The title of the thread is sure to invite folks to look in...and its a good discussion.
thought I would contribute some additional or other thoughts as pertains to interests of some that might wish eventually or even are at this time trying to paint from nature outdoors...directly. Awareness of different approaches and even concerns leads to a more complete understanding, and Bill has touched on some great stuff already!!!
I'll begin with some a link from my forum here at WC...that are demo, step by step oriented and such related to outdoor painting...
This one shows photos and discusses how air..filled with molecules of moisture causing haze, effects values and color...and so forth-
How Color and Values Change in Depth perception-
changes that will affect near, midground and distant trees should become quite apparent in that thread...
I have been painting for near 30 years, but just this past six months or so I have endeavored to learn as much as I can from outdoor landscape painters from about 1850 to 1970...painters such as Durand, Cole, Church, Bierstadt and more modern masters and instructors as John F. Carlson (book- Landscape Painting 1929), Emile Gruppe (books- Brushwork for the Oil Painter, Gruppe on Color), Edgar Payne (book- Composition of Outdoor Painting)
Much has to be said for the important of understanding that which should play the dominant role in the painting...that which is lesser...then the least to achieve the illusion of depth and realism.
Payne suggests that the eye can perceive about 400 values, but that pigment can successfully suggest only about 40....and that the light of nature is about 2,000 to 3,000 times more intense than what pigment can imitate. In short then...we begin as painters with a deficit...so we learn to "suggest" and do the best we can.
Artists in working that deficit out may place emphasis on details...some on light and color...and so forth...and what strikes us as important eventually defines our style and approach.
When I arrive at a scene that grabs me by the jugular and says "paint me!" I remember a number of things...one, that a half-dozen or more paintings could actually be painted at the very spot I'm standing, and that the mistake of many artists is to try and paint three or four of those paintings into one. The novice paints everything he sees...the mature painter learns to discriminate and that it is more important what NOT to paint.
Each thing painted is like a visual voice...as it relates metaphorically to a musical piece for example.
Imagine as a music director you walk into a choral room where 40 adults are standing on stantions singing at the top of their lungs. You realize to your dismay that each singer is singing a song that no one else is singing. What do you have? Chaos of course...and it is then rightly said that where everything is shouting, nothing is heard.
Its about how we will perceive the moment, take it in...the impression it will leave with us and how well a painting comes across with that which then determines if masses or areas have been painted well, such as "mid trees"...
Some use photographs to paint from...and a camera not using the aperture priority will focus everything to a relative sharp focus. The thru the lens metering favors light, pushes for it...and in the process prejudices against the darks and the presence of indirect light and color is lost as film pushes the darks to black or deep unnatural darks.
Standing before nature...you are able to look into darks...and see indeed the influence of indirect light and presence of color.
Of course...if a camera takes the darks of midground tree masses and prejudices against them and makes them dark....then to paint them as the photograph suggests is not to represent such trees rightly. Not in accordance to nature at least.
Carlson and outdoor painters of his day understood that values lighten as they go back into space. My thread link above further demonstrates that.
Carlson also points out that color dissipates (except in rare unique cases) or trails off...and that yellow is the first color that drops off. Thus...a green tree would appear nearer to yellow very close to the viewer's eye. As the tree or tree mass moves back, it goes thru a process where the yellow color's presence begins to drop off. For some greens of trees that will first lead to the green feeling to have more reds present.
Emile Gruppe advised the use of reddish undertones prior to painting the over painting to control the greens of nature.
You can check out my blogspot to see experiments with reddish undertones I myself have been using...going back from May to present. I also have this thread in my forum on that very thing...and it might be of interest for you to see how this will affect greens of nature...mid ground trees and all planes for that matter-
Gruppe's reddish undertones...and what I'm learning-
Continuing...as greens go even further back, they appear all the more bluer. Well...it makes sense when you look at yellow + blue= green...and imagine the yellow trailing off.
Next to trail off are the reds, and thus a violet will appear bluer going back.
These then affect the perception of color as concerns mid ground trees and everything.
In this 8"x 10" plein of mine of a rural area of Wisconsin...you can see an ordering of color and values...
note that the dark values of the midground trees are darker than the darks of the distant mass of trees. They are not black, and you can see various suggestions within them. On the other hand, the distant shadows of the tree masses reveal cool color temperatures in them.
This too is important for color will cool going back into space generally.
Thus...color is purest in chroma nearest the eye of the viewer...begins to lose its saturation intensity as it goes back into space...fades, lightens and cools in temperature.
Another factor is that if the light present is warm, then shadows will be cool by comparison. If the light is cool, then shadows will be warm by comparison.
Sense the reddish nature of the greens in the midground trees...and how more yellow of the greens has trailed off in the distant most trees.
here is a backlit situation...you can still see into the shadows...
a backlit situation is one of those special circumstances where the rules of color trailing off seems to not hold true...for example the yellows of the midground trees seems yet strong. Of course...that is part of what pulls off the backlit feeling...and YET the yellow is not as pure as the nearest tree and slightly falls off in intensity in the distant most mass. Its about juggling these things...ya know!
