Tree sketch - revisions - evolution series - oil painting

Tree Sketch – Evolution Series – Feb 2011

The wooded landscape across the street from our home is intriguing.

It offers such depth, I haven’t been quite sure how to capture the trees as well as the colorful skies behind them, especially in the afternoon.

In early January, I tried a quick sketch in oils.  That’s it on the lower right.

It was an okay sketch, but nothing great.

Two weeks ago, during an experiment with eBay art auctions, I decided to try selling that sketch for $5.  My thought was, “It’s an original oil painting.  A real one.  Surely it’s worth as much as a meal at McD’s.”

Well, it didn’t sell.  Pout.

So, on Sunday afternoon (13 Feb 2011), I decided to paint over it.  The colors were good and I wanted to keep the general composition, but I could see that it needed more oomph.

Previously, I’d painted the same scene with a slightly different technique.  (That’s Sunlight in the Trees – 11 Feb 2011.)  I really liked how that one turned out.

The earlier tree sketch, displayed nearby… well, it just looked silly in contrast.  I wasn’t happy with it.

tree sketchSo, I placed the January sketch (shown at right) on my easel and began some radical revisions.

I wasn’t going to paint over the whole sketch… just improve it.

My plan was to try the opposite of my Sunlight in the Trees technique: That is, I’d paint the light first, and then paint the trees over it.

I started with the snow in the foreground.  That needed more light and color.  I painted over the lower tree trunks and the snow.

After that, I worked on the sky… more variety to the color, and generally more white.

Next, I scrubbed in greens and blues with some orange-ish accents, to suggest the hills in the background.

At that point, all I had left from the original work were the upper portion of  the tree trunks.  I wanted to leave most of them as references, since I’d planned to restore their branches after the background colors dried.

(If you compare the two versions of this painting, you may see the same tree trunks in both.  All I did was shorten them and alter the contrast in the current revision.)

However, as I brought the hill colors down to the tree trunks and started filling in the glow of the sun as it set… well, a different vista emerged… a fantasy landscape.

The hills became the trees, and I emphasized the varied treetops.  I also added contrast and light.  Alternately, I’d blob colors on with a bristle brush, and then smooth it into the landscape with a (soft) sable brush.

I began to fall in love with this revised painting, shown at the top of this article.

Though the painting isn’t completed yet, I’m pleased enough to post it here and show you how it’s evolving.

This also reveals the way that one painting (Sunlight in the Trees) can influence other, related artwork.

This tree sketch is an 8″ x 10″ oil painting on canvas board, and it’s the latest in my “Evolution” series in which I paint over parts of existing works — often making radical revisions — to improve them.

6 thoughts on “Tree Sketch – Evolution Series – Feb 2011

  1. Interesting to see this painting evolve. A subject is rarely exhausted. Have you tried a more turps based oil sketch technique? It would enable you to work faster. Trees are my favourite subject.

  2. Jacinta,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m working with water-miscible oils, so it’d be more of a water-based technique. I don’t (and won’t) use turps. That’s mostly a green issue for me, but it’s also because I saw the challenges my mom faced when she developed an allergy to turps.

    That said, you’ll have to tell me how quickly you’re able to achieve good results. My mom could spend 10 hours on a painting and consider that normal. Most demonstrations I’ve seen took about 90 minutes, and they were usually by-the-numbers ho-hum paintings created to show the audience a particular technique.

    So, I consider anything less than an hour as “fast,” particularly when I really like the finished work, as I do with this painting.

    My original painting/sketch — the one that’s mostly underneath the current revision — took me about 10 minutes to rough in.

    The revision to date took me another 20 – 30 minutes, though most of it was accomplished in 10 minutes.

    The remaining 10 – 20 minutes were spent doing two things:

    1. Standing back about 20 feet, analyzing the effect of the work; and,
    2. Tweaking the “oh, so that’s where this painting is going” stuff: The tree tops, the sunlight between the trunks, and the yellow/white balance above the trees.

    For a painting that took a total of about 30 minutes — no more than 40 minutes — I’m happy with this. I can see about 10 more minutes’ of tweaking ahead, maybe less, and then I’ll say this painting is done.

