How Do You Paint a Tree?

April 18, 2013

Tuscan Hillside

“Tuscan Hillside” ©Jill Rosoff 2012, 9″ x 12″

Imagine how funny it was that this question came up in two different workshops, two completely different groups of people.  We were working on how to paint landscapes in each session, so it’s not a complete surprise.  I love that it did, and it also made me a little curious.  Is painting a tree a paint-by-numbers proposition?  Nope.  The starting point is: lets take a look at the kind of tree you want to paint.  

“Trees have a spirit and personality; none of them are the same.”  Trees come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  The trunks of trees can be all ranges of browns, greys, even green, blue or, as in fruit trees, burgundy.  The leaves are any and all shades of green, with touches of all the other colors used to create contrasts.  The fun here is the learning, observing:  first figuring out what the tree’s shape is, and then deciding how to put it down on the paper.  Is the trunk the more visually interesting element?  Or the way the crown of the tree is shaped?  In watercolor, you put down the lighter elements, then build in the darker, more richly colored ones.  Because, as always, in watercolor you paint light to dark.  The other trees also punctuate, more because they are a textural contrast to the stripes I used in the patchwork of fields.

In the painting above, the trees, especially the pencil cypresses, act like punctuation marks, creating small points of contrast, which keeps the rest of the rich colors from sort of going flat.  Put a finger up and block out the cypress trees and you’ll see what I mean.

Or look at this painting done by a fellow watercolorist/shopowner on Etsy, JC Strong.  You know its a tree, but it’s a deftly shaped tree silhouette of lovely combinations of purples and greens.  

I read this quote the other day on Facebook:  “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.”  When I teach my job is to lead people down the path to explore, look and learn by observation.  There’s no one formula.  

See my work on my website, and in my Etsy shops for my paintings and my scarves.

Whenever I want browns or greys in a painting, I mix them.  I do not use brown, black or grey paint in my palette.  I’ve just started a new workshop, and realized this is something I tell all my students.  When new students sign up for the workshops I send them a supplies list so they’ll be prepared on day one.  I don’t include white, either.  I like my colors bright, clear, and initially un-muddied.  When black, browns and white are included in a pre-fab set of paints, so be it, but they are never included on my list of colors for a new student to buy.

Why do I believe this?  Because its easier than pie to mix your own greys and browns, and when you do, the colors are much more interesting. Browns and greys can be mixed using different combinations of the primary color triad, or secondary or tertiary triads for that matter.

lav+yellow=brownish

Various warm browns mixed by using violet and yellow or orange (above and below)

warm brown-scarlet&violet

Want a nice chocolaty-brown?  Use Alizarin, a bit of cobalt blue or even purple, and a nice cadmium orange.  Change the amounts of each color you add to get the tint you want.  

brown from red and green

red and green to make a cool brown, using drop-in and mixed methods

How about a nice warm payne’s grey?  Start with Permanent Blue or French Ultramarine, add a little yellow, and then if needed, a touch of red. Or pink.  Again, play around with the amounts you add to change the tint.

grey v.1

a Payne’s grey, mixed from primaries:  blue and yellow

cool grey

a whole different grey using three versions of primary colors

So my thought has been: why buy them, unless of course you use a lot of them?  I don’t use them much.  But also I think that when you mix them either in the palette or on the paper, they’re so much more intriguing.  Shadows and dark areas are much more luscious using darker values of colors, or putting in a layer of an opposing color on the area you want the shadow to be.  There’s so much more to discover in the painting.

Here’s a question: how often does brown occur in nature?  Yes, the ground is brown.  A lot of animals are.  Tree trunks, generally, are brown, but there’s so many different colors.  If you look at a eucalyptus tree, is the trunk the same color, as, say, a redwood?   I find it so much more fun to see what I can come up with.

Cherry Blossoms

Detail, “Cherry Blossoms”, ©Jill Rosoff 2012

I did a painting last year of Cherry Blossoms.  Have you ever noticed that the branches on fruit trees are sometimes more of a rich burgundy color, not at all brown?  If  you look closely at this painting, you may notice that the branches here are indeed a deep, reddish burgundy.  What may not be so obvious is that I painted each branch first with a layer of Alizarin Crimson, a great, rich, deep, cool red.  And while the strokes of color were still wet, I dropped in some Viridian green.  This is a color you just can’t get out of a tube of raw sienna, or burnt umber.  It’s a very complex burgundy.   That’s right, its in the purplish range, and oh so very interesting!  See the full painting here:  Cherry Blossoms.

