Instructions: Tall Trees Painting Project

This month I’ve chosen a photograph which I’m hoping will inspire you to experiment painting wet-into-wet, to worry less about a perfect outcome but relax into enjoying the technique knowing that lack of control is part of it. (You can, of course, also paint it using any other technique; just because it inspired me in a particular direction doesn’t mean it’s the only way.)

At first glance it may seem like an unimposing stand of trees, mostly pine at that, and at second glance that there’s so much going on it may feel overwhelming. The aim is to paint the poetry of the scene, not every twig and leaf. In deciding what to include and what to leave out, you might think about what strikes you most (perhaps close your eyes as you think about it).

Stand of very tall pine trees for painting project

For me the two things that stand out are the bright green splash and the strong darks of the shadowed trunks against the bright light. There’s further appeal in the pattern of light and dark, the sharp verticals interlaced with the diagonal branches reaching upwards, overlaid with greens.

Less is More: How minimal can you be and still create a painting that reads as a stand of trees? Aim to leave lots of the paper white and use only one or two colours.

Wet-into-Wet: With clean water, brush multiple trunks onto a sheet of paper, then add paint. Work wet-into-wet, letting the colour flow freely, rather than on dry paper with tightly controlled paint. How warm it is, and thus how quickly things dry, and how fast you work add an element of the unpredictable to the painting, which can be serendipitous. Heavier paper (I use 350gsm) dries out a bit slower than thinner as it’s got a ‘core’ to hold moisture; you might also spray the back of the sheet.

Acrylic ink: Use the dropper from the bottle or a stick dipped in the ink rather than a brush as it reduces control and gives a more organic result (watch video). Spraying over a line of acrylic ink with water makes it do interesting, spidery things.

Pastels: Try brushing water onto dry pastel or working onto wet paper.

Watercolour: Try a granulating watercolour for the tree trunks, which as an uneven colour giving a sense of texture. My current favourite is Daniel Smith’s Hematite Genuine which I’ve put into a dropper bottle. For the foliage, try one of Daniel Smith’s watercolours that dry into multiple colours, such as Undersea Green, or work wet-into-wet with a couple of greens/yellow unevenly mixed. (Watch video of a granulating watercolour drying vs ‘normal’.)

Texture Paste: Tree trunks also lend themselves to texture, so dig out that jar and apply it with a palette knife, or glue down some tissue paper.

Layered Colour: If you’re in the mood for lots of colour, take a look at the tree paintings by Klimt (less known than his figures), and contemporary painters Wolf Khan (bright colours) and Rick Stevens (layered colour).

As always, medium, size and format are up to you. I look forward to seeing what this inspires. If you’ve done a painting in response to a project, whether the current month or any earlier one (see list of painting projects), do email me a photo to put in the photo gallery so we can all enjoy it. Happy painting!

It’s not a subject that’s new to me (see my tree paintings and my blogs on painting trees), but one I have come back to again in the past few weeks, this time using ink and watercolour on paper rather than acrylic on canvas. I’ll be posting some photos and videos of my paintings, but here’s a taster:

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