View Full Version : Learner's WIP, 'Burning' Birches

10-22-2007, 05:10 PM
Hi guys, :wave:

Have embarked on a new painting, and this time it will not, shall not, be weak in colour and values. It is my firm resolve.

I fell for this autumn scene because of the v-shaped glow of the birches against the densly dark cliff. The curve of the road was alluring, so I decided to keep it in the picture. Was that the right choise? Would have started it outdoors, but it was close to freezing, so I took a ref photo, with numb fingers, shivering in the arctic wind from north.

I post my progress, and ask for helpful hints, help, and critique, advice. All honest and straightforward, please, I want to learn. You who have experience of underpaintings, how does my method (or lack there of...) work?

Pastels: Rembrandt and Schmincke
Paper: Paper for acrylics, covered with Schmincke's Pastel Primer, rolled on (is very rough, not just toothy, but has 'jaws' :eek: )
Size: ca 30x40 cm
Underpainting: Watercolour



To save one layer (and my fingertips), I blocked in the major masses with Watercolour. Alizarin (sky) looks just like cad red treetops in photo, mysterious. This is the first time I've tried an underpainting in Watercolour.

Start, underpainting:


Next I either matched the colour in pastels, or added another colour:


Starting to look real ugly, right? To paint is to survive the 'ugly duckling stage', with the 'swan' firmly fixed in mind.

Then I layered on. It is not finished, I'm at the "looking at it from a distance to see what seems odd and needs to be fixed first"-stage. I'd run out of daylight, so here is one pic taken with flash:


And another of the same stage, taken in halogen light:


Upper right corner happened to get a shadow...

Flash is better, only it brings the blues out too much, and the lightest values are not as shiny. wish I could post the actual painting.

Well, that was today's work. Tomorrow, I hope to start with loads of good advice from you guys! :heart:

Thank you for looking, and for advice. To say the magical words: C&C very welcome.


10-22-2007, 05:37 PM
i think you have a fantastic start here, the road lays down very nicely, and the yellow is nice and bright. for me, i'd lighten up the sky at the tree line, to pop some lights into those trees too. not much, just some. but you are really doing well on this! i think underpainting suits you!

Donna T
10-22-2007, 05:41 PM
Wow, Charlie! There's nothing weak or wimpy about this one. It's bold and beautiful! I love it!


Paula Ford
10-22-2007, 06:43 PM
I love this!! Your words, your underpainting, your painting...I love it all!!


10-22-2007, 08:49 PM
Wow Charlie, looks terrific. To get to this stage with so much vibrant colour it seems to me that you have complete control and choice now of what to accent and what to mute. Looking forward to seeing how you progress

nana b
10-22-2007, 09:27 PM
Charlie, I like this, you are doing great!


10-22-2007, 09:30 PM
Here's my advice...Keep going! It looks great so far!


Deborah Secor
10-22-2007, 10:11 PM
Oh, Charlie--you go, girl!! I like this one a lot. Great start... I love the strong dark blue of the hillside, particularly.

There's something I often tell my students that seems to help them, and you're doing it here. "Don't start with the color you want to finish with!" That's why underpaintings can be so effective. Sooner or later, of course, we do want to put down that target color, but I always suggest sneaking up on it slowly. You're in great shape. The only color I'd be careful about is getting into that nice lavender on the road too soon...but only you can see the color.

Have fun and show us your progress! :thumbsup:

10-23-2007, 05:59 AM
Hi guys, :wave:
thanks a million for the encouraging words.

Chewie, I'll try to pink up the sky above the treeline, I'll try to make them trees glow. Aye, underpainting feels so much better!

Donna, Paula, Nana, Don, :D thank you!

Gary, you nailed it, it seems like I have control... :p (giggle). In truth, I just mess around with that coloured dust. Seriously, up till now has been fairly easy, but now the danger of messing up, overworking, spoiling, enters the process. Gotta think before doing.

Deborah, thanks a lot. In an underpainting (oils was my medium before discovering pastels), I only start with the same colour it ends with if it is very pure and bright, like in a backlit cobolt blue transparent glass vase. The aim is to have colours vibrating against each other, and I've been taught that even a small shift around the colour wheel will do it. So the underpainting only needs to be warm in the lights, and cool in the darks, the exact colour doesn't really matter.
The road: Gaah, I don't really know what to do with it. Probably as little as possible. Want to keep it rather dark, lying flat, and as a calm spot.