And by the way, do you know where the two browns’ names, sienna and umber, come from?  Go to northern Italy.  The earth in Sienna, in Tuscany, and in Umbria, which is next to Tuscany, are just about those colors.  And the difference in raw and burnt?  The raw versions are straight from the ground.  The burnt, or warmer, versions, have literally been burned, where the fire brings out the warmer tones.  Don’t you just love knowing that?

Three-Plus Poppies

“Three-plus Poppies”, ©Jill Rosoff 2013, 4″ x  6″

I have these small pads of watercolor paper that I keep around for quick “jots” of ideas like this one.  In watercolors, any whites in a painting are the paper left untouched, since watercolor is a transparent medium, and the transparent version of white is, well, nothing.  Transparent.  It’s a fun conundrum to play around with.  

In this piece, I wanted to leave no blank paper, no white areas, but instead to paint the whole piece of paper, and to let the shapes of the flowers do most of the talking.  Getting the colors this rich and intense is a fun challenge in watercolors.  And there’s still good contrast between the brightness of the yellow centers, and the dark lines where the green paint overlapped the red.  Unintended, and perfect.  

One other thing:   I love rich, vibrant and maintaining a sense of the transparency in the paint.  In watercolors it is possible to use too much paint, which when it dries, looks dry, dusty and opaque, qualities that you just don’t strive for in watercolors.   I like striving for the saturation and the transparency, especially since they are paradoxical.  Fun!

It’s now available on Esty here.  

I heart you

January 18, 2013

Valentine 1“Valentine 1″ ©Jill Rosoff 2013, 6″ x 6”

Valentine’s Day is that day when if you’re in love you hope to goodness that you figure out something great to do for your partner, or your partner does something lovely for you.   If you are single, the commercials for jewelry, flower deliveries and certain card companies are annoying reminders that you’re not contributing to the economy like everyone else is.  

For me this year, I have decided to make Valentine’s Day about exploring layering and the wonderful transparent characteristic that watercolors have.  OK, yes, you can get them with acrylics too, but watercolors’ textures, I think, are much more lively.  And watercolors came first (so there! I say in my best Edith Ann voice).  This was another experiment I did for my workshops, where we took the oh-so recognizable image of the heart, and layered on colors, holding onto the transparency, and enjoying the new colors created as one layer overlapped another.  Not to mention the great textures in the blooms!

This along with a few new paintings just in time for Valentines Day can be purchased in my Etsy Store.

Watercolor Workshops

January 2, 2013

Happy 2013!

Paperwhite teaser100

Detail from “Paperwhites”, ©Jill Rosoff 2010

For those of you in the Orange County, CA area, my watercolor workshops start up again on Saturday, January 12th.  

These workshops are open to everyone at every level of experience in painting with watercolors.  Each session’s work is focused on what those who are there bring in, whether it be a new project or technique, or working on ongoing paintings, and developing them to completion.  When I find new ideas or ways of creating an effect, I bring those in and we experiment with them.

The workshops are held in Santa Ana at Karen’s Detail Custom Frames, which is on MacArthur Blvd, one block east of Harbor Blvd., across from the Home Depot.   Each session is $25.00, or you can purchase a six-session pass for $125.00 (six sessions for the price of five).  

Sign up here to receive emails about the workshops, or download the 2013 workshops schedule here.

Contact me with any questions using the ‘contact’ link at the end of this or any posting!

Continued from Part 1, posted on September 25th

One of the first things that occurred to me after I made the commitment to pose for this painting group was, “geez, if I could only lose a few pounds before this!”   When I shared this with Connie on the phone a few days later, and she replied, “Oh no! Mom wants you for how you look now!”   For a woman of size, that’s some statement, and rarely heard.  But I got it, it was actually really sweet.   And I remembered from my days as an art undergrad that full-figured women were usually great subjects in my figure drawing and painting classes, their shapes are so, well, round and fleshy.  So I put aside my knee-jerk vanity reaction, and got more into the mindset of the Venus of Willendorf.

I was now going to be the figure being drawn or painted, after years of being the artist/observer in a figure drawing class.  These artists were going to be looking at me, concentrating my pose.  Now, I have a pretty good idea of what to do as a model from all my experience in figure painting classes.  And Pat had told me how she wanted me to pose, so there was no guesswork, really.

When I was in those painting classes, working out the my composition, where to place the figure, getting the gesture the model presented onto my canvas or paper, in the back of my mind, I always sort of wondered what the models were doing or thinking about while holding a long pose.  Were they planning that night’s dinner?  Reflecting on a recent conversation, or a book they’d read?  All the while, they’d keep physically still, and hope that their leg or arm didn’t go to sleep.  Being zen enough to be able to empty my mind and meditate is certainly a goal, and would’ve been a great thing to have perfected for this workshop.  I would do my level best.

