Yellow Birch & Balsam Fir on the Jacques Cartier River – Progression

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Cephalanthus – Progression

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In this painting I set the range of values first by painting a portion that included both the dark foreground and the lightest background. This first section set the range of values.

Shiny New Leaves – Progression

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The little patch that I painted in the middle at the bottom contained the entire range of values from the darkest to the lightest colors. After that range was set I could follow those values for the rest of the painting.

Corkscrew River – Progression

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Ferns among the Cypress Trees – Progression

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In painting this composition the sequence  was not critical because it didn’t include distant background objects that require gradual fading out. Most of the features are at the same distance from the viewer. The exception is the tree trunks. Since they needed to fade out with the distance, I painted them first to ensure the transition. After that I just painted from upper left to lower right because I’m right handed.

Jeffrey Pines, Evening Light – Progression

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I painted a stripe down the middle of the painting between the two trunks in order to adjust the values and hues of the background. This was necessary to create the perception of distance but also to ensure that the tree trunks would stand out. Next I painted the tree trunks and then I finished the painting.

 

Mountain Clouds – Progression

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The intricate pattern of twigs on the aspen tree is critical to this composition so I sketched them very carefully then, using the side of my knife, replaced the lines with shallow ridges of dark brown paint. When the ridges dried I was able to run over them with a knife full of blue sky color. As the knife scraped over the surface of the twigs it filled in the spaces between the twigs and allowed the twigs to stay visible.

Old Red Maple on River Bank – Progression

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I painted the base of the old tree first because the beautiful complexity of this tree is the center piece of the composition. Everything else needs to be subordinated to this.

Pond Cypress with Green Heron – Progression

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I started with the eye and then the bird as I usually when it is the dominant feature in the painting. If I can’t get the eye right, there’s no point painting the rest of the bird and if I can’t get the bird right there’s no point painting the background.

Water Lilies and Pickerel Weed – Progression

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It was extremely important to get the right gradient from a very dark blue at the bottom to light blue at the top. So I first painted a stripe on the left side of the painting, adjusting the colors until I was satisfied with the gradient. It would have been much more time consuming to adjust the colors across the entire panel. Once I had a satisfactory sample gradient I could then continue all the colors to the right, covering the entire background.

I followed the same plan for the leaves, making sure that they faded out from bottom to top before painting all of them.

Willow and Little Blue Heron – Progression

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I painted the bird first because I’m insecure about painting birds. I figured that if I messed up the bird I wouldn’t have invested a lot of time on the rest of the painting. As it turned out I was reasonably satisfied with the bird, so I continued the background, from top to bottom. I started at the top so that I could place my fingers on the panel to steady my hand without getting them in the wet paint.

Smoky Mountains in Early Spring – Progression

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Because of the mist—the iconic feature of the Smoky Mountains—there was a great difference between the barely visible distant mountains and the tree trunks.This scene required a careful adjustment of value from foreground to background.To strike the right relative darkness between the trees and the mountains before investing time in the entire painting, I painted a stripe along the left side of the painting.When the values were adjusted I continued with each layer horizontally across the painting.

The trees consisted of many colors. I back painted areas with a mid range color (panel three) and then added the higher and lower tones. I made the twigs and branches first, following my drawing. Instead of working around the twigs and branches with the background, which is a very tedious process, I waited until the twigs dried and then swept my knife over them with the background color, scraping along the twigs so that dark lines were left defining each twig. You can’t do this with brush painting. The technique depends upon painting the twigs with little ridges of paint using the side of the knife.

Sugar Maples, Old and New – Progression

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Since the trunk of the old Sugar Maple is the center piece of this composition I painted it first, adjusting the shadows so that the trunk would stand out against the sky. Next, I painted the foreground using shadows that are darker than those in the trunk to create the illusion that the tree is more distant.  Once these colors were set I added a block of bright yellow as under-painting for the new leaves and then filled in the details.

I use several different methods to make bark.  In this case I began by painting all the crevices with a dark brown and then building up the spaces in between with heavy applications of lighter brown using the side of the knife.  It would have been easier to paint the whole trunk dark brown first because then I wouldn’t have had to squeeze the lighter color between the cracks, which is a bit tedious.  But, the natural cracks in the bark are what makes the old tree so interesting.  I sketched the cracks exactly as they were on the original tree and I wanted to follow my sketch precisely.

Pond Cypress with Streaking Sunlight – Progression

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Since all of the tree trunks in this painting are Pond Cypress it’s tempting to paint them all the same color.  But when I examined them closely I found that each tree trunk is slightly different in color from the others.  One way to ensure these differences is to begin the painting by under-painting the trunks of the trees in different colors.  Then, even after I apply the leaves, and the bromeliads and lichen that grow on the trunks, these differences in the undertone will shine through.

Tamarack Bog – Progression

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To capture the essence of the Tamarack I wanted to show its long, wispy branches that bend easily under the weight of snow.  To show individual branches I would have to paint them against a dark background, keeping in mind that this background should not be as dark as the shadows in the foreground or it will not look more distant.  Therefore, I began this painting by adjusting the two dark areas–the shadows behind the little Tamarack in the center, and the shadows in the foreground.

Then I made sure, in photo #5, that the little Tamarack stood out sufficiently clearly before I painted the rest of the trees.  I made them less brilliant to keep the viewer’s eye on the little guy in the center.

 

Silver Maple in Early Spring – Progression

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The graceful, complex structure of the Silver Maple is the center piece of this painting.  I painted the tree first so that I would not lose even one twig from my sketch.  Of course, this meant that the background had to be painted between the twigs and branches, a very time-consuming and tedious task.  But I made the task easier with a trick.  I waited until the twigs had dried and then I scraped over them with my knife loaded with the color of the background, thus filling in between the twigs and leaving a brown line where the knife scraped along the twigs.  If you look closely you can see where the twigs are almost submerged in photographs #2 and #3.

Then I refreshed the twigs and branches with another application of paint using the side of the knife.  And lastly, added the leaves.

Dwarf Cypress and Red Shouldered Hawk – Progression

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One of the main themes of this painting is the similarity of the colors of the Hawk and the Cypress forest.  As a predator it is well camouflaged.   Therefore, I painted the Hawk first so that I could adjust the shadows and colors of the trees with respect to the Hawk.  I tried to strike a balance between several elements.  First, if the hawk’s camouflage is working it shouldn’t stand out too much from the background.  Second, I don’t want the cypress trees to overwhelm the hawk.   Finally, I don’t want the trees to look like nothing but a background for the hawk.  Cypress trees are beautiful in their own right and represent another theme of the painting.

Backlighted Aspen on Mountain Trail – Progression

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I have to laugh when I look at the drawing for this painting.  It’s a mess.   I sketched the painting on a panel on which I had a previous sketch of a scene I decided not to paint.   It’s difficult to erase sketches on a textured surface so I just drew the second one over the first.

Notice that I began by painting a stripe from top to bottom rather than blocking out large areas of similar color according to the standard painting technique.  In this painting the color range doesn’t change much from left to right.  The big changes are from top to bottom.  So the first task was to adjust the colors, lightness and brilliance of the mountain in the distance relative to the mountain in the foreground.  Once I made that adjustment I could move horizontally, keeping the same colors.