View Full Version : The Spotlight - June 2016 - Trees in Spring

05-31-2016, 09:10 PM
Welcome artists!

Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!

The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.

Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.

Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere.

And, remember, no critiques unless specifically asked for.

The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!

Please note: The photos this month were taken by me or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.

This month’s Spotlight is on…Trees in Spring!

Normally, when I think of colorful trees, I think of Autumn. Here in the Northeast USA, fall colors can be quite spectacular. And for those who follow the Spotlight thread, you have probably noticed that every year (usually in October or November) we have a Spotlight thread that celebrates the colors of fall!

But fall is not the only season where trees show a lot of color. Springtime (again here in the Northeast USA) brings an awakening of color! Often, within just a few days, trees can go from bare, to being filled with colorful blossoms and flowers! White, pinks, and purples dominate the landscape! But just as in the fall, the color is fleeting! Which is one reason it is so special!

It may depend on where you live, but here are some things I have been noticing about Trees in Spring (at least in my neck of the woods) that make them interesting to draw and paint!

Perhaps the most obvious appeal to artists is the flowering trees and trees with blossoms! They can offer brilliant color for our paintings!

Different types of trees begin to bud and/or blossom at different times. So a landscape may have some nice variety – with some trees still bare, others with a minimum amount of leaves/blossoms, and some that are already on their way to full foliage.

As they begin to bud, the trees seem to have a greater variety of subtly different greens. As the leaves mature to full size, most of the deciduous trees will become very similar in color.

In my area, the budding trees and the early leaves are a more intense yellow-green than they will ultimately become.

Here is the same scene photographed in spring (mid-May) and in Summer (late June). I think you will note the more varied colors, the few still bare trees and the more yellow-green colors (check out the row of trees near the top center) in the Spring photo!


Of course, these are just my observations and aren’t any sort of rule. And it may certainly depend on where you live and the type of trees that grow in your area! As always, observation is the only rule to follow!

Here’s another example of trees in early spring compared to how they look just 2 weeks later. So, if you like to paint more trunks and branches and less foliage, you may want to capture the look of trees in early Spring!


Trees are one of those subjects that seem to initiate the question – should I paint the background (or objects behind the tree) first or should I paint the tree first and then paint the negative space around and through (sky holes) the tree? Well, you can do it either way (and often both ways)! It may depend on what is behind, how light or dark it is, how well you can paint sky holes, how well your pastels cover a previous layer, etc.!

We did some Spotlights on painting “Back to Front” and “Negative Painting” a couple years ago. Here are the links for those who may be interested:



While I didn’t do an example of trees in the Back to Front Spotlight, a number of years ago I did this painting which started with a water underpainting. As you can see, my underpainting only gives a hint of the tree trunks. All the foliage is painted with the background already in place.


I prefer to paint back to front in most instances as it is easier (for me, anyway) to paint the “positive” objects rather than paint the “negative” space around and through the objects – especially sky holes!

A disadvantage is that your pastels may not cover well enough, and be vibrant enough, when painted over an already existing layer (or layers) of pastel. It may depend on the paper, the brands of pastel and how opaque they are and the ease in which they cover. Using a wet underpainting that dries without any pastel dust, or using a fixative are possible ways to make layering easier.

The linked Spotlights will give more information on the advantages and disadvantages to using either method. Feel free to experiment with both techniques! You may find that if the tree has heavy foliage you can block it in first, then add a few sky holes and the sky around the tree after. If the tree has little foliage, you may find it easier to paint the sky and background first, then paint the leaves, trunks and branches after.

OK, it is time to paint – and enjoy – Trees in Spring!

The references:

(all photos by me)








If you took any pics of trees this spring (or any spring), feel free to use those! And as always, feel free to crop and modify this month's ref pics!

And enjoy Trees in Spring!


06-01-2016, 07:35 AM
Nice reference photos, Don. Thank you. I see at least three that interest me! Will be fun.