    However, it’s okay to disagree. If all art was held to a single standard, we’d have a whole lot more lookalike art!

  3. I can understand your objection to turps, though acrylics also have environmental problems. I can get a similar effect with PVA and water using acrylics on heavy craft paper or even gouache on shiny paper. Something that allows the medium to rush a little ahead of the brush, contributing the smallest deviations that require your correction and dialogue with the painted surface.
    Time to complete a painting is of course individual, with so many variables. Artists work at different speeds. Timed artwork; idea to finished art reminds me of my working life as a graphic designer and illustrator! So I prefer to avoid that. A fast painting sketch technique is very useful however, for a life drawing class when you are limited to timed poses, or with skies to capture a fleeting moment. The best hint I got from a landscape artist was to use a bigger brush than I thought I needed. It abstracted and simplified brush strokes. Which is what you have captured there between the tree trunks and the filtering sunlight.

  4. Jacinta,

    Thanks for the follow-up.

    For me, water-miscible oils are a good halfway point between the problems of turps and acrylics. Same pigment as oils, but generally food-related oils that mix with water. Life is good!

    I rarely use acrylics. When I do, they’re Brera acrylics by Maimeri, which offer great, oil-like colors and a longer drying time than lesser products such as Golden acrylics.

    Having grown up in life drawing classes (and a lot of art environments in general, since I’m a third-generation fine artist), I know the value of quick and timed work. When I taught drawing at Art, Unraveled, and related events, timed work is a major part of the first two or three hours of the workshop.

    When I teach, once we’re ready to actually paint — and you may have read my instructions regarding “how to paint an apple” ( — a page I need to recopy to my newer site design) — my students follow these steps (from that linked article):

    3. Next, using the biggest brush you own, put some red on the canvas, vaguely resembling the shape of the apple. If it’s a Granny Smith, green may be the preferred color! Or not. *grin*

    4. Now pick up the next smaller brush you own.

    Look at whatever colors impress you the most. Don’t think that all red apples are “red allllll over,” or anything like that. They usually aren’t. Some red apples have yummy purple shadows on them. Some favor green shadows. Some even have yellowish shadows.

    Paint the next biggest area of color that you see. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Neatness does NOT count! You want to work in splotches of color, at this point. Really. Trust me on this one! *grin*

    Always, always exaggerrrrrrate the colors. If it’s kind of yellow, make it lip-puckering-lemon yellow. If it’s purple, make it glowy-dusk-on-a-hot-summer-night purple.

    Remember: Paintings are NOT photographs. If someone wants a photo, let them use a camera. You are painting. That’s MORE than being a low-tech camera. Throw that “eye-hand coordination” nonsense out the window. Splotch the color on, and savor it!

    5. Keep doing this until you have all the big areas of color you see, represented on your canvas.

    6. Now move to the next smaller brush. Continue studying the myriad colors you see, and sticking them, in splotches, on the image. By now, it should either look like a great, delicious, juicy apple, or one heck of a fruit salad. Either one is fine. I mean, we’re going for beauty here, not excruciating perfection. (I repeat: You are NOT a camera. Don’t try to perform like one, or compare yourself to one.)

    I think both Gruppe and Thieme talked in terms of using big brushes, though Gruppe also taught palette knife studies. They were similar to the Cape Cod School of Art and Hawthorne’s classes using just a two-inch putty knife.

    It’s normal for me to start even my smaller canvases (8″ x 10″) with a two-inch wide bristle brush, or even a 3+ inch brush intended for use in faux finishes. Both allow me to work the colors in quickly.

    I hope that helps you to understand my background and the way I approach my paintings.

  5. Thanks for all the information! I must look into those water-miscible oils and the acrylic brand, as I find acrylics dry too quickly. I see a book by Emile Gruppe in the library so I’ll follow that up. Happy painting, Jacinta.

  6. You’re welcome, and I’m always glad to be helpful! I think you’ll be pleased with the Gruppe book; I’m glad the library has a copy, because they can be difficult to find. I always use his palette colors now, and they’ve made a huge difference in my art in the past four years.

Comments are closed.