas of the beach at different times during the week, the water could be quite blue and even emerald green, but that day it was grayer. Lots of fun and a break from painting the farms, ranches and trees I love so much.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Coastal Trees

Notes From Canaveral National Seashore

I've been over on the coast for a week, painting at the national park. It is a very different landscape from my north central Florida fields with huge live oaks and pines.There aren't as many hardwoods there and there are many more palms on the coast. They rise up out of the dunes in the park just about everywhere. Underneath are lots of sturdy little bushes and palmettos. This time of year, I found lots of  the wild daisies growing around and lovely feathery grasses growing among the palms. The oaks are straggly and twisted with odd shaped limbs and more sinewy thin trunks, as if they have been struck by arthritis. It is beautiful there and a refreshing change of scenery for a short time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who doesn't love fall trees?

Holy Ground Field
at Fair Oaks

Notes From My Tree Journal

Lots of people go up north to observe the fall trees, but I love the transition in Florida. It is much more subtle here than the riot of color up north. This painting was done with both brush and painting knife. I find that I love the combination of brush and knife. Most of the trunks and limbs were done with the knife and some of the grasses. The rest with brush work. I like the control of the brush and the spontaneity of the knife.

This will be my last post until October 25th. I am going on the road this weekend to Canaveral National Seashore, to paint for a week.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Trees Can Do in an Urban Environment

What Can Trees Do For You?
  • Shade
    Trees make our homes and neighborhoods cooler, reducing utility bills in the summer. The appearance of a shaded neighborhood street is appealing. The image of several trees growing together on the same block to create a closed canopy is not only a majestic one, but a much cooler one! The more trees there are in a neighborhood, the cooler it is for everyone who lives there.
 A healthy mature tree can add to your property value. Estimates range, but an increase of 10% is not uncommon. Successful landscapes built around trees are beautiful to those who live there, and eye-catching to those looking to buy.
  • Economically Valuable
 Trees are natural filters of all too familiar city sounds. From cars driving by, to excitable neighbors, trees provide a quieter home by deflecting and absorbing sound.
  • Noise Filters
 Trees help to trap pollutants such as carbon monoxide and dust. Through a tree's natural functions, our air is purer and oxygen is given away.
  • Air Filters
 Our water is made cleaner by the presence of trees, especially trees near watersheds or other drainage areas. Tiny roots absorb chemicals picked up in surface water and are stored in the tree.
Along with improving water quality, trees help to stabilize soils by gripping soil particles with their roots. The presence of trees along watersheds that contain soils which are susceptible to erosion can significantly reduce the amount of pollutants in the water.
Many species of wildlife are attracted to trees, including squirrels, birds, and insects. For bird watchers or other wildlife observers, a neighborhood full of trees is a must.
Trees also protect us against wind by diverting it over or around us. Evergreen species planted on the north side of homes can reduce cold North winds during the winter.
  • Other Environmental
 A complete and healthy urban landscape includes the trees of the urban forest. The urban forest is made up of all of the trees within city limits. Our city forest enhances the visual and environmental quality of life, which in turn contributes to economic development. In this way, trees are helping citizens to more fully enjoy community life.
  • Quality of Life

Monday, October 17, 2011

Spreading Beauty in My World

Notes From my Tree Journal

I spend a lot of time out in the fields at farms and ranches and I travel a few times each year to painting events. I always was a huge admirer of Lady Bird Johnson who is responsible for many of the wildflowers we see along our roadsides. She made that her legacy to America as first lady and I am grateful to her. As I travel around, I gather wildflowers, pressing the fresh ones to use later and gathering the spent seed heads to share with my friends and patrons. It is a very nice hobby. I use the pressed flowers on wrapped paintings that I ship out to patrons and they seem to enjoy them.

Being a tree painter makes me aware of many wonderful aspects of nature, not just trees. Giving wild flower seeds to friends, and scattering them in the fields seems like a good way to spread the love of our natural world.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Neighborhood Farm

Notes From My Tree Journal

I discovered this farm about two miles from my painting stiudio three years ago. It is a lovely farm with cattle, huge Live Oak and pine trees. Very scenic. I was allowed to paint there very shortly, but with many restrictions. The owner insisted that I give him a painting in trade, and I was only allowed to paint for a few weeks on special days. I had to call ahead for permission.  I found that is was not worth the aggravation of following endless rules to paint there. A shame as it is a lovely place very close to me.

