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Birch Ballet

Strolling through Furstenberg Park in Northeast Ann Arbor, I came across an open field housing scattered birch trees. I was inspired: I decided it was time to do a birch tree painting.

Birch Ballet is my largest pastel painting (27 x 21 inches), using a full sheet of Uart archival sanded paper. A history of its development is posted in a separate blog on this site, from initial underpainting through the various pastel painting techniques used to complete Birch Ballet.

My vision was to depict the trees both as unique and pock-marked individuals, as well as a united group sharing the same soil, water and sunlight. I sometimes think that the subjects can be people at a cocktail party, rather than trees.

The viewer is drawn to the left side of the painting, with the large, damaged tree in front and the greater level of detail in the grasses and the edge of the fallen tree. The composition then takes the viewer up to the left and then quickly to the right to follow the path of highlighted foliage toward the trees to the right side of the painting. Alternatively, the viewer's eyes are drawn from the large tree in front, through the diagonal line of trees culminating in the upper right portion of the painting.

The level of detail and non-detail presented a challenge. The reference photograph was a tangled mess of foliage enveloping the birch trees (see below). In the foreground, I chose to maintain a low value (more shade) to keep the focus out of this area. The distance is more muted as it should be, with occasional detailed highlights. The far distant tree line still shows parts of its watercolor underpainting. It is interesting to note that although I layered and re-worked several areas of the painting, I never revisited the sky. I was pleased with the sky from the beginning; no detail, just a layer of a neutral, warm tone.

If I had to do this painting over again, perhaps some more planning would have sufficed (total elapsed time excluding gazing at it and taking notes, was about 13 hours). It was a rather complicated subject. A word of advice to landscape painters: review the scene with an eye to remove the distractions, focusing on the key message and the prominent objects and feelings that come forth from the landscape. Your job will be simpler then.

Here is the reference photograph for Birch Ballet:

I recently opened my store on Etsy. Click here to visit. I've been asked to offer more smaller paintings for sale so I hope to post a few new ones in the next 1-2 weeks. Thanks for visiting!

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