Edge of light on North Carolina treetops

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Color Harmony lesson - completed
Landscape study in color harmony

Study topics

Composition with 5 shapes; painting trees and sky holes; color harmony

Process notes

Using the second lesson on Color Harmony from Barbara Jaenicke’s oil course, Painting the Poetic Landscape, I made a thumbnail study from a photo I took recently on a road trip between Charlotte and Raleigh. Then I sketched it in with a brush onto a toned 9×12 sheet of Canson Canva-Paper, followed by a tonal underpainting.

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Color Harmony lesson - block-in
Tonal underpainting

For colors, I mixed a variety of cools and warms in the 4 basic values of my composition (blue, grey-violet, red-orange, green). Blocked in the cool colors, then warm colors. Once everything was blocked in, I added tree trunks and limbs, but this didn’t turn out well so I regrouped and came back in with large, loose strokes and blended them out, simplifying the masses more. Then I used a palette knife to add some limb details and added sky holes with a brush.

What I learned

After my initial “finish” that I didn’t like, I converted the reference photo to black and white. This made it much, much easier for me to focus on shapes instead of trying to match colors in the photo. Rather than attempting to render what was there, I concentrated on capturing the mood of the scene and overall impression of each big shape. This also helped draw the eye to the center of interest instead of getting confused by all of the heavy tree details.

Another big improvement for me was using the palette knife instead of a brush for the very fine lines of branches and highlights. One thing I’d do differently next time is delay these details until everything else seems in place.

On my initial pass of colors, my paint was too sparse and didn’t flow well onto the surface. I’m working to keep those initial strokes thin so they don’t pull up later and create a dull muddy area, but I also want to get more of the underpainting covered. This is something I’m continuing to experiment with as I get a better feel for the dynamics of brush, canvas, and paint.

I ended up pretty happy with this study, especially since there was a point I thought it was a hopeless mess! I’d like to do some more versions of this scene to see how my understanding and interpretation of it develops with repetition.