View Full Version : Need a method for painting this image

11-25-2013, 06:49 AM
Hi all,

I've been lurking for a while and this is my first post. I'm looking for ideas on a method for painting an image I found. I want to post the image, and get some feedback on my first attempt at painting it, but can't do that until I've made 2 posts! So this is the first. I guess I'll just say hi.


11-25-2013, 06:50 AM
Hi again!

11-25-2013, 06:57 AM
Okay, let's do this.

I should say up front that I tend to be pretty wordy. I hope that's okay. My motto: Why use 200 words to say something when it can be said so much better in 2000? So here goes.

I enrolled in a watercolor class about three years ago, painted for the nine months of the class, and put the brush down for a couple of years. I've recently begun painting again, this time daily instead of once or twice a week, going through paper and paint with wild abandon and a sense of adventure. I found a photo reference that I'd like to paint from, and today I'm looking for tips on method. Here's the image:


What I like about the image is the mix of strong verticals in the trees, and the strong diagonals created by the leaf shapes. Aspens are also easy trees to paint, in the sense that the light and dark bark makes them instantly recognizable. I like that there's a blueish cast to the trees, and the orange and gold in the leaves are complimentary colors. But this also poses a problem for me with the method.

In my first attempt I used masking fluid to create the tree shapes, laid in a pale wash of ultramarine blue in the upper right, moved to a mid tone mix of aurolian yellow and quinacridone gold for the leaves, and intensified that with cad orange for the lower left corner. I let that dry and added some of the branches that I wanted to be behind trees in a dark neutral (burnt sienna and ultramarine, with a touch of quinacridone gold).

I then removed the removed the masking fluid, and then worked on tree details, added some more intense oranges between the tree shapes, some more dark branches. Eventually I overworked it. (I sometimes wish I had a painting fairy on my shoulder to holler STOP!) But this was a test of my method, painting on the back of another failed painting, and I was experimenting, so no big loss.

Here's the first try. Some of the tiny lines of masking fluid worked well here (upper middle). Did those with a ruling pen. The masking fluid applied with a brush, less successful. I also completely lost the strong light diagonal in the center, so will watch that the next time I paint this. A fair bit of mud. Clearly the orange tones need the white of the paper behind them to stay transparent and bright.


What I learned in the test painting was that the very things that attracted me to the image (limited palette, strong simple shapes, complimentary colors) were the things that made it a challenge to paint. I thought this would be a simple task, but in the mix of the pale blue background wash, and the oranges and gold of the leaves, I lost the clear bright colours I was attracted to. The blue cancelled the orange, in other words.

I'm looking for ideas on method here. Should I mask only in the area of diagonal band of orange? Lay in the orange wash in there, and use negative painting to define tree shapes in orange in the lower left? Ignore the pale blue sky holes in the upper right, as the blue and orange in that area will only ever make mud? Use blue on its own only in the trees in the foreground, and as a base for the dark neutral I need for branches?

I have been squinting at the image and staring at a blank sheet of paper for a while now. Does anyone have any ideas on how move forward on this? I'd love to try a variety of different methods, and post the results.

11-25-2013, 07:16 AM
Hi Knitsib. Welcome to Wet Canvas and the watercolor forum. I like what you're attempting to do. The birth trees are very well done and I like that they are different widths. You might want to select one off-center one and make it most important (the most white, the widest, etc.)
I think you have way too much orange. The variations of white and gold is what sets off the reference and makes it special. Since you use masking fluid, in your next attempt, you might want to put some on the few whitest areas, paint a wash changing color and value as you did in this one. When dry, add another layer of masking and repeat for many layers. This will give you a variety of light values once the mask is removed. Would love to see you do another.

11-25-2013, 07:43 AM
I think the background yellow/orange is way too strong. The trees should be stronger; i.e. the darks on the trees need to be near black. Model the shadows with gray (the left side of each tree) and then put in darks to show the curve. It is imperceptible, but every dark line is following a curve such as you would use to depict a cylinder from a lower viewpoint. Also, more of the dark lines are visible on the shadow side, which is a mid tone area for this image.

