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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Many Leaves Does the Tree Need?

'Forest Walk'               8x10               pastel                ©Karen Margulis
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What happens when a painting just isn't working?  We typically ask the question "What does this painting need?"  Often this is followed by a flurry of painting.....adding another color here or maybe some more detail there. The more we add,  the more  the whole painting changes. The more the painting changes the more we have to 'fix' it. The result might be a great painting but often it ends in an overworked overly fussy painting.

Sometimes it isn't a matter of adding something.....it is better to take things away!

Today I revisited an old painting. It was done about 8 years ago on Pastebord. It was hidden in a pile of older work and recently resurfaced. I took a long look at it and decided it needed something...it needed LESS stuff!

the original painting done 8 years ago.
If I recall correctly this is a piece of white pastelbord with a watercolor underpainting. It was a very busy interior forest scene and I had trouble simplifying all of the trees. I remember adding lots of leaf shapes. I couldn't stop. In the end I felt like I got carried away and the result was a very busy and spotty painting. How could I simplify it? I wasn't sure then which is how it ended up in the 'pile'.

Today I decided to tackle it. I started by taking away some of the busy stuff by brushing off most of the leaf shapes with a stiff brush. I then sprayed the painting with some workable fixative to restore some of the tooth.
Next it was time to slowly rebuild the painting....keeping things simple.

Brushed off and fixed...ready for a new finish

  • I liked the colors and general spacing and composition of the trees. I liked the dappled light and shadows on the path. I liked the light coming in from the background. I want to keep these things without putting in too many details.
  • I began by putting in larger shapes of foliage...I began with the sunlit yellow greens in the background. 8 years ago I wasn't looking for big shapes. I went for the details first. I painted leaves and not big shapes. This led to the spottiness. Now I look for the big simple shapes first and then put in a few leaves. I build the foundation and then I can decorate!
  • This time I make use of Negative Space to create foliage. 8 years ago I painted each leaf as a positive shape. I have learned that it is often more effective to have a big shape of foliage color and carve into it with sky holes. This results in the suggestion of leaves...it leaves more to the imagination.
  • The original path is also too busy. It is also much too purple. I decide to simplify the path and make the color more believable. I used a darker value of path color for the shadows instead of purple. I scumble a veil of blue over the shadows to account for the influence of the sky.
  • To finish the painting I add a FEW small leaf marks. I make myself stop before I get carried away and overwork the painting. 
  • I soften the outer edges of the tree trunks so they don't pull the eye off the painting. I add a few blue spice marks and call it finished.
When I pulled out this older painting I saw things that I did that I thought I liked but as I have developed and learned more I realize that I work in a different way now. It was fun to go back and rework the painting trying to keep it true to my original vision.


Hope Thompson said...

I did not know that fixative restores the tooth of the paper. Thank you for that tip!

robertsloan2art said...

Wow. The difference is so striking. Thanks for showing this rework. I have been working on sky holes for a while now, building up foliage by sky carving is something I should try!

Francesca Droll said...

Wonderful lesson in simplifying a complex landscape! Thanks!