Studying Trees for Drawing or Painting

If you have a difficult time drawing/painting trees you should break down and study, in sketches, your understanding of the form(s).  Remember that creating reality on a two dimensional surface is really creating an illusion.   If you think this way:  1. where is the light coming from, 2. what are the patterns of dark and light I am seeing, 3. where is my eye level, which implies space, 4. what is placed where in the space, where is the background, mid-ground and foreground,  5. what is over lapping what.  These ideas happen not necessarily in this order.  The space of a landscape needs to be organized in a manner that makes visual sense.  The principle of thirds can help.

If you work from life or a photo it is your decision where to put your ideas on the canvas.  The trees are sometimes separate, like a portrait but often trees are in groups.  Look to organize the groups of trees that make a good design.  Don’t put them on the same level in space, nor evenly group them.

Remember that what ever idea you come up with, don’t be literal.  Come up with a plan and then re-evaluate thru out the entire painting.  Come up with structures and patterns and then let them integrate and not be separate hard edge forms.

Below is some processing I am doing for a painting of Maine with the trees, rock and coast line.  I am looking and researching information.  Once into the painting, the ideas break apart and new ones arrive.  Keep a fresh eye and keep the search going thru the whole painting.  Don’t take any of it for granted.  You don’t want symbols, you want observation and fresh information.

The painting is not finished yet but I have a dynamic start.

Below are thumb nails of other trees and a class project.

Line Drawing

In order to do a line drawing you must get familiar with your tools.  What kind of marks can you make with them.  Then you should have a variety of mark making tools that will give you darker heavy lines and lighter fine lines.  This will enable you to push and pull space.  This is in order to create depth by observing where the light source is.

Remember in still life to include the background.  The reason why the objects looks the way they does is  because of the background.  Don’t make your drawing a shopping list of items on the page unrelated.  It does not make any sense.  That is not a composition nor will it help you find proportions.

To use the line to describe form you want to be sensitive to what you are describing.  The contour of a forms is more than the outside edge of an object.  It can be the shadow, or an edge you see in the background.  Broken lines are great for creating a soft edge.  A fat thick line is great to help to pull a subject matter forward or to emphasize a possible shadow.  Think of lines as a beautiful  melody with ups and downs, load and soft… it is all about description.

Below I have a contour drawing.

After that I have ink washes with line… somethings this helps the artist place a line with a little more freedom.  The wash is there holding the area and the line defines which part of the area is important.



Painting a Sunset and Seascape in Oils on Canvas

Often times photography images are deceivingly simple when we glance at them.  So many of us have enjoyed multiple times in front of beautiful sunsets.  It is a standard classic subject matter.  (And do remember that you are creating painting and not copying a photo). But there is more there than meets the eye.  In oder to convey realism, the artist must break down what is being seen and what is reality.  The source of light is key and this effects how we perceive reality.   At the end of the day, light describes forms or they go flat from being back lite.  Then the next issue is the water and its elements.  Low tide is sneaky because there are areas of the water that are moving and areas that are somewhat dry from sand mounds and in the way distance, the water is calm and reflective.

In class the biggest struggle was understanding the movement in the water.  Before starting any painting you should be on paper, drawing and redrawing your visual thinking.  The ocean has tides which come in and out… but by doing this, it moves with a rhythm.  The water always moves in multiple directions. The wave comes in while another is going out.  All waves over lap and move in opposite directions.  In the drawings and painted studies here I imply that concept by using contour lines.  Also, in the other drawing, I deal with design and the rule of thirds.  Getting the space organized, so that I have a sense of what will go where when I get onto the canvas.  It is so important with painting nature is to break it down in some logical way before you paint.  Have a sense of where  you might be going with the paint.

Then are all my teachers have said to me, “come up with your ideas, then forget about it”.  This means do not hold onto any one concept.  Keep re-evaluating the imagery.  Otherwise the ideas become the painting rather than the painting evolving on its own. It’s ends up more like an illustration, rather than an expression.