06-01-2016, 09:48 AM
Thank you Don for all your work and enthusiasm. I'll be happy to participate!

06-01-2016, 12:51 PM
Thank you Don for all the wonderful pictures- and all that you do. I hope to actually participate this month - been busy, but I'm bound and determined! :)

06-01-2016, 02:07 PM
Couldn't resist. But heaven forbid I don't make it complicated. This is 8 x 10 on white pastel premier 600. I used pearlescent pan pastels and metallic pan pastels. Had to make do with the colors in each set. Amended at end with pastel pencils in a few spots. Please...all comments and crits welcome!!! Thank you Don for the reference. I love it.

06-01-2016, 03:52 PM
Hi Jay,

wow you are fast! :) The background is so interesting. Interesting shapes and colors. I especially like the upper part.
I love the upper magnolia flower. The lower one...looks sad :D OK, I don't know how to say it. It's probably because of the brown (on my screen) petal in the foreground.
Hmm, actually I don't mind the dark red on the petal, but the grey? part underneath. Nitpicking...Don't be bothered by it :)

I want to paint this reference as well and now I can see how difficult it will be! The way you painted the "just white" part of the petals is wonderful! It's going to cause me headache :)

06-01-2016, 04:03 PM
Thank you Nick. I so appreciate the honest critique. I can hit the flowers with the proper color of real pastel. I just didn't want to spread the pearl or Metalic to the rest of my pans.

I can't wait till you try this reference. The white part was also on white paper. This is not hard to do. 🤗 Thank you

06-01-2016, 05:04 PM
Perhaps making it just a bit lighter could work. But it's just a thought. It's a very nice painting!
I'll see what I can do over the weekend :)

06-01-2016, 07:53 PM
Thanks again, Nick.

06-01-2016, 08:31 PM
Wow, Don, you never cease to amaze with your spot-on observations. I'm bowled over by those side-by-side naked and dressed trees! Many thanks, as always.

Best, Evelyn

06-01-2016, 08:49 PM
Jay, Thanks for starting us off with your lovely and delicate painting!


06-02-2016, 07:15 AM
Thanks Don. I love the reference.

06-02-2016, 07:45 AM
Jay, I love the dreamy look of your painting! I wish I could see it in real life, as I'll bet the pearlescent pastels look really cool.

Don, thank you for another great spotlight. I am off to a outdoor workshop this weekend so the tree theme is a timely one for me. This is a weakness of mine, but maybe if I immerse myself in it I can turn it in to a strength.

06-02-2016, 09:08 AM
Kim, you'll laugh. I couldn't see the pearlescent look or the Metalic as I was painting. (I paint flat on the table. And it was late afternoon.) After you said that, I actually looked at it in the light. And there was the glitter and shine but it's very subtle. This will be the perfect gift for someone who is feeling down.
Thank you.

06-02-2016, 06:27 PM
Jay - really lovely. I love that background!

This is my first pastel challenge. I finally made it to a local Blick's and purchased some different brands of pastel to try. My collection has gone from 35 to close to 60!!!!

I'm not sure what kind of tree this is .. flowering crab? Dogwood? Something else?

C & C welcome and appreciated - thanks!

06-02-2016, 07:03 PM
Wow, CaliAnn, that is exciting! You doubled your pastel count!!! I think the reference is a dogwood and yours is lovely! Very nice companion evergreens too.
Thanks for the kind comments on my magnolias.

water girl
06-02-2016, 07:29 PM
Jay and CaliAnn, I'm impressed at the short time it took to complete your paintings. It is only the 2nd day of the challenge. Nicely done!

06-02-2016, 07:49 PM
Thanks Karen. This reference looks like it would appeal to you too. Join us?

water girl
06-03-2016, 12:39 AM
OK! I think I will! :thumbsup:

06-03-2016, 05:34 AM
Jay - thank you! I almost feel overwhelmed with all the colors I now have :)

Karen - I had a "sick" day yesterday and was bound and determined to get at least 1 challenge done :)

06-03-2016, 10:37 AM
CaliAnn, the tree is nice and fun! I like the snowing effect :)

06-03-2016, 01:30 PM
Thanks Nick - now that I have (for me) so many colors to choose from - everything is getting splashed with more and more color ... for better or worse!!!

