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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Work on the Easel/Tree Canopies


Notes From my Tree Journal

I'm finally getting some time back in the studio to paint what I want to. I started the composition today on a Live Oak painting. I'm going to try and recreate the lighting conditions I saw the other night, with the very dark sky and brilliant light on the tops of trees. I have toned the canvas with a dark blue black wash to start.

A word about painting tree canopies:

Every painter has a different approach to painting trees. Some painters tend to be literal about stems and leaves and linear in their approach to painting trees. I am more of a mass oriented painter. I tend to see shapes and value masses when I paint. I guess you could say I use a paint by number approach.  I like to plug in value and color shapes around the tree, working all around the painting. Gradually, I begin to tighten up some areas with more texture and color, and then push atmospheric areas further back. Atmosphere and light are the main focus in a lot of my work. So as the tree is placed in the picture plane, it will get more or less attention and focus in terms of texture, shape and color intensity.

 One of the problems I see for beginning painters is a poor value structure in the tree canopy. Too much information, using texture and leaf shapes to try and construct the canopy, rather than thinking about value masses. This looks cartoonish at times, as if leaf shapes were glued onto the painting. My experience over the last few years has made me aware that massing and using values thoughtfully really pays off. Y'see our eyes don't see the way a camera focuses. We can focus on any given tree, but the others around it will lose definition due to our lack of ability to focus on everything, the way a camera will. We see in planes and I like to think of my painting surface in three basic planes, fore/middle/back grounds. Wherever the trees are placed in those planes will effect how much detail we should put on any particular tree.

People Love Trees

Notes From My Tree Journal

Last weekend I set up shop at a festival in a center behind my studio. I took six of my tree paintings with me to show off to visitors. The above painting was the most popular with viewers. I received many comments on this one.

There were many painters at the festival who did Florida paintings. Visitors told me that mine were unique because I didn't do the same marsh and palm tree paintings that the others did. I have done many marsh and palm paintings in my long career, but for the last year or two, I have focused more on rural agricultural Florida. This is the land I grew up with. I was born and raised in north central Florida, with pines and hardwoods. I grew up with farmers and ranchers who hunted and fished to feed their families. The Florida of the past in many ways. This is unfortunate.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A beautiful sight

Notes From My Tree Journal

Today on my way home from my loft studio I saw a beautiful sight.  It had been raining and was quite dark in the sky, that slate blue color of impending storm. The sun came out suddenly and cut the trees in half. The tops were brilliant yellow and the bottoms dark cool green. It was awesome. One of my greatest interests is the afternoon light on trees. I am fascinated by this and have been practicing whenever I can.  I can't wait to get through with the commission, the art show this weekend and the paint out, so I can get back to my studies of light on trees.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Painting Spanish Moss

I'm working on a 48x60 commission for a few days. I'll be away from the blog to finish it. I'll be back to this tree blog in a few days. Thanks for being patient. Please don't leave me.

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) closely resembles its namesake (Usnea, or beard lichen). However, Spanish moss is not biologically related to mosses. Instead, it is a flowering plant in the family Bromeliaceae (the bromeliads) that grows hanging from tree branches in full sun or partial shade. It ranges from the southeastern United States (Southern VA) to Argentina, growing wherever the climate is warm enough and has a relatively high average humidity.
The plant consists of a slender stem bearing alternate thin, curved or curly, heavily scaled leaves 2-6 cm long and 1 mm broad, that grow vegetatively in chain-like fashion (pendant) to form hanging structures 1-2 m in length, occasionally more. The plant lacks roots and its flowers are tiny and inconspicuous. It propagates both by seed and vegetatively by fragments that blow on the wind and stick to tree limbs, or are carried by birds as nesting material.

Painting Spanish moss is not much different than painting other objects. You must think of it in terms of shape, form, values, color and light source. The light source is all important. The tendency is to put too much detail in moss; making it into a cartoon or illustration. The core structure and values are more important. Once you get the basic shape, color and value in place, you will use a few details judiciously to bring it to life. Don’t overdo it.  It is rather like painting feathers and hair. Too much detail will give it a pasted on or fake look.  Remember, the more distant the moss, the less hard edge and detail you will have. Save the most detail for the area of interest in the painting.