This kind of situation is rare, thank goodness. Almost every land owner I know allows me to paint on their farms whenever I like to. Most are generous with their time and resources, asking nothing from me in return. It is so important to respect the land where you paint and not to take anything for granted. I always ask permission in advance and I never leave anything behind except my footprints.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Painting Trees on Location

Notes From My Painting Journal

A reader commented last night on painting out in the fields rather than in the studio. I've been painting on location for about 25 years now. There are a variety of ways to do it. I have two sized paint boxes and a field easel that is collapsible and light weight for larger paintings. The only time I do large format work on location is when I am going to be in the area for several days. I like to do large paintings in stages. For small format I usually work alla prima, or also called in one setting. My paint boxes, called pochade boxes, are 9x12 and 6x8 and I have a tiny 5x7 box I use now and then. Most of the time, my plein air work is small from 5x7 to 9x12. I do take my camera or smart phone with me to take reference photos. I often use these small paintings as references for larger studio work. I carry a back pack, my hat, and a garden bench with me if I am going to paint for several days. For a single session, I prefer to stand to paint. I like the back pack system much better than the carts that lots of painters use.  I like to travel light. if it wont fit in my pack, it doesn't need to go.  I use a palette of 6 tubes of paint and three or four brushes, 2 painting knives. I paint with acrylic most of the time now. I paint on private lands most of the time, or in national/state parks. Most of the time I paint alone so it is important to be in safe places. I never take more supplies than I will use in my session. I keep my extra supplies in my box in the car to refill.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wekiva Trees

Notes From my Tree Journal

Wekiva State Park is a favorite place for me to paint. I get to go for a week each year and live in the park. There is something special about living in the wilderness. I'm the kind of painter who likes to return to a place over and over again to paint.  I have painted there for about 7 years and will be going in March of 2012 again. It took me two or three years to get a feel for  the land and the trees there. Now I look forward to the trip, anticipating the kinds of scenes I want to paint. I love the tall stands of pines as well as the tall palms and ancient oak trees along the path to Lake is the kind of event where I have all day long to paint where I wish to with no real pressure or schedules to worry about. There are a few activities, but most of the time I get to stay in the park and back pack around with my gear. There are a lot of dead trees scattered here and there which I also enjoy painting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Painting Palms

Notes From my Tree Journal

A bit about painting palm trees

Almost all Florida landscape painters paint a lot of palm trees. Each of us has our own signature for them. Here is a little about my method.

I like to lay in the trunk height first, adding the basic shape of the canopy at the top. I then will consider that there will be a dark shadow at the top of the trunk area because of the canopy above it. I like to make that shadow area a bit purply right under the canopy. There will be a shadow on the trunk on the side away from the light. There will usually be a fair amount of texture on the trunk as well. Some areas will be broken up light and shadow.

 When I start the canopy area, I like to make a dark mass low in the canopy.  The lighter tip of the fronds will be in the area of the most sunlight. It will be a warm light green, the darker value will be cool dark greens.

There are often dead fronds hanging down from the bottom where they have not fallen off or have not been trimmed. Those are usually tan or light brown with a bit of gray here and there. They also tend to be a fairly light color except were shadows hit them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tree are a Gift

Notes From My Tree Journal

Trees are a favorite subject for me as a painter and they always have been. Yes, I am a tree hugger. Trees represent stability, strength, permanence, a primal relationship to the land for me. Their roots dig deep into the land that I cherish. I have many happy memories of wandering the forests and woods of North Central Florida, all of my life.  My Daddy loved the land too. He always felt there was nothing more important you could own. The land owns us really, not the other way around.  It seeps into our souls.  I have witnessed this time and again in the farmers, ranchers and landowners I know. A deep respect and nurturing attitude about the land they live on. They are good stewards of the land and of the trees; not careless with this gift.

