This month’s reference photo was taken in southern Scotland on a crisp November morning with the sun relatively low in the sky, backlighting and silhouettting a scattering of autumnal leaves and branches. It’s is an excuse to get out yellow, orange, sienna, as well as explore strong darks. The challenge lies in the dark foreground: having it dark enough to have dramatic impact but still pull you into the painting.
In the dark foreground there’s a stream, path, bench, and autumnal leaves covering the ground. If you click on the photo to get the full-size version you’ll see these more clearly.
You might choose to mix a chromatic black (the darkest mix you can create, typically a blue/green/red) rather than use a tube black because it’s a richer dark. It’s also easy to create gentle variations in it by varying the proportions of the colour in the mix and/or by not mixing the colours completely before you use it.
I’d be telling myself to not go too dark too early but to also not be afraid of the dark. Better to need to glaze or add another layer of dark later on in the painting’s development, than to have a black hole. But not to be half-hearted about committing to having a dark foreground.
- The tree isn’t right in the centre of the composition. The base of its trunk is to the right of centre and then stretches across the centre. Its branches lead your eye up and across. The tree on the right echoes this whilst providing a dark ‘frame’ on the right to keep your eye in the composition.
- Use branches to lead the eye across the composition, not worrying to replicate them exactly as they are in the photo but for the photo to be a starting point.
- Notice in the top left corner all the small branches going off the side and top edges in an open, lacey pattern. It’s not a single branch going into the corner, which would lead your eye in and off the edge.
- The green hill runs down in an improbably straight line, creating a very hard edge that’s distracting. I would change it to a more irregular line, putting a curve into it. Just because it’s in the photo and like that in real life doesn’t mean it should be like that in the photo if it doesn’t work for the painting.
- Put the houses in the distance or not? They give a sense of scale, and add to the story, but are they a distraction?
- Consider the format: might you crop it to a square or a vertical rectangle rather than horizontal? The photo is a result of compositional choices I made when taking it,and I like the horizontal format with space for the branches to stretch out into, but that doesn’t mean it has to be this.
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