Painting Tree Bark

Notes From My Tree Journal

Painting Bark Texture in Trees 

For me, the secret to painting bark is to minimize it.  Hitting the highlights and darkest values and texturizing is a better look than painstaking reproduction of the bark.  There is a fake look to bark that is too carefully rendered.

Light becomes very important in painting tree bark. It tips the edges in places and is not always consistent, often jumping around the tree as shafts and filtered light strike the surface. There is often a halo effect on the dark side of the tree as well with faint light on the edges. Spend some time carefully observing the trunks of various trees on location before you begin to practice painting bark.
Here are some bark colors I use when painting tree limbs and trunks:
Ivory Black
Cadmium Red Light
Cadmium Medium Yellow
Ultramarine Blue
Camium Orange
Yellow Ochre
Titanium White

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Richard St Barbe Baker

A  friend of mine sent me this wonderful article to share with you.

Richard St Barbe Baker

Richard St Barbe Baker

Richard St. Barbe Baker will always be known as ‘the Man of the Trees’. In Kenya, where he was assistant conservator of forests for many years, he was known as Baba Wya Miti, ‘the affectionate Father of the Trees’, also as Bwana Wya Miti, ‘the Master of the Trees’. In Australia, he was often referred to as ‘the King of the Trees’ and sometimes as ‘the Saint of the Trees’; in California, he has been called ‘the Redwood Saint’.
This editorial article was published in The Ecologist Vol. 12 No. 4, July–August 1982.

I like to think of St. Barbe as a prophet, in the Old Testament sense of the term; that is to say, as a wise man, a teacher and an inspirer. Alan Grainger writes of
“St. Barbe’s unique capacity to pass on his enthusiasm to others. . . Many foresters all over the world found their vocations as a result of hearing ‘The Man of the Trees’ speak. I certainly did, but his impact has been much wider than that. Through his global lecture tours, St. Barbe has made millions of people aware of the importance of trees and forests to our planet.”
He has also done so, of course, via Men of the Trees, the association he founded in 1922 and which now has branches throughout the world.
St. Barbe, besides being a wise man, a teacher and an inspirer, was a tireless fighter for the values and ideas that he held to be so important and on whose acceptance by the world at large, he felt sure, must ultimately hinge the fate of our planet and of all those who inhabit it. Those who have looked seriously at the problems that we and future generations must face realise that St. Barbe’s values and ideas are quite as important as he made them out to be.
The Global 2000 report to the last president of the United States, for instance, specifically concludes that, of all the problems we are faced with today, deforestation is probably the most serious, particularly in the developing countries.
St. Barbe realised this decades ago. In 1954, in Land of Tane, he writes:
“When the trees go, the rain goes, the climate deteriorates, the water table sinks, the land erodes and desert conditions soon appear”.
What is more, this cannot go on forever. As St. Barbe always told us,
“If a man loses one-third of his skin he dies; if a tree loses one-third of its bark, it too dies. If the Earth is a ‘sentient being’, would it not be reasonable to expect that if it loses one-third of its trees and vegetable covering, it will also die?”
Government scientists in India, Bangladesh and Nepal have now admitted that the only way to stop the terrible floods that, every year, engulf tens of thousands of villages, drown large numbers of people and their cattle and destroy crops over an ever wider area, is to reafforest the denuded mountains of the Himalayas.
St. Barbe knew decades ago that global reafforestation was essential. He played a key role in persuading the American government during the great depression to set up its Conservation Corps, with its tens of thousands of otherwise unemployed youths going out into the countryside to plant trees and perform other essential tasks. Today, it is a new world-wide conservation corps that is required. In his book Green Glory, Forests of the World, he proposes “that all standing armies everywhere be used for the work of essential reafforestation”. He repeated this proposal in My Life, My Tree:
“If the armies of the world now numbering 22 million, could be redeployed in planting in the desert, in eight years a 100 million people could be rehabilitated and supplied with protein rich food, grown from virgin sand.”
But such action, he realised, could not be successful unless we first obtained the full co-operation of local people everywhere. More so, it is they, rather than governments and international institutions, who should take the lead. In The New Earth Charter, he writes:
“We believe in the innate intelligence of the villagers, the country men and the workers, that they should be allowed to manage their own affairs. We believe they will put into their work not merely their hands and their feet, but their brains and their hearts. Each can experience the transcendental joy of creation, and can earn immortality and bestow immortality.”
It is for this reason that he was so impressed by the Chipko movement in the Himalayas. At the age of 91, he went there and took part in the struggle of the villagers to protect their forests. In a booklet he helped to write for the movement, he recounts how government foresters were sent to persuade the villagers to give up their struggle. The confrontation was recorded in one of the many folk songs of the Chipko movement.
In this particular song the forester asks:
“What does the forest bear?”
and answers:
“Resin, timber and foreign exchange.”
To this the village women reply in chorus:
“What does the forest bear?
Soil, water and pure air