06-03-2016, 08:16 PM
CaliAnn, Lovely painting! You've captured the way the tree is just bursting with blossoms!


06-04-2016, 07:42 AM

I would love to hear your thoughts. Obviously, it's not finished so don't hesitate :)
I am not sure how to keep the viewer inside the painting. If I finish the twigs on the left side, it seems like it will pull too much attention and let the gaze slide away from the painting. I added the horizontal twig and the small vertical to draw attention back closer to the center - does it work or not?
Should I blur the twigs more into the background or do the opposite and make them more detailed and add contrast? Or get rid of them completely?
Does the lower flower need more contrast or is it better to let the top one be the only focal point?

Thank you so much!
Half of the sheet of La Carte, Unisons, TLs.


06-04-2016, 08:02 AM
Very nice Nick! I don't think the twigs in the lower left draw out of the painting, I think they lead in. Like reading from left to right.
I think the flowers look great. (I was almost thinking of mine as twins and letting the view bounce between them. ) it's your call.
The twigs across the bottom could lead the eye out...
When I did the ref, I saw a pair of birds flying. Figures you would like this reference!
How did you like La Carte? Looks great!

06-04-2016, 08:19 AM
Hi Jay,

thank you! That's interesting, so you say the opposite than I thought would happen LOL
I really like magnolias and with all the pink TLs that I had bought for flamingoes (and haven't painted any since then...) I wanted to try!

La Carte is really great. I keep thinking about letting the paper show through in the background (even more than it is now). I wonder how disturbing that would be for the viewer?

Oh and would you know? There is a sheet of thin paper covering the first sheet of the La Carte papers in the pad. Is that what you call glassine paper?

I photoshoped (lol) the twigs out - that's what you had in mind?


06-04-2016, 08:23 AM
Yes, that's Glassine.

I think an artistic arrangement of the lower twigs could keep the eye traveling within the painting. I see now, discussing this, that one of mine leads right OUT! Thank you...now I notice it!

Glad you're enjoying the paper. The color of your flowers is just beautiful

06-04-2016, 08:34 AM
Don - thank you.
Nick - I love the magnolia's! The pinks are so gorgeous!

06-04-2016, 08:35 AM
Haha, Jay, and I didn't notice that in your painting! Perhaps because there is more twigs there? :)

I can't decide which version I like better. I'll keep thinking about it :)
Thank you!

06-04-2016, 09:23 AM
CaliAnn, thank you. Any thoughts about the two versions? :)

06-04-2016, 09:39 AM
Nick, Great job on the flowers! You've got nice bold color and have still maintained the flowers delicacy!

Don't think too much about the twigs - the flowers are such a strong visual focal area that it would be very difficult for the twigs to be too distracting or lead the eye anywhere, in my opinion. I prefer version 1, as the lower left quadrant is a bit too large to leave completely empty. You could, of course, add some additional color shapes to the background to represent some totally out of focus objects to give the background some additional variety and fill up the emptier areas. That's just a thought - you could play with that idea in photoshop, or see what happens if you add a bit more contrast or additional twigs, too.

Or leave it as is or use version 2 - as long as the flowers are as good as they are, these background ideas are all secondary elements that aren't that important!

Jay, Went back to look at yours - nothing even comes close to leading the eye out of the painting - as far as I can see! Again, your twigs are all secondary compared to the strong visual of the flowers. For something to lead the eye out of the painting, it needs to be a strong, eye-catching element, in my opinion.