Also like Jan's idea of selecting one to highlight... otherwise it is just too tedious (at least for me). However, this picture does lack a focal point; the interest is in the group of trees, not in any particular one. The pattern of white on yellow is the subject. The diagonal separating the yellow and white makes the static subject dynamic. It is possible that a keystone correction was applied to the photo (or a view camera used), so the perspective distortion of verticals is not as pronounced, making the effects of a lower viewpoint difficult to identify.

11-25-2013, 09:49 AM
I think that this is one of those that have to be simplified.Is there a way to make one main tree as has been suggested and then a couple of more a little thinner and leave the rest?

11-25-2013, 10:30 AM
I would skip the orange, yellow is a much more typical colour for autumn birches, there are alot of them around here and I can't remember seeing any orange ones.

11-25-2013, 10:42 AM
Wow! I didn't expect such speedy replies. Thank you all so much!

Indraneel, I agree with you about the focus of the image being the pattern of white on yellow. And that it's that sharp diagonal that makes the image dynamic. The "what" of this image, for me, is the fresh color of the leaves against the white trees, and that's what I want to say with this piece.

Jan, I like your idea of calling out one tree in the foreground for special treatment. I love the pale blue of the largest tree on the right. I think I'll move that one slightly to the left, and get rid of the tree near the center of the image.

Irishman, good reminder to simplify. Thank you.

Looking again, I can see that not all of the trunks connect to mass of color in the the canopy. Those in the middle and in the distance sort of fade away into one light mass in the middle ground. I think keep the mask to a few areas of high contrast up in the left hand corner, and suggest a very few trees in the middle ground. The furthest trees can just be part of the light mass. For the first attempt I didn't sketch at all. Just started in with the masking fluid. This time I'll sketch in the sharp diagonal, so I don't lose it, and make sure the foreground trees are where I want them to be.

Should be enough in there to get me started. I'll post version two when it's finished. Thanks again for the warm welcome and fresh way of looking at the image!

12-08-2013, 03:02 AM
Knitsib, Great start to your painting. Unlike you I am a person of few words :lol: Id look at colour values to make this work zoom. It kinda reminds me of Jackson Pollock so I thought id post you a link about him hope you enjoy.
M http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-28/stroke-of-genius-the-legacy-of-blue-poles/4228672

12-10-2013, 12:17 AM
That's a wonderful image! I'm glad you're getting your brushes wet again.

Here's how I would approach this one:

1. Make a pencil sketch on the paper to get the different sized trees at the sizes and locations and angles I want them.

2. Paint the light color of the birch bark, wet into wet. That is, wet the whole tree trunk with plain water, then brush on light blue/gray paint on the left side of the trunk and fade it out into the right side, to create a sunny side and a shady side to each tree. I would probably use ultramarine blue mixed with a bit of burnt umber. Make the paint darker and richer in the foreground trees, fading to near white in the rear-most trees. Let this completely dry.

3. Mix a dark brown with hints of maroon for the branches and spots. Make it rich and dark, and paint it on the trees only when step 2 is completely dry. A liner brush would be nice to use for the thin branches, and let the paint get thinner/lighter for the branches in the rear.

4. Mix a couple shades of yellow and orange. Use either a bit of sponge or the tip of a stiff bristle brush to apply the paint carefully around the tree trunks onto dry paper, striving to keep flecks of white paper untouched. Apply one color at a time, letting it dry completely before applying another. This will give a crisp, clean look and help preserve flecks of white.

5. Apply a few dabs of green, and perhaps a few dabs of red in the same manner as the yellows and oranges for final touches to give added richness of color. If desired, dab on tiny bits of pale blue sky, being careful not to mix it into the leaves.

Another thing I would do - try out colors and brushstrokes in a sketchbook or scratch paper before applying them to the painting.

Also, if I'm not sure of what exactly I want the composition to be, I'd make a few pencil sketches to figure out composition, and perhaps a few color detail sketches of particular tricky elements, to get a feel for it before plunging into the painting.

I don't particularly like using masking fluid, so I wouldn't use it for this picture. But it certainly could be used. You could mask the tree trunks and apply the yellows and oranges more quickly with a large sponge, just use a light touch.

Size - you didn't say what size paper you used. Larger paper would definitely be easier than smaller paper for placing tiny, narrow trees. Or, what I'd probably do as a test painting, is pick a part of the image, like the far right 1/4 or so, and paint that.