Can’t see the wood for the tree!

Looking at my offerings for this week’s post, I’m reminded of a definition of stupidity that goes along the lines of:

Stupidity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result

Now I don’t want to suggest I’m stupid (even if it does sometimes feel that way) but last week I showed a painting that I enjoyed doing, but which I felt could be significantly improved upon:

Grazing 1

I even had it clear in my head how I would go about this. This makes it all the more frustrating that a further two paintings down the line, I’m still not satisfied and still keep repeating the same errors again and again!  Below are efforts two and three and, for identification purposes I’m calling them Grazing 1, Grazing 2 and Grazing 3.

Grazing 2
Grazing 3

As is so often the case, I like elements of each of them. Overall I think Grazing 2 feels like the most satisfactory, but what irks me most about the three paintings is the main tree, which I just can’t seem to crack!  After wanting a tree with more gaps (for the birds to fly through!) I’ve actually done denser and denser trees! Each time I have tried a different approach, sometimes using more drybrush, sometimes working more wet into wet, and on each occasion, all roads have led to a flat 2 dimensional mass of paint!  What I have done differently with versions 2 and 3 are to plan the paintings more accurately into a grid of thirds. In each version I’ve treated the foreground differently, on 2 applying a wash of yellow for the cowslips first, then dry brushing green over the top, and on version 3, applying the yellow almost straight from the tube and dry brushing that over the pale green wash. I’ve also been trying to create more distance with fainter hills in the background. The cows continue to be a little hit and miss, but at least they’re working better proportionately.

It’s frustrating that the more I’ve done on this, the further away I feel I’m getting! The good thing is that this scene is so quick to sketch out and to paint (maybe that’s where I’m going wrong!) that I don’t feel too frustrated by the time, just my inability to render what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye!

Next steps

  • Sky – as this is taking up two-thirds of the painting, I think it needs more drama. So far I’ve been working to my original source image. I think I need to ad lib a little more to create some more interest but to maintain the sense of distance and of light.
  • Distant hills – paint in one brushstroke
  • Treeline running full width (going from mid distant to far distance and back again,) – paint more economically
  • Main tree – more daylight, more drama, more sensitivity
  • Foreground – I’ll aim to paint the meadows in a maximum of two washes

In a way, these were all things I tried to do in version 3, but obviously not very successfully! I promise that, whatever happens next, I won’t bore you with too many more versions of this.

If I don’t manage to paint one that I’m happy with very soon, I think I’ll have to carry on painting this in the background and try not to bore you with the process!

Thoughts on Can’t see the wood for the tree!

12 thoughts on “Can’t see the wood for the tree!”

  1. While they are all beautiful, the first one speaks to me. The lighting, more sepia, is moody and makes me think that rain may be on its way. Also, the tree is bolder and there’s just something about all of that, that makes it wonderful.

    1. Thanks so much for this! This is so often the case that the first one has a ‘certain something’ that subsequent efforts fall short of! I’m so pleased you like it and really appreciate you commenting – thanks so much!

      1. Always a pleasure to see your posts. You’re a wonderful artist and I appreciate your work. There is definitely a “certain something,” that I see in the first one. 🙂

  2. Trees. I’ve spent many a sheet of practice paper trying to get trees right and, at the risk of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, here’s the basic approach that I’ve come down to. Think blobs and bananas of foliage clumps – say between 6 and 12 for a tree like yours. Do these in your foliage highlight colour and blot them if they’re too dark. Don’t let them touch each other so that you have your gaps ready made. Make the gaps convincing with a few diagonal/vertical branches relating the top of the trunk to the outer reaches. Now you just need some darks. Paradoxically, the darkest darks should come right up against the white/blue of the holes because the holes show you where you see deepest into the foliage. So dab in your darkest darks around/against your holes. Shading your blobs and bananas with mid-tones to show the sun-fall on the tree can follow. If you’ve got too many holes, you can now try to suggest they are blocked by foliage on the other side of the tree. Now add a trunk. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? I still can’t do it!

    1. Haha – thanks Rob! You make it sound all so simple! I’m aware of many of the suggestions – and believe me I was trying to implement most of them, just very badly! I had in mind the effortless trees of Wesson and Seago – although appreciate that that’s hard to credit! Ah well – back to the easel, but I’ll be taking your advice with me! Thanks Rob

      1. Pay no attention to me, John. I must have been having a age-related patronising moment when I wrote that. As I say, it doesn’t work for me anyway.
        On the other hand, all this talk of “effortless” trees, “one brushstroke”, “a maximum of two washes” makes it sound rather easier than it is, too. I’m afraid “(a hell of a lot of) practice makes (something not too far away from) perfect” is my motto.

        1. Not patronising at all Rob – I just get so caught up in the painting that I often forget the basic principles – so it’s always good to be reminded of them and I for one really appreciate it!

  3. It’s fascinating to get a look into another artist’s thought process. Thank you for sharing, I look forward to the final outcome.

    1. Hi there and thanks so much for this, I really appreciate it! I know how much I get from getting insights into how others work, but never really thought that others would feel the same about seeing my efforts! As for the final outcome… I’m fearful that this might turn into some groundhog day nightmare in which I just continue painting the same scene over and over again and never seeing any discernible improvement!

      1. I know where you’re coming from. If I may, I would suggest asking yourself the question, What is the real story here? Whatever your answer is, be sure the story is told and everything else in the painting is supporting it. I don’t want to muddy up your whole thought process with suggestions, I personally find this landscape appealing. I just think you need to get back into focus as to what the painting is about. By the way, I enjoy all your work.

        1. Thanks so much for your wise words of advice, they’re very timely and much appreciated. I think I’m going to leave it alone for a bit, do something else, and come back to it again and see how I feel about it. You’re quite right though, with these continuous repeats, I’ve got bogged down in things and have lost sight of the essence of this view!
          Thanks so much again for the kind words and support, really is appreciated!

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