Birch Ballet


February 23 Update:

Here is the completed painting "Birch Ballet."


February 7 Update

Continuing to to refine details.


February 1 update

Here's the current version of Birch Ballet. The entire canvas has been covered with some level of detail. Refinement will continue. Today I worked a bit further on the foreground and tree detail.


January 28 Update

Today I took Birch Ballet and observed it's current state on my laptop. In the spirit of planning your painting, I spent ten minutes plotting out my next enhancements. I recommend spending time listing out your next tasks as it is time well spent.

Here is my list and the current version of Birch Ballet. The reference to "L1, L2 etc. refers to the birch trees, L1 being the furthest tree on the left.

  1. Add 2 darker distant trees on left; upper 40%

  2. Add branch pointing right on L5

  3. Bring speckled light from left toward foreground low center right

  4. Work foreground foliage; underpainting is done

  5. L3 base foliage large; some bold

  6. Continue tall weeds from left center to left edge

  7. Darken L1 L2 - shadow on L2 especially lower third

  8. Bring in same distant hue to mid where greens are

  9. Darken tree L4 by lighter background

  10. Introduce vegetation at base of trees L2,4,5

  11. Show split bark and color in L3

  12. Soften break up mid green leaves

  13. Add ochre leaves in distance

  14. Introduce dark blue greens in mid & foreground to balance distant tree line

  15. Add horizontal log/branches; break up vertical greens accordingly


I worked on each item of the list today. Here's the update.


I'm pleased with the fallen tree added to break up the vertical direction of the trees and foliage. More trees and branches, as well as grasses and various plants, are starting to consume the canvas.

January 20 Update

With so much focus on the mid and upper portions of the painting, it was time to pay some attention to the lower portion of Birch Ballet.

The challenge here is to not overdo the clutter of grasses, weeds, small trees and shrubs in the foreground of the scene. Clutter will only distract the viewer and pull his sights away from the main subject, namely the birch trees. Here's the current version of the painting; note the foreground is rather bare:


Let's bring in some higher value greens, using the sides of the pastel to block in the the foliage:


To depict the vertical direction of the lighter grasses; apply the pastel vertically:


Foliage growing in a different direction (i.e. horizontal) can be captured with the end of the pastel in horizontal motion. This layering technique can be used to portray depth in the field without adding specific leaves and branches. We will add some of those later on (but not overdo it)!


Here's the updated version of the painting. More updates to come!

Richard McKinley wrote a telling piece on isolating distracting elements of the composition. Click here for Richard's notes.


January 18 Update:

After completing the essential composition of Birch Ballet with the large birch trees, it became more obvious as to what was missing from this landscape: smaller trees, branches and leaves.

Here is detail of the upper right portion of the painting, where I added a young birch tree and a branch to one of the main trees. To bring out the values of both additions, I chose to lighten the background a bit. Distant and thin branches will tend to have a dark value, especially against the higher value background of skylight. For a fantastic lesson in landscape painting, check out John F. Carlson's "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting." You will find yourself marveling at the many nuances of landscape perspective after reading Carlson's book. Learn more about John and his work at the Vose Galleries.


January 14 Update:

5:50 PM Update:

Starting applying pastels throughout the painting. Enough done for today!


Earlier today:

Leaving the distant shrub line alone for now, I decided to tackle the remaining grasses and shrubs. As I had very little pastel applied to those areas, I decided to complete some additional underpainting effects in watercolor.

I enhanced the mid-painting yellow-green highlights with similar watercolor hues. Then I began to work more reds into the canvas, using a rounded brush to add stroke variety to the painting. A variety of bold and washed-out color applications added emphasis to the watercolor background.



With a piece of toilet paper, I absorbed air bubbles that popped up:


So now the watercolor underpainting is complete. Time to start applying more pastel, and work on those neglected birch trees!


January 13 Update:

Continued to work on the distant shrub line with the palette depicted below. See the blog on using pastel pencil, as pencil and hard pastels were used to blend and develop the perspective of distance.


January 12 Update:

Working the distant tree line in Birch Ballet. I chose darker values consisting of blues, browns, purples and gray. Here is the simple palette:


The shrubs in the tree line are a tangled web. Light strokes in varying directions were used. Note the various colors of the same value. I used a slightly lighter value (the blue pastel) to emphasis such branches in the reference photo.


Here is another view of the level of detail within the larger surface of the painting:


Next steps will be to continue working the tree line, then I will beging to tackle the middle ground grasses and foliage. A few pointers:

  • Select a palette of colors representing the same (or about the same) value to add depth to your pastel.

  • Focus on the character of the foliage: how the branches grow and spread, their shapes and whether there is any foliage. Become a close botanist.

  • Work in light strokes; rough our areas here and there to refrain from drawing details. Remember, nature was not drawn.

January 11 Update:

Deeper values in the grasses and field of the birch forest were blocked in, and the birch trees have begun to take on shape and character.


January 9 Update:

"Birch Ballet" underpainting consists of an initial charcoal sketch and a watercolor tone to the sanded pastel paper.


Here is the reference photograph of Birch Ballet. The digital image has been color-enhanced to bring out the hidden hues in the landscape.


Come back to our blog to see updates.


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