Composite of photos I took from my view in the pose.  That’s my foot over on the right.

So there I was, watching artists paint.  I started feeling a little envious, actually, I hadn’t painted the figure in ages, and here I was, in a painting studio, with a model.  I suddenly realized I knew exactly what these artists were doing and what they were going through in their minds as they started working out their compositions.  They were looking at their subject, then back to their canvases or pieces of paper, then back at the model and gradually forming their composition.  Where will I put her on the canvas?  How will I incorporate those  paintings she did that are up behind her on the wall?   Will I keep the scarf she’s wearing on her?  I was watching them looking at me, at my pose, and at the whole setting as all this was going on in their minds.  I started to really enjoy watching them paint me.  

One artist contemplating his painting, stepping back to get a longer view of it…

Another artist concentrating on her drawing.  See how she holds herself while she draws.

Balancing on toes (in fun socks)

I realized that I have this sense memory of the postures I saw each artist in.  They are suddenly posing for me, in a way.  And each pose telegraphs to me ways I’ve felt in their places.  I’m sure I’ve sat or stood those ways countless times.  I identify with them:  the step back to get some perspective on the work in progress, with maybe something to lean back on which temporarily counters the muscle tension of the normal lean-in toward the artwork while working on it.  Or the hunch forward in concentration, elbows on the table holding the rest of the body still, toes pointing in.  And when working so delicately, that ones body moves into delicate positions, even almost on tip toes.  I would sometimes get to the end of a 3 hour session and find that my neck ached, or some part of my body was incredibly tense because I’d been holding myself oddly as I was getting something onto the painting just so.  So even though I’m not painting on this day, I’m having a glorious time with these painters.  And hopefully they did with me.

Part three coming very soon!

Last week I participated with the local Alzheimer’s Association’s annual Visionary Women Luncheon, which honors caregivers.  What a lovely thing to do, to honor these individuals who are caring for people with Alzheimers, or a working to find ways to treat this devastating disease.  One aspect of the event is during the social time before and after the luncheon, where this year they featured eight artists demonstrating ad presenting their work.  I showed my scarf-painting technique, and of course brought my scarves to sell.  It was a really good day, I enjoyed showing the dying process, and sharing my scarves with a new audience. 

While setting up the scarf-painting demonstration, photography by Ting-Ting Lee, of Ting-Ting Lee Studio

I had a lovely time, talking with everyone, showing and  describing how I paint my designs, that each scarf is individually painted, and then signed and numbered.  So each scarf is really a piece of wearable art, which is one of the reasons I wanted to make the scarves in the first place.  

I have envisioned some of my paintings printed on textiles, because for the longest time I thought it would be fun to be able to wear designs from some of my paintings.  I’ve always loved Liberty patterns, and vintage Lanz and Villager, too.   The methods of painting on silk with dye are very different from painting watercolors, but can be done in a way so that many of the same themes and colors that I do in my paintings can be adapted for my scarf designs.  I am constantly working out ways to make the scarves evoke similar imagery to my paintings.  

And some designs come about simply for the scarves.  One of these, my new “Leaves” design, is one of three I’ve recently developed.  Here is the first new design, modeled beautifully by my friend and colleague Susan Haldeman, who helped me with sales at the event while I was demonstrating.  And the great thing about this pattern is that it can be done in any color combination.  As a matter of fact, I’d love to hear what combinations of colors you’d like to see it in!  Use the Comment button below!

“Leaves” scarf design, in grass green and light olive with red dots, @Jill Rosoff 2012

So I got to the event early, unloaded my scarf boards, on which I pin and then paint the raw scarves.  You can also see my scarf display rack, with more of my scarves on it.

Setting up, photography by Ting-Ting Lee, of Ting-Ting Lee Studio


      Talking with people while demonstrating my Dragonfly design, photography by Ting-Ting Lee, of Ting-Ting Lee Studio

Satisfied customer and Alzheimers’ Association supporter in her new Leaves scarf in lavender and turquoise, next to the event Sponsor Board.  Yes, that’s Shirley Jones there on the board, who was the keynote speaker for the event. 

photography by Ting-Ting Lee, of Ting-Ting Lee Studio

All in all it was a terrific day, and I was particularly pleased for the opportunity to work with the Alzheimer’s Association.  Look for my upcoming post featuring more new scarf designs!  And also Part 2 about modeling for the painting class!

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