Soil, water and pure air
Are the basis of our life.”
We have here a confrontation between two conflicting world views. The one sees nature as but a source of commodities to be sold on the world market. The other sees nature as St. Barbe’s “vast sentient being” and, as the Chipko villagers put it, “the basis of our life”. The one reflects the ingenuity of science and technology: the other the wisdom that is only embodied (as Eugene Odum, the father of modern ecology, admits) in the culture of traditional peoples – the wisdom that itself reflects, as St. Barbe would have put it, “The Divine Law and the Laws of Nature”, whose violation can only lead to destruction and annihilation.
“Almost everywhere in the world man has been disregarding the Divine Law and the Laws of Nature, to his own undoing. In his pride, he has rampaged over the stage of the earth, forgetting that he is only one of the players put there to play his part in harmony and oneness with all living things.”
St. Barbe realised that to stop the destruction we must abandon our present goals and move our society on to a very different course. As he writes in Land of Tane:
“Man has lost his way in the jungle of chemistry and engineering and will have to retrace his steps, however painful this may be. He will have to discover where he went wrong and make his peace with nature. In so doing, perhaps he may be able to recapture the rhythm of life and the love of the simple things of life, which will be an ever-unfolding joy to him.”
He realised too that if we did not do this soon it would be too late. In The New Earth Charter, he warned:
“This generation may either be the last to exist in any semblance of a civilised world or that it will be the first to have the vision, the bearing and the greatness to say, ‘I will have nothing to do with this destruction of life, I will play no part in this devastation of the land, I am determined to live and work for peaceful construction for I am morally responsible for the world of today and the generations of tomorrow.’”
What is required is nothing short of a spiritual renewal, a new religious world view and one very much closer to that of our forest dwelling ancestors. To begin with, we must learn once again to regard Nature as ‘holy’, as a vast ‘sentient being’ – a phrase that occurs again and again in St. Barbe’s writings. St. Barbe undoubtedly saw nature in this way:
“It is with a spirit of reverence that I approach God’s creation – this beautiful Earth. We may climb mountains or wander through field and forest, intoxicated by loveliness through the changing hours and seasons recorded by the length of shadows cast by the trees – and as we watch the pink, opalescent fingers of the dawn reaching up from beneath the dark horizon, so we wait for the sunrise of our awakening to the realisation of our kinship with the earth and all living things.”
To view Nature as a vast ‘sentient being’ is to see it as alive and imbued with a spirit or a soul, just as did our tribal ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years. Today we tend to dismiss this view as archaic, crude or rudimentary, but why, as Theodore Rozsack wonders,
“Should it be thought crude or rudimentary to find divinity brightly present in the world where others find only dead matter or an inferior order of being?”
Once we cease to see Nature in this way, once we desanctify it, it is in effect condemned. As Rozsack puts it,
“The desacralized (sic) world is doomed to become an obstacle inviting conquest, a mere object. Like the animal or the slave who is understood to have no soul, it becomes a thing of subhuman status to be worked, used up, exploited”.
