Tall Trees, 36×24, acrylic, Copyright 2013 Jan Blencowe
Painting the Colors in Trees
Color is becoming increasingly important in my new work. Manipulating the properties of color allows me to say a great many things about my subject, both descriptive and emotional.
The properties of colors of course are hue, value, temperature and intensity and those four elements are more than enough to provide you with an entire vocabulary for painting.
Color itself is also a property of light. So when you want the appearance of bright sunlight, strong color is what you want not light tints made with a lot of white paint.
Trees in high summer can be notoriously difficult to manage due to the overabundance of green. But even then, the careful artist/observer will seek to find all the variations of green, especially variations of temperature.
This scene is a September timer frame when the understory and younger trees have begun to turn fabulous autumn colors further expanding the colors in the trees.
Painting the Density of the Woods
If you’ve ever walked through a New England woods you know what a dense tangle you will find. Most of the woods near my home in coastal Connecticut are new woods, they are growing on what used to be farm fields and pastures. There are tall old oak, beech, hickory, tulip, and maple trees and plenty of poison ivy vines, thick and hairy climbing up them.
Then there is a dense tangle of shrubby understory, and finally plants that grow on the floor of the woods. All of these layers, top to bottom and receding in space create a tangled mess for the artist to paint. Elements must be edited, and the most characteristic preserved. Order must be imposed on the chaos while still creating a believably naturalistic scene.
In this piece flickering brushwork helps to create that sense of density and abundance of leaves, and branches overlapping a thousand times over all under changing dappled light.
The Beginning of the Painting, Tall Trees
Though the final painting is filled with vibrant color and impressionist style brushwork this painting of tall trees in the New England landscape began in my usual, rather classical way, with a monochrome under painting and a grid.
The grid is important to help establish proportions and the green umber under painting on a buff titanium ground is earthy and warm and perfectly suited in its transparency to mark out the large territories of dark, light and medium values.
Notice that there is essentially no detail in the under painting and yet the subject still reads convincingly. I say it all the time, if the painting isn’t working now in this early stage, piling on paint, color and detail is not going to fix it. The foundation of the painting is here in composition and value structure.
More Wooded Landscape Paintings
We have a wonderful beaver pond on or property edged by woods. I have hundreds of watercolor sketches of it in all seasons. I’m toying with the idea of making my next landscape painting a large-ish diptych of one of those scenes showing the woods and the pond and the wooded hillside beyond.
I’m also considering going back to the square format for some landscape paintings, a choice which I think brings a more modern take on the traditional landscape.