Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tips for More Lyrical Trees


'October's Song'           11.5 x 16             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
painting available $175
 Skyholes and Lyrical Limbs. Two of the things that I concentrate on when painting trees. When a tree is the focus of my painting I want to be sure it stands out as the star. I want this tree to have life...to dance....to be lyrical. Slowing down for skyhole placement is key and I will address this in another post. Then there are lyrical limbs.  What are Lyrical Limbs?

Below is a photo of non-lyrical limbs. This is a stiff and rigid tree trunk and branches.  We often create this type of tree when we draw the trunk and branches with a thick/soft pastel and we use too much pressure.

Stiff and boring trunk and limbs

This type of tree skeleton often leads to stiff and ordinary looking trees.  I try to avoid these dark and heavy trunks and branches in my trees. Below I have done some more Lyrical Limbs. These trunks and branches are drawn with a lighter hand and with the edge of the pastel stick.

Lyrical limbs dancing on my paper

How To Create Lyrical Limbs
  • Relax your grip! Hold the pastel stick loosely in your hand so that you can draw with more freedom. 
  • Dance. Use a light touch and allow the pastel to dance across the paper creating broken lines. 
  • Avoid pressing down to hard which leads to dark and heavy lines.
  • Use the sharp edge of the stick. I sometimes will use the sharp edge of a hard pastel to paint the thinnest branches.
  • Keep repeating "Lyrical Limbs, Lyrical Limbs, Lyrical Limbs" to remind yourself to loosen up!
  • Play some music to get you in a relaxed state of mind.


skyholes and lyrical limbs together


my reference photo
Painting Notes: Painting is on mat board with clear gesso toned orange. Workable fixative was used in the build up of the pastel layers.

7 comments:

Margretta S. Perry said...

Karen, lovely post...
Can you recommend a good pastel plein air easel?

Laura Tuininga said...

This is wonderful Karen, thank you so much!

Karen said...

Thank you Laura and Margretta!

I haven't used any official plein air easels for pastels. I have been using the Gogh Box from Stan Sperlak and recently bought a new Heilman box and Heilman easel to use with my tripod. I haven't set it up yet but I plan to write a review as soon as I can!

Priscilla said...

I will be interested to read your review of the Heilman box and easel set up. I bought one and cannot keep it steady on the tripod.

Karen said...

Priscilla, I have another piece not from Heilman to hold the box. More to come!

robertsloan2art said...

Oh yes! I needed this lesson! I love your sky holes. You are the great master and I am the clumsy student when it comes to sky holes. I sometimes get lyrical limbs but not always - it made total sense to me and connected most of all with how I paint trees in water media or watercolor pencils.

Sharp edges and laying them in late as final details may help me with thinner branches. With thick winding ones, I can sometimes use fat heavy impasto strokes, best of all if they are big enough the trunk needs multiple ones to describe and has strong shadow and light areas.

There is a kind of tree common in San Francisco that has pale gnarly trunks and gorgeous dancing branches, heavy green crowns all year round. It's leafy, not a conifer, and it's everywhere. I don't know the name but I have sketched it many times in pen. I can get that effect in pen or pencils. You've shown me how to get it in pastels. Thank you.

I'm going to try your methods when I work from some of those sketches. Or maybe take my pastels out in front of the building and finally do a study of the one I know best - three medium size ones in a row starting outside my building, This rocks. Thank you!

robertsloan2art said...

Also, looking forward to your Sky Holes article! I've been hesitant with them but if I even put any, it improves the painting sooo much! Without them my trees look like they're covered with a blanket, no matter how well I do trunk and branches.