Once I have a good concept going I am ready to get onto the canvas.  The canvas, I decided to paint a bright pink, which makes it really challenging to see color and value.  I love a good challenge.  Painting is not how fast  can get this down, it is how am I going to get this down.  Studio painting does not have a time limit.  I go to my pallet and get a range of colors mixed.  This helps me get a head start on what I will use for value and color.  I like to see it in relationship to all the possible colors.  This does not mean I am finished mixing paint.  It is just the beginning.

Now for the sketch:  I usually start with charcoal but with all the studying, I thought it might be fun to sketch with wet paint.  In oils there is some conflict of paints getting dirty.  I paint direct, somewhat dry and all color come off of my pallet.


Learning how to mix color

To understand color mixing is to study the colors by breaking them down into different combinations. ie.  complimentary, analogues etc.  It is helpful to use the same three basic primary colors for this. Mine are Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Ultramarine Blue. These three color combinations do not make all the colors in the rainbow, nor are they meant to. Don’t worry about loving all the colors. Focus in on the learning of how they work and their usage.

Buy a color wheel, so you start to understand the language of color mixing. And don’t worry about remembering everything. It will come with time and experience.

This is an excellent link and you guys should should join.

When you lay out the for a particular color combo, we set up our pallets in a grid format. In this way you can create a memory of how you found certain colors.

When you set up the full pallet it is set up a little differently and always set up the colors exactly the same way so that you don’t have to search for your main colors.

Eventually you will increase your colors to include more variety but for now keep it limited to increase the learning.

And be sure to lay out enough color to use….don’t be stingy with paint.


Complimentary pallet.


Starting a painting w/an underpainting


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In the times when Rembrandt was painting, underpainting was common practice.  It was the basis of starting a painting.  It is still used today but for various reasons.

An underpainting in my oil and acrylic classes can provide important information to help boost the start of a painting.  I teach  my students to use this method as one way to start a painting.  It will help them understand the setup their values, (lights to darks) and design and correct the drawing in paint before moving forward.  This is done by using one color and white.  Keep the ideas very simple, do not add detail at this stage, just get the basics of lights and darks set up on your picture plane.  Then let this underpainting dry fully and build your full pallet on top.  With this guidance on you canvas, it can be easier to then work on the complexities of color mixing and painting.

Here are an example of a blue and white demo and the same one with charcoal contour line on it.

In a more advanced understanding of painting, I did a charcoal on a yellow tinted canvas.  Then I proceeded to do an underpainting in purple, which is essentially a complimentary start to a painting.  I will let this dry and build my painting on top.  These colors will enhance my greens and whites and make my painting sing with overlaying colors.  This is not for a beginner painter.

Beginning Pastel

This week students learned about analogous color combinations.  This is done in purple to blue, moving around the color wheel a few steps. Using a limited pallet keeps things more in control and less expensive with less choices.  Which should mean a lot more integration and choices of when not to integrate the color of the area and separate it out.  The tree in this landscape is not separated from  its environment.  The edges should be soft by cross hatching layers of color on top of each other.  Remember light to dark, bright to dull.  If you follow this the mark making should be less visible.  The artwork should slowly come into focus and the sharpness of any edge should arrive thru your desire as an artist to create that edge.  Photographs do that…not everything is purely  in focus.  Don’t rush the process, make concise decisions and let the artwork guide you.  It is not about finishing it is about a good process.

Analogous Colors – Painting


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The definitions is:  using any shades, tints or tones off colors that lie adjacent to each on the color wheel.

Why use this pallet?  This is all about learning about color and in isolation of a limited pallet student’s can learn how to develop a well balanced painting using any set or combination of colors.  To make sure that this is effective the recommended combinations are blue to green or pick blue to purple.  In this you will have your darkest darks for values and you will have  a warm color and a cool color.  Of course color theory is difficult that is why so many famous painting just painted in limited pallets because this is a lot to be found in this area.  The lights and darks create form as well as warm and cool colors.  In this areas that are warm will come forward and cool will recede for the most part.  All rules in paintings do not work literally.