What was previously our home, our temple, the abode of our gods, and a source of poetic inspiration “becomes but a source of resin, timber and foreign exchange”.
Sadly, we must concede that such an attitude is fully consistent with the ethos of the great monotheistic religions of today.
The abstract deity that we worship is indifferent to the fate of the natural world and offers it no protection against our depredations.
St. Barbe was unquestionably an animist, though we all know of his attachment to the Baha’i faith and to the Christianity of his youth. I actually posed the question to him on one of the three afternoons I spent with him in Auckland just before his departure on his final world tour. “Do you agree”, I asked, “that we, in the ecological movement, must all be animists?” He answered “Yes, that is why I so much admire the work of the people at Findhorn.”
He also recited to me those lines by Stanton Coblentz on the spirits of the redwoods, which those who knew him well must have heard many times:
I think that could the weary world but know
Communion with these spirits breathing peace
Strangely a veil would lift, a light would glow
And the dark tumult of our lives would cease.
If the world is eventually moved by St. Barbe’s inspiration and is converted by his teachings, if it adopts his strategies and eventually becomes imbued too with that animistic world view that he has preached, to what sort of world would this lead? St. Barbe described his utopia very clearly:
“I picture village communities of the future living in valleys protected by sheltering trees on the high ground. They will have fruit and nut orchards and live free from disease and enjoy leisure, liberty and justice for all, living with a sense of their one-ness with the earth and with all living things.”
This is a beautiful vision. Some may think it wildly unrealistic. I do not think so. I think, on the contrary, that it is a far more realistic goal than that towards which present policies are supposed to be taking us. The vision of St. Barbe may or may not be realised – but it could be. The only obstacles to its realisation are man-made ones. They are comparatively trivial.
The vision of Milton Friedmann and Herman Kahn – a vision which is implicit to the Worldview of Science, Technology and Industry – can only conceivably be realised if, as Paul Ehrlich puts it, “We start off by repealing the very laws of Biology and Ecology” – the laws of God as opposed to those of industrial man.
Ben Sira, author of the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, praised great teachers:
“Their fame shall eclipse the immediate triumph of kings and conquerors.”
And their bodily death
“counts for nothing – indeed it should be celebrated since great ideas must live forever.”
Of course it is difficult to agree that the death of St Barbe counts for nothing. He was a unique figure whom we shall never replace. Nevertheless I feel sure that in death, as in life, he will continue to teach and to inspire us. It is up to us, his disciples and his friends, to celebrate the life and work of Richard St. Barbe Baker. It is up to us too, to carry on the fight – as tirelessly as he did in the past; to assure that his vision is realised and that his ideas live forever.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Promote Biodiversity.
 Of course, growing native plants will preserve and promote the species you grow in your yard. But in addition, growing natives contributes to the ecological balance that developed here in Florida over the millennia. Natives perpetuate the relationships between our native plants and the many other organisms that depend upon them for their survival. Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home elaborates on the relationship between native plants and biodiversity.