If you saw the Lord of the Rings films you will remember the wonderful “Shepherd of the Forest”. I love that part of the films when the trees came to life.  There is a magic to them. If you spend as much time as I do with trees you will sense their souls and their language.

If I can do nothing else with my work, I hope to leave a legacy and tribute to the glorious trees I paint. Many of these farmers and ranchers are getting older now. I worry that their land will be sold and developed after they are gone. Will their children respect and preserve their lands? I pray so. Some are agreeing to conservation easements and this is a wonderful thing to do. 

I support the area land trust organizations because they are so important to keep North Central Florida beautiful.

I urge you to find an organization in your area and to support it. We must find a way to preserve the trees and land in order to have any kind of decent environment for our future generations. Hug a tree today and plant one too.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Notes From My Tree Journal

This grand group of trees are only about 3 miles from my painting studio. They grow along the edge of a country road. They have great character, including lots of twisty limbs and knots growing on the trunks. The trick to painting masses of trees is to decide who will be the star of the production and gradually lower the drama and detail in the supporting actors. My star is the closest tree in this painting. I gave it lots of light and interesting texture.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Studying A Tree Trunk

8x10 inches
acrylic on Source Tek panel

Notes From my Tree Journal

This was a great tree to study. It is growing in the woods at Fair Oaks in Evinston. What wonderful character. It has many stories to tell.

With such strong imagery, I found it a challenge to make the background fit without giving it much notice. I would like to do this one again. It was very challenging.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Playing with my Florida Winter Palette

Notes From My Tree Journal

I did this painting today with the same palette as my painting yesterday. I will try to get a better image to share tomorrow. I am really liking this palette. In today's version of pine trees at Fair Oaks, where I am an Artist in Residence, I used a lemon yellow bias in the trees. Yesterday, I used a yellow ochre bias in the tree painting. That is what I love about this palette. You can push the palette more to the earth color or more to the cool greens, depending on how much lemon or ochre you mix into the greens. Using blue and black as your green mixers give you a lot of room to move from gray greens, to cool intense greens. This is a terrific palette. I think I'll be able to use it for most of the winter this year. One of the things I like about the last couple of painting with this is using the cool gray sky rather than the usual blue.  I have a thing about using odd colors in my skies. I don't mean the ubiquitous pink clouds that so many Florida painters use, I mean the entire sky. I have painted brown skies, yellow, blue, lavender, gray, pink and orange skies as well as red.

Go big or go home!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A nice tree palette for Florida

Notes From My Tree Journal

I did this 9x12 painting today and I really enjoyed it. I had no problems with it which leads me to believe it is my plein air work that I'm having trouble adjusting to.  This was a studio painting, so thank goodness the studio work seems to be going smoothly.

I particularly like this palette for Florida paintings.

Yellow Ochre (Old Holland)
Ultramarine Blue (Golden)
Cadmium Lemon Yellow (Old Holland)
Titanium White (Winsor & Newton)
Ivory Black (Winsor & Newton)
Cadmium Red Light (Old Holland)

This is the palette I most often use and it has a great range without getting out of control.

There are a few colors that I can add as accents here and there at the end of the painting occasionally but this painting only has the above colors:

Red iron Oxide (Old Holland)
Thalo Blue Red Shade (Old Holland)
Cad Yellow Medium (Grumbacher)
Rose (Winsor & Newton)

The first six colors are really good for winter painting too, using a heavier bias of the ocher and less of the cad lemon. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Struggle

Notes From My Tree Journal

My artist's ego took a beating this week from a couple of sources and I've been having some trouble with my plein air work, so it has not been a good painting week. That's OK. It's not the first time and surely won't be the last. The important issue for me is to have faith in myself regardless of outside rejections and influences.  It is easy to believe you are failing because of set backs. They must be overcome and pushed aside in the quest for excellence as a painter.