Well, now I'll have to be real careful as I take up the crayons again. I've spotted a peculiar arching 'bridge' between dark cliff and the trees on top of it, that has to be dealt with.

That excremely rough surface works fine with foliage, and it forces me to loosen up and not be so tightly anxious.

Hey ho, off to work I go, and below is a daylight version of the same stage, plus a detail that really shows the roughness of the surface.





10-23-2007, 09:44 AM
I've really enjoyed watching this painting progess!! It is so helpful to watch another artist's process from reference picture, to underpainting, to ugly stage, to shear beauty. Your painting is gorgeous already - I can't wait to see how it ends up. Thank you so much for posting this thread - I've gotten a lot of learning out of it.

10-23-2007, 10:43 AM
Hi, a wee update.

Kim, thanks, and I agree, it is very helpful, one learns a lot. I always read the wip-posts.

OK, this is so far today, I've mostly 'tweaked'. (Brights a tad too bright in photo, and the road is way too light.)

Critique and comments are very welcome, so is advice.



10-23-2007, 08:27 PM
Thank you so much for sharing this process with us! I am learning alot from watching you work. I am horrible at landscapes and just am at a loss as to what the problem is. But seeing your process step by step has given me ideas and tips. I appreciate it very much! This is looking fabulous already. Can't wait to see more.

10-24-2007, 05:47 AM
Great WIP and great finished work!

10-24-2007, 07:01 AM
Hi guys, :wave:

Diana, thanks a lot. I'm still learning landscapes. Mine were really awful until a few months ago, when they suddenly started to turn out looking as landscapes, and one or two actually look fairly OK. So keep on practicing, it'll come. Look in the pastel library here on WC, there are some great demos there by accomplished artists.

DaR, thanks,

and here is the final (I hope) finished version. If I touch it anymore I'll spoil it, so the faults and mistakes will have to be something for me to learn by and do better next painting.

Thank you all for watching and encouraging,


Finished. (Road is darker IRL. Upper right sky lighter IRL.)


10-24-2007, 07:29 AM
I really like the final version. Your final touches are perfect. If you don't mind my asking, how did you decide what colors to use in the birches and the evergreens on the right. They look great. I'd really like to be able to use color like that, but I can't seem to break out of just using color that I see.
Thanks again for a great WIP!

10-24-2007, 07:32 AM
Great finish Charlie, love the yellow tree, it looks like you are about to round the curve to a lovely sunlight!!

10-24-2007, 05:09 PM
Hi Tres, thanks! Yes, it was a gloriously sunny day (not usual in fall), and the colours were extra vivid. Today, all leaves are brown, most are fallen. As the saying goes: Wonderful is short, all too short.


10-24-2007, 06:56 PM
Hi Charlie - I'm a little late arriving but it appears you have a lot of good helpers.

In my workshop with Richard McKinley, he highly recommends starting with lots of gray over the brilliant underpainting... then work your way up to the greater saturation. I am so prone to going in the opposite direction and struggling with it but I did learn that from him. (now do I apply this? not always).

I like the way you blended your colors without actually finger blending but just choosing colors that are close enough to make them sing.

Well done! Here's to more sunny days for more paintings.


10-25-2007, 08:00 AM
Hi guys,

Kym, thanks, sent you a pms replying to your question.

Barb, thank you. It is interesting that artists make use of so very different methods. I'd like to try McKinley's, the results are very pleasing. I really liked your second painting in that group of four. I don't blend with fingers much because the result so often becomes muddy. On the other hand, there is a 'mouse power' beauty in neutrals. Ah, the world of colour is simply wonderful!


10-26-2007, 09:33 AM

Bill Foehringer
10-26-2007, 10:09 AM
Glad to see you left the road surface alone. If I had seen this thread earlier I would have suggested more color shifts of the same tone within the dark mass on the right but you've already worked through that area well in the finished image. This is a wonderful painting. Now leave it alone! :-) BillF

10-29-2007, 04:55 AM
Hi, thanks,

Bill, I even went away over the weekend, so I have definitely not touched the painting since. And will not. Actually, this is one of the hardest parts of painting, for me, to leave well enough alone, in peace, untouched. Pastels are bit harder to overwork, as the surface gets saturated. Thanks a million for liking it.

Reveur, gee! thanks a lot.