Save Time, Money, and Energy.
When used intelligently, native plants require less maintenance, are less expensive, and save energy. Did you know that lawnmowers are a significant source of air pollution? They also use up an appreciable amount of fossil fuel.

Conserve Natural Resources.
 Used properly, native plants require little to no extra water or fertilizer compared to most exotics. Watering non-native plants that aren't adapted to Florida's climate wastes energy as well as water, costs you money, and contributes to the pollution of surface water. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used in landscape and lawn maintenance run off into streams and creeks, polluting these water bodies.

No Pesticides Needed.
 Native plants have been exposed to Florida's pests as long as they have existed in Florida, and continue to display their resistance to insects and disease in our own yards. Forty years ago Rachel Carson pointed out that pesticides are biocides - their toxic effects are not confined to pests, but spill over to cause health problems for wildlife and people. Now, Our Stolen Future reminds us that we have again underestimated the danger of pesticides.

Watchable wildlife.
Native plants are the best choice for attracting and nourishing our native wildlife. Native plants provide the food and shelter that our birds and butterflies need. Native plants leaf-out, bloom, and fruit when our native species need them most, and provide the nutrients that our native animals have adapted to through millions of years of co-evolution.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Yard III

Notes From My Tree Journal

I slipped Henry's leash over a short branch of a pine tree. He settled in for a long nap in the tall grass. He is used to these painting sessions and is quite patient and well behaved.

My subject today was the first Dogwood tree who turns orange and red every year. For some reason it always steps up to fall first, even before the Sycamore Tree begins to lose it's huge gorgeous leaves.  There are three or four other Dogwoods scattered around the field and the yard, but they prefer to take their time in changing to Autumn.

It was partly cloudy today, so I did not have the sweet light that comes in late afternoon. I struggled along. Painting out in the field is so much more difficult for me than in the studio. I have time to compose well in studio and I don't make careless mistakes. Making a good painting on location is to be celebrated.  I will need to touch this one up in the loft studio tomorrow. I ran out of time and light...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pine and Dogwood Trees

More Plein Air Fun

I spent two glorious hours today painting this Pine and Dogwood. Henry sat around chewing on the last of the summer grass and lounging in the shade. Painting on location is so much harder than studio work that it takes me some time to become adjusted to it each fall.

My neighborhood has a lot of pine trees and hardwoods. In the late fall, the hickorys turn to rich deep yellow. The Dogwoods and Sycamores are the first to put on their fall coats. I'm watching the Dogwoods turn from green to orange and yellow this week., The one in the field always turns first and then the ones in the yard. It is a feast of color I look forward to each fall. I am determined to take advantage of this lovely color and paint it every week until it is over.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall at Last

Notes From My Tree Journal

Today was my first day out on location for my annual yard series.  It kicks off my plein air season. I paint from September - April each year on location. I paint from May-August in my air conditioned studio.  I've been painting this yard series for a long time. My dog Henry enjoys it too. He roots around in the weeds and snoozes while I paint.

My yard offers numerous trees to study including hardwoods and pines. Late afternoon offers the best light. I walk down the path through the woods and look at the trees and their limbs. The leaves are starting to come off, offering wonderful trunks for future study.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sky Holes

Sky Holes are an important part of painting trees. Tree Canopies need an airy three dimensional look to be realistic. This is the way I paint them.

 Many beginners try to put the sky into the painting and then struggle to put trees and objects over it.  I like to do the opposite. I like to plug in the objects roughly and then plug in the rough sky through and around them. I never work one part of the painting more than any other.  I might go back into the sky two or three times during the painting process, correcting and adding here and there, as the tree masses develop. At the end, I will go in and do sky holes and adjust the existing edges between trees and sky.

Sky holes should not be too many or too few and they should not be too ordered. Random placement, unevenly spaced, more at the top of the tree line and a variety of shapes is best.

Your sky holes will be more realistic if you change the value slightly darker than the rest of the sky.  I tend to darken more with small sky holes that are further down into the tree mass and less as the sky holes are near the top of the tree mass. Also, larger sky holes will have slightly lighter value than small ones. This is because more light is going through the trees in larger holes. Keep in mind that the more depth and atmospheric condition, the softer the sky hole will be.