This painting was done on location in my yard.  Henry, my French Bulldog joined me by snoozing on the walkway while I worked on the painting.  There is a group of trees I enjoy painting. The two white trunked trees get this way each year, losing their leaves very fast and leaving the white trunks with a few colorful leaves left for spots of color. They are striking!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Tribute

A Tribute to the Late Wangari Maathai

From Arbor Day 

"When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and the seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children."
-- Wangari Maathai

These words are inscribed in the lobby of the Arbor Day Foundation headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska. They are the profound words of a profound person to whom our world owes so much.
Sadly, Professor Wangari Maathai passed away on September 25th after a brave battle with cancer. She will always hold a special place in history for all that she accomplished.
In 2004, the Arbor Day Foundation honored Wangari Maathai with the prestigious J. Sterling Morton Award to honor her lifelong commitment to tree planting and environmental stewardship. Indeed, her work transcends generations and will continue to touch millions of people for years to come.
We will forever be inspired.

Dr. Wangari Maathai, Nairobi, Kenya, winner of the J. Sterling Morton Award.

The Morton Award is the Foundation's highest individual honor, given for exemplary work at the national or international level. Dr. Maathai was a member of Kenyan Parliament and served as the Deputy Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife.
While a member of Kenya's National Council of Women, she created a grass-roots program to work with women's groups planting trees. Known as the Green Belt Movement, these efforts resulted in planting over 20 million trees in Kenya, and served as model for representatives throughout the African continent.
A featured speaker at the United Nations Earth Summit, Dr. Maathai, among her many achievements, was recognized by Time magazine as one of 100 people worldwide making a difference for the environment.
In 2004, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her contribution in environmental conservation and human rights.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cracks in Tree Trunk

Notes From My Tree Journal

A reader wrote to ask why tree trunks crack. Here is some information on that:

Trunk Cracks and Wood Rot
Marianne C. Ophardt
Washington State University Cooperative Extension
Area Extension Agent

Have you ever seen cracks in tree trunks?  Radial separations of bark and wood are usually referred to as frost cracks.  Almost every reference you’ll look at on tree care blame frost cracks on extremes fluctuations of temperature in the winter.  In fact, most sources blame frost cracks on the phenomenon of “southwest winter injury.”  This type of injury is attributed to the bark and wood of trees warming up on the southwest side on a sunny but cold winter day.  The tissue deacclimates, coming out of its complete winter dormancy.  When the sun goes down and the temperature drops rapidly, the tissues can’t reacclimate quickly enough and the water in the tissue freezes, causing cell damage.  The theory has been that sometimes this tissue damage can result in wood and bark cracks.

For many years bark cracks and trunk splits were attributed only to frost.  It wasn’t until the last twenty years, under the guidance of former U.S. Forestry Service scientist and author, Dr. Alex Shigo, that researchers have realized the real cause of split trunks and bark cracks.  Apparently “frost” cracks start from a wound that may have happened much earlier in the tree’s life.  These wounds are believed to be formed at the death of a root or branch.  This wound can create an internal “crack” that develops as a result of stresses from drying, wind, or temperature extremes.  When other pressures occur, such as the thawing and freezing that occurs in the “southwest winter injury” scenario, the internal cracks develop outward.

While the frost leads to a visible crack and open wound, it’s not the real cause of “frost cracks.”  The real cause of the cracks are the death of major roots at planting time; physical injury to roots from construction or soil compaction; wounds created by flush cut pruning; dead limbs resulting from topping cuts, physical injury to the tree trunk, and poor graft unions.

What is the problem with cracks in the tree wood?  Even though callus forms at the edge of the crack and may appear to close it, the wood will never re-knit together.  It’s not like broken bones on humans.  Once those wood fibers are split, they are split forever.  This weakens the mechanical support of the trunk or limbs involved. 

Which came first the chicken or the egg?  It was thought that trunk cracks developed first and then the decay developed in the center due to the opening created by the cracks.  Shigo discovered that the decay is there before the crack, coming from the dead roots, branches, or wounds which instigated the crack.  Additional fungi and insects may attack the tree as a result of the outward crack, but decay organisms are already present before the outward crack develops.
What can be done about split trunks?  Not much really.  One must realize that most of the wood cells of a tree are dead cells.  As I mentioned, they will not “knit” or grow back together.  In the case of most trunk cracks, the internal wood of the tree is already subject to wood decay from fungi.  The tree may function quite well with little effect from the crack or internal decay, since    the vital functions are carried out in the outer few inches of the tree's circumference.  The real concern is for the tree’s structural integrity.  If wood decay becomes substantial, the tree will become a hazard.