06-04-2016, 09:44 AM
Don, thank you very much for your suggestion and thoughts, I really appreciate it.
How would I need to proceed to paint the "additional colors shapes"? Would I have to use different colors to make them optically fade into background? Lighter colors? More blue? And the edges would be sharp or slightly blurred?
I don't think I have ever done that. Thank you :)

06-04-2016, 10:09 AM
Don, thank you very much for your suggestion and thoughts, I really appreciate it.
How would I need to proceed to paint the "additional colors shapes"? Would I have to use different colors to make them optically fade into background? Lighter colors? More blue? And the edges would be sharp or slightly blurred?
I don't think I have ever done that. Thank you :)

Unfortunately, there are probably hundreds of different ways one could add additional color shapes! Since they are just background shapes that are not representative of anything - they could suggest out of focus twigs, or leaves, or other flower petals, etc. You could use some of the same colors that you already used, or just different shades of the existing blue background. Since they are out of focus, they would have soft edges. I'll see if I can find some examples, because quite frankly, adding abstract shapes is not something I am good at!


06-04-2016, 10:32 AM
Don, thank you. I will experiment in another painting. It could be easier if I include it in a painting from the start.

water girl
06-04-2016, 01:39 PM
Nick, I'm not bothered by the branches. In fact, it feels balanced.
I limited myself to 60 to 90 minutes to jump in here. I took a scrap of La Carte, some TL's for the background and NuPastels and pencils for the flowers. I felt like I was in a race! :lol:


06-04-2016, 02:09 PM
Oh, Karen! I am floored! :D

I am just chuckling here. I think that we more or less used the same TL sticks. We even had the same color of La Carte. But your painting is so much more vibrant (not to mention better thought out)

However, it's actually great to see so clearly how long journey I have ahead.

Your painting is fantastic. Thank you for joining the Spotlight!

06-04-2016, 02:18 PM
Karen!!!! You won! You won the race. With one pastel tied behind your back even. Beautiful beautiful. Thank you so much for joining us. And teaching us with this. Wow. Your painting SINGS! An aria! Gee, you ought to do this for a living. 😃🙄💗

Edit to add: I can't stop looking!!!

06-04-2016, 02:32 PM
:D I can't stop either :D How come your petals are so vibrant? :) More layers?
More knowledge and skills obviously :)

06-04-2016, 03:17 PM
I started this the day before this spotlight. trees! Spring Equinox and Ancient tree. This was strictly for FUN Watercolor splashed on white Pastel Premier 600 (just to get "free') 11x 14 with Nupastel and Rembrandt. A touch of other pastel. All comments welcome. Feel free to rip it up! This is a learning project but oh so much fun.

06-04-2016, 05:43 PM
Karen that is gorgeous!!!! This is why I wanted an early start - if I saw that painting, I'd be too intimidated to post anything :)

jay I really like that - the bare tree is very well done :)

06-04-2016, 06:34 PM
Karen that is gorgeous!!!! This is why I wanted an early start - if I saw that painting, I'd be too intimidated to post anything :)

:lol: I am glad Karen has joined us. She's showed us what is possible. Now we can try again! :angel:

06-04-2016, 06:40 PM
Jay, I like it :) And I especially like that it was fun!

I keep looking at it and think that it could be not only a tree in sunlight but also a tree on fire. Probably because the red on the right tree and the warm orange every where above the ground. The black dots suggest ash flying around.

Either way it is a powerful painting!

06-04-2016, 07:18 PM
I'll take it if it works, Nick. Scalding sun or fire..same. Thanks.

Thank you CaliAnn. Art should be fun, right?

water girl
06-05-2016, 01:34 PM
Jay, I see fire as well, but almost abstractly. Very exciting!
I do use many, many layers. In this case, if I used a dark burgundy in the petal, I'll go over it with a dark, hot pink, then a lighter hot pink. If it becomes too light, I bring in the dark, hot pink color again. Back and forth, back and forth. The darker background added a touch of drama. Being a complimentary color helped as well. Now I'm being picky because I see the few stray marks that form the buds in the lower portion of the painting are too evenly spaced. I think that I think too much! :lol: :lol: :lol:

06-05-2016, 03:03 PM
Karen, just enjoy your beautiful creation. All the more special because you set a time limit. Don't think....just enjoy!
Thanks for being kind about my tree. It may not get framed but it sure was fun!