The last thing I do is to take a large flat dry brush and softly touch the brush to the sky holes, one at a time, just straight onto the canvas and lifting straight off.  This will soften the edgework just a tiny bit but will not disturb the color and value.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Tree Notebook

18x24 inches
acrylic on canvas

Notes From My Tree Journal

I use a 3 ring binder for my tree notebook.  I like to gather samples of bark, leaves, and small branches to use as reference materials.  I put my field notes into the book as well as small studies I do on paper to refer back to for larger studio paintings. Many people don't realize that a lot of research is necessary to be a good tree painter.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Inspired by Trees

Notes From MyTree Journal

So many artists are inspired by trees. Here are lovely words :

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship.  But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.  Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves.  No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.  ~John Muir

This year I decided to decorate my Loft Studio for fall with leaves. I have a big old Sycamore tree in my yard.  I picked lots of leaves and pressed them in a book. When they were dry, I tipped the veins and stems with silver and spattered them with acrylic paint in red,orange and yellow for fall colors. I have scattered them around the studio on table tops and they look wonderful!!  Trees do so much for us.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Paths and Portals

Notes From My Tree Journal

I've always enjoyed portals or windows in the landscape.  It's a favorite theme. I always love the mystery of what may be on the other side. Fair Oaks in Evinston has many natural portals scattered through the fields and woods. That is one of many reasons I love painting there so much. Trees often grow together creating natural paths and portals. It's like they are lined up beconing to me to walk through. Trees are living beings. Their roots grow deep, anchoring the land, preventing erosion and harboring many other creatures. They have much to tell us if we stop to listen and spend time with them.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My obsession with Bald Cypress

Notes From My Tree Journal

Of all the trees I love, the Bald Cypress is the most exotic and wonderful to me.  I make a habit of painting them often. This particular tree is a favorite. It grows on the edge of a pond at Fair Oaks in Evinston. It was planted there by Faye who owned the property at one time. It was struck by lightening and so the top is bare. The bottom of the tree flourishes every spring and summer. It is graceful and lovely, like a grande old dame at a ball with her graceful skirts. I paint this tree about twice a  year because I love it so much.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Painting Trees

Notes From My Tree Journal

Painting Trees

First I look at the basic shapes and their relationship to each other. I look at height and proportion of the canopy to its trunk. Then I look at the proportion for the largest tree  to other trees in the  scene.  Where are the negative spaces within the tree canopy and within the scene? How do they line up with my first measurements of the painting? Where is the light source? What angle?

   Next I begin to lay in the dark masses within the trunks and canopy. I consider the warm and cool temperatures within the tree canopy and trunks and where I want the texture to stand out. I consider the various light sources, whether they are reflected light, direct light or ambiant light in making color temperature decisions. I don't rely solely on local color. As a contemporary painter, my goal is not a realistic copy of what I see. The scene is just a jumping off point for me. The painting takes on a life of its own.

I work all over the painting, never over developing any area too quickly. I like to gradually bring it together. I have found that fixating on one area can be a mistake. Every thing I do in the painting effects something else. I try to keep the focus of the painting clear in my mind before I begin. Some areas must be simple and undeveloped and others precise and clear. Variety in color and texture add interest to my painting. I save the end for highlights and what I call color accents. I will often use a color not in the palette to do this little accent at the end.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A great Article about Trees

We plant them and cut them down, pick their fruit, rake their leaves and climb them. We harvest them for wood, paper and holiday d├ęcor. We bask in their shade, tap their sap to make syrup and their nuts for snacking. We need them to moderate ground temperatures, produce oxygen and reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the air. But how much do we really know about trees?

Actually, quite a bit. Technology has made it possible to pinpoint what goes on underground and behind all that bark. Researchers now know, for example, that the oldest tree in America is “Methuselah,” a 4700 year old Great Basin Bristlecone Pine in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California. They know the tallest tree is the 379+ foot tall Coast Redwood in Redwood National Park in California. And they know that trees are more important than ever in the battle against global warming.
The trees you see every day can serve as an instant nature lesson for your kids. Take a walk around your neighborhood and pay attention to the different shaped trees you see. Talk about the fact that each one is competing for sun and water. While some stretch tall to reach the sky, the “understory” trees beneath develop rounded crowns to collect the maximum amount of sunlight. If you live in the north where the sun is lower, you’ll see mostly cone-shaped (pine) trees. The cone shape allows the most efficient rationing of minimal sunlight, and needle-shaped leaves help the tree conserve water. These evergreens are conifers. Deciduous trees, like oaks and maples, drop their leaves in the winter to conserve energy.