Don’t try to paint or seal the split with any type of compound.  They don’t help and they can aggravate the wound.  The best you can do is clean or smooth the edges of the wound with a sharp knife.  Start at one end of the split, smooth around one side of the wound, going no more than one‑half to one inch back from the split bark.  Stop at the other end and do the same procedure on the opposite side of the split.  This aids in callus development.  Sterilize the knife between cuts by dipping for several minutes in a 1:10, bleach:water solution or a 70 percent alcohol solution.
Occasionally “bleeding” or slimy seepage occurs from cracks and wounds.  This is called wetwood or slimeflux.  It is caused by an infection of the wood by a bacterium.  This bacterium feeds on the sugar in the wood and produces a foul-smelling gas and liquid basically through a fermentation process.  The infection can kill some of the bark cambium and can stunt growth but, usually doesn’t kill the tree.

Not all “cracks” are serious cracks that form in the wood.  Some cracks are simply bark splits and are not likely to be fatal to trees, although they will, in some cases, allow entry of disease organisms which can lead to wood decay.  Most of these bark splits are fairly superficial, forming mainly in the outer bark.  Splits occur vertically along the trunk or main branches.  In many cases, bark splits will often close or callus over completely leaving only a slight ridge in the trunk.
Causes of these splits include various environmental factors, such as rapid growth spurts, drought, fluctuating conditions of excessive and deficient, temperature extremes, southwest winter injury, late fall growth, and sun scald.  Trees that are most susceptible to this type of injury are those with thin bark, such as Kwanzan cherry, maple, and certain fruit trees.  Young trees also seem more prone to bark‑splitting than older, established trees.

So the next time you see a bark split or a crack in the trunk of a tree be aware that the real cause of the problem is not frost.  They are reminders that tree care from the time of planting to pruning all contributes to a tree’s health, now and in the future.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tree Portraits

Notes From My Tree Journal

Painting Tree Portraits
Most landscape painters paint trees en mass in a scene.  Doing a portrait of a tree means making the tree a star in the landscape. I love to paint portraits of special trees.

How do you give them the attention and respect that they deserve?  How do you place them in the composition to show them off to advantage?  What do you do with the other elements and trees in the scene?

I like to put them in a sweet spot of a composition. I will make sure that particular tree is featured.  I will push back other tree masses and make them less important in detail and color, graying down the color significantly so that my star tree stands out.  If it is a close up portrait of a single tree, I will place the tree slightly off center, so that it is slightly uneven in balance. I also like to pull tree trunks off the edge of the picture plane to create depth and drama.

I will intensify the contrast in the star, as well as the intensity of color detail, texture of the bark and so forth, in order to direct the viewer’s eye to my  "star" tree.

I will minimize the rest of the scene so as not to compete with my tree of interest.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tree Trunks

Why Do People Paint Tree Trunks?

A reader asked this question. Here is what my research revealed: From

If you have ever noticed a beautiful tree with a painted white trunk and wondered why someone would go through the trouble; there may be a good reason. The white painted bottom is rarely a decorative statement or an attempt to make the tree more aesthetically pleasing. It is, however, a practice that can potentially save the life of the tree. Trees can benefit from a coating of white paint when recent landscaping has entailed the removal of a larger tree that once provided shade for another, or the excessive removal of branches has left a tree barren and its trunk exposed to the sun's rays

  1. The bark of trees is just as susceptible to sun damage as is human skin. Too much hot sun directed onto a tree trunk day after day may not leave behind a sun burn but it will cause damage to the bark that will become noticeable over time. Arborist Mario Vaden explains that sunscald is denoted by bark that cracks and falls off, or simply changes color. Wrapping the tree with a specially designed trunk cover or painting the tree trunk can prevent sun damage.


