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.