Tree bark color study in greys

I have a Pinterest board with more things I’d like to do studies of than I could possibly finish, especially because I add more every day! But I do try to chip away at them whenever possible because they all have something to learn from.

I love neutrals, so when I saw a prompt from Dianne Mize in one of her emails on mixing up some complementary colors to make greys that one definitely went on the board. The idea is to pick a piece of bark or stone from outside, study it carefully, and mix up just two colors plus white to paint what you see.

tree bark color study in greys next to original bark
My bark study in warm and cool greys using acrylic paint and small bristle brushes.

I like how ultramarine blue and burnt sienna mix together, and that’s the direction I went with my study. I don’t have a tube of burnt sienna, so I mixed a version of it with alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow light, and burnt umber. On my first study, which isn’t shown here, the color mixing was going OK but the brushwork was completely disappointing and frustrating. It turns out I was using a brush that just wasn’t giving me the feeling I wanted in the strokes.

I did a second version with a couple of small Grand Prix bristle brushes and felt so much happier with how that was going. It’s much more of an impression of bark, whereas the first brush (a medium Bristlon) had hard edges. After I realized I wasn’t interested in trying to be completely realistic with the textures on the bark it was very freeing to get more scrubby with the bristle brush.

So for me, this exercise was as much about loosening up and learning about how my brushes work as it was about color. Which is excellent timing because I’ve been trying to figure out what brushes to buy next, and this helped provide some insight into that decision. Complicating matters is the lure of oils. I’m enjoying the acrylics, but the color shift that happens after they dry is definitely a stumbling block for me at this point.

I really liked this exercise and how it got me to slow down and consider the value and temperature of the color I was seeing. If I do it another time, I’d approach it slightly differently by blocking in larger shapes at the beginning. I just jumped in with random areas and didn’t give myself a clear roadmap, so it was difficult to feel confident about where I was placing color and shapes. Even though it’s a small object, taking the time to do that block-in stage would be helpful.

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