Friday, 4 May 2012

I'm a tree hugger!

A funny thing happened to me on way to becoming the landscape artist I am. I became a tree hugger! I love trees. Any kind of tree but especially Pine trees. Their hardiness, diversity and character all speak to me as an artist and naturalist.

I live in a part of the world where pine, cedar and spruce trees are common and if I drive a few hours north just about all I will see is pine since I live close to the edge of the Boreal Forest, where deciduous trees begin to make way for coniferous forests.  The White Pine is my favourite.

Pines dominate the landscape
It grows to a great height (up to 100 meters or about 300 ft.) and mature specimens can dominate the landscape vistas as seen here in these pictures. It's a great tree to paint in that it's branches look like out-stretched arms embracing the sun and the land below.

They offer shelter to birds and forest animals. One close to my cottage studio on Lake Superior has a Bald Eagle nest and the adults come back every year to raise their young.

It's not a hard tree to paint but it takes some finessing when you get down to details to help bring out their individual characters.

Detail -  The Wild One

To paint pines I like to start with a solid foundation that will either present itself as a forest or an individual tree. For this I use a mixture of Hookers Green, Dioxazine Purple and Burnt Sienna. This gives me a nice warm dark that suits their basic structure and will provide the shadow areas for the tree branches or masses.

Here in this detail from "The Wild One" you can see how I blocked in this mixture over the sky. I kept it very loose and transparent.

The Wild One

I don't worry about details at this point as all I am concerned with is getting the overall shape of the forest area and individual trees on the right down. Over this I rough in, with very loose brush strokes, a light green using Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light and a touch of Cadmium Red Medium and Yellow Ochre to grey it down. I mix up a number of pools with lighter to darker values of this mixture on my palette. I pay close attention to the way I want the branches to lie and the dappled sunlight hitting the highlight areas. I have an old watercolour brush with a slanted edge that I use for this. I virtually stab the paint onto the canvas to get this effect and look for happy accidents.

Detail - Rocky Mountains
Here you can see the stabbing effect over the darker base. I treat this almost like stippling with the brush, rapidly moving over the area to give it some semblance of randomness that you see in forests and trees from a distance. The eye fills in the blanks!

The detail below is from a 9"x12" painting. Here you can see the darker base area with the overlay of lighter green to highlight the sun lit edges.

Keep it loose but be sure of your shapes and the direction of the tree's branches to keep it life-like.

Detail -  Standing Guard, Agawa Canyon

This very old White Pine, is located in the Agawa Canyon Park which is about 
a 3 hour train ride north from my home town of Sault Ste. Marie. Every year thousands
of people travel to the canyon for a few hours and a few decide to camp out there. 
This area was made famous by Canada"s Group of Seven artists during their trips 
here in 1918-20. 

 Here's the paintings for the two 
previous detail shots to show you
how it looks at full image

When you're out and about sit 
down a really look at trees.
And while you're there take
deep breath and hug
a tree since without 
them we wouldn't be alive.


  1. Warren this is a great post, but your first three photos are to large for the text wrapping format and are not viewable. I think Blogger's ability runs at 400 to 500 pixels wide maybe even less than that,(I'm not really sure)I would like to help you with a few more tips since you have helped me just send me an email, your work and content deserves to be seen for sure...

  2. Great post Warren. I share your passion for trees!
    I appreciate your description of your approach to painting them too.

  3. Right there with you, Warren. Eastern White Pines are among my favourites for painting. I think you touched on an important aspect in landscape, getting the character of the trees correct; they are all individuals. Nice work.