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Friday, October 25, 2013

Painting an Autumn Tree from A Summer Reference Photo

'Ready for Fall'              16x20           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
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 Fall has arrived in North Georgia.  The air is crisp and cool and the leaves are slowly changing into their autumn garb. I love this time of year.  I even splurged on the most amazing pumpkins ever. I can't wait to paint them!

My awesome pumpkins
So when I finished this tree demo for my Wednesday night class I felt the pull to make it into an Autumn landscape.  I put on my 'What if?'  hat and asked myself ...."I wonder what would happen if I made this tree into a red tree?  How would I do that?"

The tree was fine as a green tree. But I am over green! So I went through my photo files and found a picture of a red tree and another of some fields in Fall colors. (this is a benefit of taking thousands of photos!) See the photo below for the original tree and photo along with the new reference photos.

The original demo featuring a Summer landscape with a green tree


Here is a summary of my process for changing the season of this painting:



  • The first thing I did was test the red pastels on my tree to see if I liked what was happening. I decided that it was a go. There would be no turning back....after all it is only paper. By the way I am using a sienna color piece of Canson.
  • Since I am using Canson I am limited to the number of layers I will be able to put down so I give the tree and the field a light spray of workable fixative. I liked the sky as it is so I didn't spray it. Now it will be easier to add more layers of pastel. I also like the texture the fixative gives.
  • I work on the big tree first. I want to be sure to keep  the light in the painting consistent. So I basically follow the light and shadows already in the tree. I used a cool dark brick red for the tree shadows. I use a warmer red in a middle value for the rest of the foliage. Where the light is hitting some of the leaves I use a warmer orange red. (go warm instead of light to get the illusion of sunlight)
  • I like the peeks of green from the original tree color. It makes the red more intense as well as making it look like the tree is actually changing color.
  • Next I need to work on the field. It is much too green for the red of the trees. So I use some ochres and yellows to tone it down and give the grasses more of an autumn feel. 
  • I decide to tone down the path and make it a bit more subtle.
  • Now that the path is merely a suggestion AND the tree so intense the painting feels unbalanced. There is nothing on the right side to balance the weight of the big red tree. So I added a smaller bush on the right. 
  • Now I had to break up the field in the mid to foreground. I didn't want it to be a big flat area. I made some directional strokes sloping down towards the path. I also took some of the pale yellow ochre in the distant field and put some behind the tree and bush to add another layer.
  • I went back to the big tree and added some branches and refined the skyholes.
  • Finishing touches: I decided to add some of the whitish-yellow wildflowers that I have been seeing everywhere this Fall. I tried not to overdo them and just merely suggest them.  
That was fun! I think I'll paint another Autumn tree!  It sure is fun to put on my 'what if' hat!

2 comments:

robertsloan2art said...

Wow! Lovely change of season! With the green under the red, that gives it richness and a natural look. There usually are a few leaves or edges that haven't turned yet and those hints are there. Beautiful colors and mood and feel!

Also very cool Scary Mutant Pumpkins! Dress up that bumpy one as Baron Harkonnen in a float belt or something for the holiday!

David Patterson said...

Beautiful autumn scene, Karen!!