And artist should be able to use any pallet and make sense out of the painting.  I always use Van Gogh’s self portraits as an example.  He is not doing analogous colors but he is challenging the viewer on what color use is about.  They are so vibrant and alive but the colors have nothing to do with skin tones.  Do we doubt it is a portrait?  No because of the balance of warms and cools, lights and darks, composition and design.

When in doubt get your own color wheel.  Also look up it up, amazing amount of materials on this concept.  Painting is all about understanding color relationships and mixing.

Basics in Painting



This course is:  Three -Two hour classes in painting.  Remember that this is just the first steps on getting to know how to paint.  Students are either working in oils or acrylic.  There are similarities and many differences.  Acrylics can dry quickly if you don’t put a few drops of an acrylic retarder into the paints, it dries flat,  darkens when it dries, its plastic and it is easier to clean up.  Oils on the other hand stay wet and will dry faster in less than a week if you use a medium that has a dryer in it.  But staying wet allows you to move things around, the colors are more natural but it takes more time to wash out brushes.  Both brushes you can wash out in slop sink with bar soap or a brush cleaner.  The choice between them has to do what quality you like in painting.

To learn the basics this first session we work with one color and white, just to get a feel of the paint. The mixing of 5 values should be done on your pallet with a pallet knife and put into piles.  Do not be stingy with paints.  This does not mean the mixing does not happen throughout the painting… it’s just gets you started with some ideas and a selection of darks to lights.

When you start to take the paint and make  two brush marks per load of paint on your brush onto the canvas.  The visual blend comes from finding the values in between that it looks blended.  Develop good habits at the beginning and you will have more success in clean colors, good brush strokes and variation of tones on your canvas.  I did not work long enough on my demo to get this visual blend but you can see it in my paintings on my web site.


Next week, do a drawing on your primed canvas or whatever surface you are working on.  Before class you can put out your primary colors on your pallet along with white: red, yellow and blue. If you are feeling ambitious start to mix a complementary color combo pallet, (look up on line for resources of other painters painting in this pallet).  We will be using Orange to blue.  Since you are mixing the orange, do a test and mix a tiny bit of blue into a tiny bit of orange to see what you will get for a color… if any green shows up, your orange is too yellow for your blue. Add more red to the orange and make a nice big pile of orange too.  Below is an example of the pallet.  Blue on one side, orange on the other.  Mixtures of both in sequence…then I take each pile and add white to change the value.

Why do all this?  This creates your ability to create  browns and grays.  In order for a painting to make sense you need a push and pull of bright and dull, dark and light, thick and thin..  If you are still mystified… then wait for class and we will do it together.



My pallet for oil painting is a large piece of glass with my colors always laid out.


Pastel Workshop – some basics

We talked about the variety of materials to use with your pastels.  And one of the most important things is to get familiar with the medium.  You can do this by charting your colors and learning how to cross hatch in order to create a seamless gradation… not that easy to do.  but with practice it can be done.  Do this in all the complimentary color combos and in same family of colors: light to dark.


Then the class proceeded to do a value drawing in charcoal. Why because it is easy to erase and it sets up the values for your work of art.  You will make a mess if you try to erase pastel.  Do the drawing, spend some time at getting as right as you can.  Now with chalk pastel build our darks into light and your brights into mixtures… do not jump into lights too fast, you won’t be able to  make many changes and that will be frustrating.  Think of it as moving ahead and not getting rid of… but the building of color.  If you use a light hand and keep away from black, you will have time to rearrange your drawing a little and get the results you want.


Basics of Painting



This week painting class we continued our paintings from last week and painted on our under paintings.  The idea was, that the under painting provided the value, some warms and cools to help us understand our depth and get the drawing corrected as much as you could.  When you build your color on top, you don’t color it is, you continue painting and changing whatever needs to be changed.  Nothing is ever 100% in a painting.  Everything evolves and changes.  Be sure not to paint in one item at a time, the creates real problem and the balance of the painting will not be there.  The orange is too strong of a color for this composition so therefore down play it.  The grays and tones need to be rich and diverse.  Have some joy in the exploration of the possible colors.  It is not always about the end result.  It is about how you get there.