06-05-2016, 04:50 PM
Karen, thank you for letting us know the way you painted it :)

06-05-2016, 06:36 PM
Karen, Those flowers are lovely! And quite dramatic with that dark background! Thanks for joining us!

Jay, Yes, that tree is exciting! Lot's of character!


06-05-2016, 07:13 PM
Just had to break out of the box to try something new. Thanks.

06-05-2016, 07:41 PM
Jay, WOW! That is gorgeous, it helps to know you used pearlized and metallic Pans in it too. The effect in person is spectacular! If you got that deep gray for the stems in pewter, wow wow wow wow wow. That is a particularly elegant use of values in the metallic and pearlized range. I like the pearlized colors for being a step darker than their respective tints. Using pastel pencils to bring up the deeper red is gorgeous too. I wouldn't so much change that as mat it with a metallic effect and put that in a contrasting metal frame, say metallic gold mat and pewter frame or copper frame and silver mat.

It's awesome. Would be hard to reproduce but lovely in person.

CaliAnn, love your flowering trees! My main suggestion is to put gap holes (like sky holes but to the background trees not bare sky) in the tree colors into some of the solid mass of the white tree. You have sky holes in the background trees but few in the white tree and that would have 3D areas of thicker blossoms and thinner where you could see past a branch.

06-06-2016, 06:45 AM
Robert, good to see you. Thanks for the kind and helpful comments. Glad you're back. Will you be joining us?

06-08-2016, 09:23 AM
Jay, I'm intrigued by some of the effects of the watercolors and pastels in that painting. I can see how that would be a lot of fun to play with and would open up some new creativity.

Nick and Karen, both of your magnolias are beautiful and well rendered. Very simliar except for the background, but the two backgrounds give very different effects and moods

I was at a workshop last weekend with Stan sperlak. This is a plein air painting I did there (so it's really late spring trees). The day after I painted it, he showed us technique to apply texture with crushing pastel under palette knife, so I added some texture in the studio to the highlights. It's so much fun to experiment with new techniques, now I need to find something different to try. Maybe water painting, that sure did look cool http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/08-Jun-2016/1977258-image.jpg

water girl
06-08-2016, 01:53 PM
Wow! This explodes....in a very good way! There is great use of color and great movement as well. Well done!!!

06-08-2016, 02:00 PM
Kim, yours is awesome! Gorgeous workshop painting and plein air to boot! Love the textures. Looking forward to water painting!

Nick, your magnoliias rock! I would add just a touch of the dark to the lower flower but not as much, not as intense. On the twigs, they were interesting but accent darks to round them would be nice. Again, the eye can be directed by which details and where they go, but having the same value as blue background flattened them. Darks not quite as dark as the darks in the flowers, just a step or so to make them rounded and shadow them.

Karen, gorgeous, finite perfection, love your flowers. Very different look with the dark background and beautiful motion! Your twigs lead right in as effective pointers.

Jay, lovely scene, so lively and full of textures. You asked for suggestions so I would suggest highlighting and shadowing the trunk of that pine on the left to round it and establish its identity, looks like you lifted it out where it crossed a smaller pine but didn't paint it in, a streak of grayish or brownish pale light down the middle broken color might be enough in itself.

06-08-2016, 02:05 PM
Kim, thank you.

Your painting is so interesting!! I keep looking at it and it won't let me go :D
I have heard about his technique but I am still not sure how come the pastel dust stays where he intended it to. There has to be a thick layer, hasn't it? So, how come it won't fall off? :)

06-08-2016, 02:10 PM
nice to see you! And thank you for your tip! I think I also need to check how magnolia grows, I am afraid the twig sharp angle is not very natural. I keep going back to the painting and I kind of like how peaceful it is.
I am going to try another one over the weekend.