  2. A tree borer is an insect that tunnels underneath the bark of a tree and cause severe damage to the underlying layers of the tree. Adult tree boring insects will even lay eggs under the bark; leaving larva to chomp away at the phloem (nutrient-transporting layer) of the tree. According to the University of California, a large infestation of tree borers feeding on a single tree can result in damage that can only be rectified by heavy pruning or removal of the tree. Tree boring insects often seek out trees with the weakest outer protection, so painting trees that are susceptible to sunscald can prevent bark damage and keep tree borers at bay.


  3. According to the University of Missouri Extension, white latex paint can also be used to prevent the bark of a tree from splitting and cracking off. This can happen when the tree is exposed to freezing evening temperatures followed by a daytime thawing. The painted white trunk will help reflect sunlight during the daytime hours and keep the tree warmer at night.

    Animal Damage

  4. Painting the trunks of trees is also helpful in deterring furry, four-legged vermin. There are some wild animals that feast on tree bark, causing severe damage to the trees that become their daily lunch. According to the University of Vermont, adding a small amount of rabbit repellent to the white paint can prevent hungry rabbits from gnawing on tree bark.


  5. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to use white paint to protect a tree trunk. In fact, Ed Laivo from the Dave Wilson Nursery reveals that any light-color paint can be used. What is important, though, is the type of paint used. Latex based paint that is used to paint the interior of your home is sufficient, but if you want to be "green" use paint that has an organic base. Never use an exterior paint because it contains fungicides that can harm the tree.

Painting from My Recent Experience

Notes From my Tree Journal

A couple of weeks ago I observed the beautiful site of a dark indigo sky with powerful light in the tree tops. Based on that memory I did this painting yesterday. For some reason my camera does a lousy image of these strong transitional color paintings. The actual painting has a richer color. In order to get the field and lower tree color to work in photo shop, it shows the top as bleached out. To see the real thing, stop by my loft and enjoy browsing with a fresh cup of coffee.

Painting from memory becomes easier when you have painted in the field for a long time. You tend to remember and to know how nature works when you spend a lot of time out in it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Notes From my Tree Journal

One of the problems with rules is that conditions can change very quickly. Nothing is set in stone when it comes to nature. The minute you have a painting formula or rule set in your mind, it is instantly broken.  When I first started to study the Notan concept in design, all of my paintings looked obvious and formulaic. I was trying so hard to study the rules that my paintings became predictable. It wasn't until about a year later that I actually began to use Notan as part of my tool box successfully, in a more natural way. I hear and read all kinds of rules for painting from others, like never using black, etc. but I usually ignore these. I've never been a rule follower. Part of observing nature has taught me that nothing you think is set in stone will ever stay that way.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Observation Day

Notes From my Field Journal

Today I spent the entire day out in natural Florida observing the landscape and trees. I learned some things about the land and trees I didn't know. That is the greatest thing about being a painter. We have so many opportunities to see special places that others don't ever get to see. Florida is not just the land of palm trees and beaches in bright happy colors. There is an ancient dark quality to it that few know. I bounced along in Hutch's truck with Mary Jane through the high Dogweed looking at trees hundreds of years old. This was the land of Mastodons long ago, and explorers still find their teeth occasionally. We saw tall cypress and pines with eagles nests high in the branches, and ancient Live Oaks with long twisted branches reaching low to the ground.We learned from our guide that the Live Oaks are almost always rimming the wet prairie edges and that cypress trees sprout on dry land before they can live in wetlands. I never knew this. Something to add to my tree journal.

After a good BBQ lunch at Pearl Country Store, we headed over to my favorite painting spot, Fair Oaks, which is 160 acres of  prime land in north central Florida. We took about a million reference photos before simply sitting and observing gathering storm clouds and the look of the rain on the canopies of trees, which began to sparkle like they had been glittered. There is no place that has light like Fair Oaks. It is the best place for light.

A lot of location painters don't understand that it is the time spent in the field without the paints that really teaches you about painting. That time of sitting and watching is invaluable. My journal is my best resource in painting trees.