Good news: talking about tree reproduction is a lot less awkward than dealing with the birds and the bees! Trees reproduce through seeds, but those seeds need to be dispersed to other areas first. There are three ways that can happen. First, the wind can carry them. Second, an animal can carry them either on its fur, in its belly or to a hiding place. Or third, the seed can be carried by water. Take a look at the seeds you find up close. The shape and weight of the seed gives clues to its preferred method of dispersal. For example, a sticky burr is designed to stick to animal fur.

Up for more discovery? Here are some activities to nurture tree appreciation in your little sprout:
  • Visit for the online species reference guide. Then do a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood: can your child find a palm, a maple, an oak?
  • Collect various seed pods and cones and ask your child what their size and shape indicate about how they got where they are.
  • To catch a glimpse of what goes on inside of a tree, fill a glass with water and a few drops of dark food coloring. Cut a stalk of celery and place it in the water, cut side down. The dye will move up the celery, just as water and nutrients move through a tree’s root system.
  • Want to spruce up your table? (No pun intended!) Collect fall leaves and place them between two sheets of laminate to make placemats.
  • Talk about the role trees have played in different cultures and religions throughout history. The “Tree of Life” is mentioned in everything from Chinese mythology to the Jewish Bible and the Book of Mormon. Why?
Plant a seedling! Your lungs will thank you.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tree Color

24x30 inches
acrylic on canvas

Notes From my Tree Journal

One of the things I've done is to study color for Florida trees a lot. I have found that for oak trees, I like a slightly grayer green, more subdued than the clean greens I might mix for pines or other trees. For the canopy I like to mix ultramarine blue with Ivory black and add a touch of yellow ochre for the darkest areas. I then add more ocher and blue to gradually lighten the value. I use mostly ochre and a bit of blue for the lightest value areas, adding a bit of white or Naples if I need to lighten the value further.

For the trunks, I like to use ivory black with cad red light to make a nice dark mahogany as a dark base color. I then add various combinations of oranges, reds, ochres to add the highlights and ultramarine and white for dry brushing the ambiant light on the dark side of the tree trunk. Various grays are added as needed.

The colors in the above tree were mixed this way.

Notes From My Tree Journal

30x30 inches
acrylic on Birch panel

Notes From MY Tree Journal

For a long time, I put far too much texture in my tree canopies. I finally learned that less is more when it comes to the canopy structure of trees. I learned to look at masses instead of individual leaves,putting more texture in the branches and canopy that comes forward closest to me. This gives more of a 3 D image without overdeveloping them. I look for the light source angle, the cool shadows and warm highlights on the tree, as well as the ambient light which reflects lots of other colors into the canopy. I study light and atmosphere when I paint trees.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Cellon Oak

Cellon Oak
24x30 inches
acrylic on canvas
warm silver frame
Available at my Loft Studio

Florida’s largest live oak is just south of the tiny town of LaCrosse in rural north Alachua County. Known as the Cellon Oak, it’s so expansive that the cover of “Big Trees in Florida” shows 30-some-odd people linking hands to approximate the width of the tree’s crown. It’ll help you put yourself in perspective! Web

I took my reference photo from a good distance away from the tree. I wanted to get the entire canopy. It is so large, I could not get a view close to it with the camera.  It was dead of winter, my favorite time to paint in Florida. The grasses turn rust, wheat colored and pink in the late afternoon.

Welcome to my Tree Blog

I've been a tree painter for several years now and have studied them all of my life. When I was a kid I roamed the fields and forests, playing under giant Live Oak trees and climbing all kinds of trees. I fell out of more than I climbed. My mother was always in fear for my life. My best friend and I built a tree house in a large oak next to the street. We called it our spy hut. We snooped on the cars going by.

My mission for this blog is to share my tree paintings, the painting information I have gathered and learned over the years about trees and to share lots of stories and information about our wonderful world of trees.