No Clutter Landscapes! See the Forest NOT the Trees

Start Simplifying with Painting Trees

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”

– Khalil Gibran

Painting trees: Learning from Poplars at Givery by Claude Monet
Poplars at Giverny by Claude Monet

There is a distinct difference between a painting that feels rich and one that is busy with detail. Monet, for example, used an incredible swath of color and brushstrokes when he was painting landscapes, even when painting trees–but his paintings don’t feel claustrophobic or overly busy. Take, for example, his depiction of the poplars of his beloved Giverny. In a lesser artist’s hand, there is a good chance that this painting, which perfectly captures the overall impression of the forest, would have devolved into an overly busy portrait of every bit of the landscape composition mapped out.

There’s hope though! The way Monet is painting trees is the way you can paint trees. Use the techniques imparted here to discover that path. You will train your eye to see differently and a few art project exercises will get you further along the path! Johannes Vloothuis is here to help too! Paint Along 38: Create Clutter-Free Landscape Paintings is a live webinar that is also recorded for your convenience. It covers all the ways you can paint to reduce “busy” and bump-up the power of your finished artwork. Enjoy!

Courtney 

Starts with the Eye

Perhaps the biggest challenge for those of us who paint from life is to see and understand what is right before our eyes. This may sound simple, but it takes practice to get good at it. Why this is so has partly to do with the way our brains are wired, partly to do with our visual biases, and partly to do with the sheer complexity of the world. Learning to see the world in terms of paint requires the unlearning of some visual habits and the acquisition of a few new skills of observation.

Painting trees: This is an example of a mature Hickory tree. Can you see how it has a cascading growth habit, like a Spirea shrub? In this graphic diagram, we have reduced the many small changes in value to four only, and have also consolidated the many small shapes into larger masses. This has strengthened its unique shape and made it more paintable, and yet still conveys the overall look and texture of the branch and leaf formations. Monet would be proud!
This is an example of a mature Hickory tree. Can you see how it has a cascading growth habit, like a Spirea shrub? In this graphic diagram, we have reduced the many small changes in value to four only, and have also consolidated the many small shapes into larger masses. This has
strengthened its unique shape and made it more paintable, and yet still conveys the overall look and texture of the branch and leaf formations. Monet would be proud!

Masses and Value

When painting trees, it is important and useful to learn to see masses and shape and to reduce the hundreds of smaller shapes into a few larger, simpler masses. Four value changes and massing forms in that many or less shape types is a goal worth shooting for as you take the visual information in front of you and turn it into a painting.

Trees are complex forms and at first glance may appear chaotic in their organization. The truth is, trees are highly organized in the way they grow and their leaf and branching structures can be easily identified from a distance. In your landscape art it is useful to learn more about the differences between tree species. The familiarity helps the painter to understand the trees’ growth habits and to see them as volumetric shapes in the landscape which reflect light in a predictable way. Spend time whenever you are out in the landscape making quick five-minute sketches of the trees you see. It will coordinate your hand and your eye for when it comes time for painting trees.

Painting trees: This is a white oak, with a second oak sitting just behind it. We love the shape of these old trees. Notice how the leaves clump into distinctive shapes with dark shadows around the clumps. This is typical for a white oak, and makes them easily identifiable. In this illustration we have merged some of the many small clumps into larger masses for simplicity.
This is a white oak, with a second oak sitting just behind it. We love the shape of these old trees. Notice how the leaves clump into distinctive shapes with dark shadows around the clumps. This is typical for a white oak, and makes them easily identifiable. In this illustration we have merged some of the many
small clumps into larger masses for simplicity.

 

Our Mantra and Tree Holes

“See, Simplify, State” is our mantra when painting outdoors, and so we have to ignore leaf detail and texture to a certain extent in order to render the overall large shapes of the trees.

Employ the “squint” technique when trying to see a tree’s growth habit and form. Squinting-down consolidates detail and shapes into large masses making the big shapes more easily understood. Render only these large masses, making note of the shadows and where they occur.

Look for the negative spaces—the “tree-holes” where the sky or the background show through. These are as important as the positives.

Finally, let your artistic eye improve and idealize the subject, remodeling a bit here and there to make your picture more beautiful, perhaps heroic even. Once you get good at seeing and painting trees, the rest of the world will fall into place!

Give this exercise a try and let us know how it goes.

–John and Ann of The Artist’s Road

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

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