This week the weather here in Texas has been gorgeous. The birds are tweeting, squirrels chittering, my tulips are growing. The sun has been warm and bright and it makes me so ready for Spring and the promise of Summer. I’ve painted this scene several times and this time, wanted to work on a summertime tree with leaves full out, shady thick grass. I would just love to walk into this piece and have a picnic right there…wouldn’t you?
I love to study not just physical nature but also other’s words and thoughts about it. This is a favorite book I study for developing mood and emotion in my pieces. Once I have something like this in my mind, it’s difficult to let that thought go without painting it. One of my favorite meditative poems on the beauty of a tree….
Trees – Howard Nemerov
“To be a giant and keep quiet about it,
To stay in one’s own place;
To stand for the constant presence of process
And always to seem the same;
To be steady as a rock and always trembling,
Having the hard appearance of death
With the soft, fluent nature of growth,
One’s Being deceptively armored,
One’s Becoming deceptively vulnerable;
To be so tough, and take the light so well,
Freely providing forbidden knowledge
Of so many things about heaven and earth
For which we should otherwise have no word –
Poems or people are rarely so lovely,
An even when they have great qualities
They tend to tell you rather than exemplify
What they believe themselves to be about,
While from the moving silence of trees,
Whether in storm or calm, in leaf and naked,
Night or day, we draw conclusions of our own,
Sustaining and unnoticed as our breath,
And perilous also – though there has never been
A critical tree – about the nature of things.
Isn’t this just a beautiful thought? The power of nature is so compelling and magical. I’m in love!
I wanted this piece to have a certain glow and palette cohesiveness. I began by toning the paper (I used Uart in 500 grit) with some Nupastel in analogous colors. (This is a great visual for the different color combinations on the color wheel). I washed this pastel layer into the paper with rubbing alcohol (or surgical spirits as my friends in the UK call it!). This creates a nice warm base for the painting. After that step, I used acrylic inks to set the dark value areas. This helps me to avoid smudging layers and also saves my pastels from being eaten alive by the sanded paper! You could also accomplish this step by using dark pastels and alcohol (or even OMS), but I like the painterly effect I can achieve with the inks. I use this brand.
From there, it’s a gradual ebb and flow of the work. I like to work from dark to light, softest edges to hardest edges. This follows the old oil painting mantra:
Dark to light, dull to bright, soft to sharp, thin to thick.
If you’ve never heard this, it’s a great thought to keep in mind throughout the painting process. If all edges were the same hardness then the eye gets confused about where to look. Hard edges gather the most attention and soft edges fade into the background. Using that to our advantage can guide the eye around the painting and make your work more dynamic and interesting.
I used a combination of Terry Ludwig pastels along with some Unison, Great American, and Girault. Each has its own touch and feel, layering ability, and pigment strength. I get asked a lot about my favorite pastels and my answer is always, “whatever works for you.” Every artist is different and has a unique rhythm to their work. Materials are personal to your technique and finding what brings you the best results is a journey in experimentation. My only advice would be to buy the best supplies for your budget. Artist grade materials are far superior and your work will benefit from them.
Now, go forth and paint! Enjoy our beautiful world. Tackle your painting with no fear. It *is* just paper after all!
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