06-08-2016, 03:16 PM
Thank you for the kind words, Karen, Robert, and Nick :)
I will definitely use this type of texturing technique again.

Nick, there may be other ways of doing it, but the way he demonstrated was to apply the pastel on a flat surface, using strong pressure so that it breaks up on the page a little. Then, keeping the painting flat, you press it down with a pallette knife to lock it in place. There will still be some loose dust that knocks off when you put it upright and tap it, but if you pressed it down good, most of it stays in place. It isn't a technique for precision work, it uses a lot of pastel, and it can be a little messy... but that's part of the fun.

06-08-2016, 03:26 PM
Thanks, Kim. What kind of paper did he used for it? Does it have to be a sanded paper?
Crushing pastels to dust sounds scary though :D

06-08-2016, 04:11 PM
Yes he used various types of sanded papers. I did this one on Pastel premier. Or maybe canson sanded.
I haven't tried on any no sanded papers

06-08-2016, 04:58 PM
Thank you :)

water girl
06-08-2016, 10:23 PM
Kim, looking back at your painting, it really does look like an oil painting to me. Amazing!
Thank you so much, Robert!

06-09-2016, 06:45 AM
Kim. Love love the tree. The depth of the darks. Mystery and substance, both. Very well done. Thanks for sharing the Sperlac technique.
I'm so glad you enjoyed my watercolor splashing under pastel. Handell demoed in his video and McKinley too. Big sloppy brush on sanded paper. Fun!! Thanks for commenting.

Nick, there are many demos on Stan Sperlac website.

Robert. Just what I needed. Thanks. I put the painting aside for a few days while I had my five year old grandson running around. I should have let him have a go at it!!!

06-09-2016, 08:00 AM
Kim, Your tree is just bursting with life and energy! Well done!


06-09-2016, 09:40 AM
Thanks Don!

jay, I look at that bottom part of your painting and I'm just loving the abstractness of the mingled oranges and greens. I can envision that same effect used to render the surface of a vernal pool in the Fall. I will be stealing this at some point soon!

Thank you Karen, full credit for the textural technique to Stan. It does open up some creative options that I hadn't previously realized I had with pastels. It really is a versatile medium.

06-09-2016, 09:50 AM
Kim, I'm looking forward to seeing you put this to use. I wish it were my original idea.
I have to make a second version of that NYCity painting. By popular demand...(family). So I have to produce a fake of my own painting!!! Don't tell!

06-09-2016, 10:48 AM
I am so tempted to join in this month, if not one of the tree landscapes then the magnolia reference. I've also got my plein air to finish, may post that since I started it in spring and got photos to work from when I did it.

06-09-2016, 02:40 PM
Com'on Robert. Join in!

06-10-2016, 08:54 AM
I'd love to see what you do with any of those options, Robert. So glad to hear you are thinking of joining us.

06-27-2016, 03:15 PM
Everyone is sooo quiet! Hope everyone is good.

06-27-2016, 03:29 PM
Hi Jay, you are right, it's very quiet here.
I was busy and forgot that I wanted to paint a viburnum in bloom :(
I need to get back to the idea in July!

06-27-2016, 04:31 PM
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....uh, wha....I thought I heard something...Zzzzzzzzzzzzz...:cat:

06-27-2016, 07:13 PM
Wake up Don. I'm on vacation in Maine. I'll be chatting things up soon. No worries!!!

06-28-2016, 08:46 AM
I know that I haven't done much painting this month. I look forward to seeing what Don has in store for us for July.

By the way, JAY, I'll be in Maine next weekend too (Stonington). Maybe we'll both have some new art inspiration from the trips.

06-28-2016, 03:58 PM
Kim, Don't go! I ate all the lobster!!!

We were attending a wedding so not too much photography but a few.

I can't wait to see the new Spotlight. I'm so sorry I didn't have more time for trees.