Note still how I have killed some of the intensity of the distant greens, graying them down and cooling them. Maintaining the illusion of depth is priority.
Next is a closeup detail of another rural plein air I did...but shows a midground tree...and I want to point out that I don't paint things
per se, but as an artist challenge myself to see shapes, color, form, values and so forth. Squinting the eyes...seeing the shape, judging the values and putting it down I let the viewer think they are seeing a thing.
When I look at trees...or masses of trees...I don't think "trees"
Da Vinci has a notebook out with a mathematical breakdown of tree anatomy, which I own...but one can spend a lifetime simply studying trees. There are a gazillion hardwood and softwood deciduous types, pines, and conifers.
The artist can specialize in recognizing shapes.
And in the case of trees...I record their values and light...then use typically the pigment for painting the sky to sculpt the mass. WE often (in the plein air forum) refer to this as painting "sky holes"...and novices will often miss the character of the tree when trying this resulting in a mass that simply looks like it has measles. The negative space and sculpting has to retain the character of the mass you are looking at to pull this trick off...but let me emphasize that seeing shapes rightly, painting trees is reduced to a particular ease!!!
Note how I have represented the distant mass of trees as blue...and here is the painting in its entirety-
Note how edges or contours of masses are treated. Painters must obsess with edges to strengthen the illusion of depth.
If I hold my hand up three feet from your eyes you'll note the creases of my palm...but at 100 yards it would be a grave error to suggest the same detail could be seen. Suggesting such would force the artist to make ALL detail that much closer than that 100 yards even more intense and sharply defined.
Thus...the best painters learn to soften or obscure edges and contours as they go back into space to suggest depth. Remember from Payne that we begin painting using pigment with a deficit, so such things are important to remember to pull greater success to our winning side!
Note in the closeup to this haystack piece...how I have used wet into wet scumbling to soften edges of the midtree...but even more so to that distant bluish mass...
Note how I have played down distant tree masses, cooled color in the midground trees, and played down the presence of yellows in the greens to pull of this winter plein air...
note how I have obscurred some edges going back...
sometimes its interesting to see how artists have treated a particular area or subject during different times of the year. These ftwo are different times of fall...one an acrylic the other an oil...both painted on location...
observe how trees are sculpted, note how greens are controlled or represented pertinent to the time of year, note how edges are portrayed, distant values cool down or grayed down...
this one above is another painted on location...showing much of the mass in shadows. Note the cooler color present in the shadows. Note the softening of edges, muting of greens, darkest darks in the foreground.
I could go on and on...but I'll encourage you to check out the red undertone thread that shows how I have been playing with how reds painting as an underpainting spark luminosity and life to a painting...
finally...I've been playing with Payne's teachings on using a split-complementary palette..which is to sense the presence of a dominant color, then mix a pile of that pigment up. Next one determines what the complement of the color is (on the RYB colorwheel) and you mix up the colors immediately adjacent both sides of the complement or called the "splits"
Thus a blue color would have yellow-orange and red-orange as its splits...and you would mix up those two piles...plus white, and the whole painting would be painted then..all colors and values mixed up from just those three piles of color plus white...
here are a couple examples I've done with split-complementary palette...and those too give different feelings/representations of midground trees...
painted in Juneau, Alaska this past month-
a quick 5"x 7" demo to students-
and one from just two days ago, locally...
my palette for this last painting is here-
I did my reddish undertone first...then my palette was bluish-violet with a yellow leaning to orange and orange. Somewhat modified split palette...and I managed to mix my greens from this.
One last consideration...
A photograph gives the same priority to everything...
note my reference photo of this last painting...
When I stood there as the artist, squinting my eyes...I had to make some suggestions. I wanted a narrative that would prioritize what was important to telling the story. This goes back to that novice that paints everything, but the mature painter discriminates and understand what NOT to paint.
I determined to downplay the background trees...and like the song have that mass be supportive in their singing. The melody was this midground mass of rocks,water and trees.
If you hold you hand up and look at it...you'll notice peripherally that everything behind and to the sides of your hand can yet be seen, but that at best they are blurred masses. Now look past your hand to fix on some point, and note peripherally that your hand appears blurred.
The natural way to look demonstrates that the eyes DO NOT like a photograph fix everything sharp and defined all at once.
This is a very good device in painting to remember...for it at once touches the aesthetic soul of the viewer that they understand what grabbed you and made the painting necessary. You do not lose the sense of realism downplaying the supportive case of the narrative, anymore than looking at your hand with the background blurred peripherally is not realistic. That simply is, realistically speaking...how the eyes work.
So...its not about how much detail you put in...but about where you put it, what you give emphasis and voice to.
Hope you find this helpful...take care