|Pine tree demonstration, 12" x 9"|
Pine trees are a subject we all encounter in the southwestern landscape. My challenge was to take one of the four photos I posted and put it into another setting. For my demonstration I merged these two photos using Photoshop:
I ended up with this resource photo, which I used for the painting you see at the top of this post.
My first question was how I might recompose to make it a more interesting painting. My students and I brainstormed ideas, and I decided to crop the sky, angle the horizon into more of a mountain shape, and give more perspective to the pathway by widening it at the front. I wanted the pine tree I added to be the star of the show, as I believe it has!
To backtrack a little, this is how my demo looked after the first pass:
Let me remind you of some facts about tree in general and pine trees specifically. First you must understand the anatomy of a tree in order to paint it properly. Just as a portrait painter must have knowledge of the bone structure underlying the face, you must understand the skeletal underpinnings of the tree, but because of the fact that pine trees never shed their foliage it’s difficult to understand the underlying structure. However, all trees have certain elements in common.If you were able to look down on a pine tree from the top you’d notice how the branches spiral out in a loosely radial pattern along each trunk. This pattern is repeated over and over, in the habit of trunks, branches, needles (which are leaves), and pine cones. In order to picture this design, think of the barber pole where the spiral rises continuously.
A tree rarely puts out branches at even and opposite intervals along the barber pole. One of the reasons an artificial Christmas tree looks fake is the intervals are too exact, with a branch sprouting out at perfectly opposing and predictable distances, unlike the real thing. On a real tree, the larger branches develop smaller branches in a roughly radial spiral pattern, as the tree grows taller. This corkscrew arrangement generally holds true for all trees, including pines.
Trees are radially symmetrical, meaning both halves are roughly the same, sometimes even more so in pine trees, which can be almost perfectly conical in shape. You could place a mirror at the center of the tree and see a matching image. However, try to paint your pine tree so that it isn’t simply made up of two identical halves but has asymmetrical qualities that make it more interesting.
Remember that trees must be balanced to remain upright, although their tenacity is amazing. Once the root system is well established a tree can remain upright even when part of it is severely damaged. A lightning strike can destroy as much as half the tree and yet it can live on in its injured state because each trunk achieves a certain balance on its own. In the arid southwest near my home you can sometimes see a tree that’s growing along an arroyo, the bank of which has eroded away and left the tree growing horizontally out of the wall. The tree has righted itself and grows up toward the light with a 45 degree bend in the trunk. All of the other branches have arranged themselves to balance the tree in its upright growth.
Pine trees come in many varieties, from blue spruce to piñon to towering ponderosa pines, but all share some common traits. The general value of pine trees is medium-dark to dark, depending on the light source and the time of day. Shade the green of pines with a drift of orange in the sunlight and a hint of purple in the shadows, to excite the green.
Pines usually grow well only at certain altitudes, so you find one type predominating in most areas, though there can be a mix of one or two varieties, as well. Pines generally don’t have an open growth pattern but are dense and closed, except at the very outside edges. A few pines tend to grow in a slightly more open pattern, especially long-needled ones.
The classic ‘Christmas tree’ shape, a wide-based triangle, is characteristic of only a few pines. Most tend to have a much more cylindrical shape and taper only slightly at the crown of the tree. Analyze the overall shape before painting a pine tree and throw out any preconceived ideas you have. Don't let your pines become a solid wall! Remember that the wind blows through them, so keep them slightly open, which will create a sense of 3-dimensionality.
As a rule I suggest you approach painting your tree this way:
Using Wallis paper, tone it any color you like using a foam brush.
Locate where the trunk emerges from the ground.
Find the thrust—the angle of the overall tree.
Locate the top limit and outside edges.
Draw the geometric shape overall.
|9" x 9" Wallis paper, toned blue violet, charcoal sketch|
Carve away the negative shapes. Let me show you an illustration that might help you understand this better:
|Find the geometric shape and then carve away the negative shapes.|
Locate trunk and major branches.
Determine the angle of the sunlight and shadows.
|Charcoal underdrawing in place|
Consider the background first.
Paint what’s behind, intruding into the tree’s shape.
Add purples beneath shadowed foliage.
Add oranges beneath sunlit foliage.
Find a characteristic stroke that mimics the pine needles.
Use that detail in areas where balloons of foliage intersect or the foliage is against the background.
Add greens over the other colors, starting with the dark and proceeding to the highlights.
And here is the resulting painting, not quite finished yet:
If you would like to view an animated loop of this painting, you can view it here in a thread I posted at WetCanvas.
Keep going, gang!
Keep going, gang!