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StudioSense - All The "Twigs" You Cannot See

Notice the group of small trees on the left in this work-in-progress version of "Cross Country Craving." The twigs near the top of the shrubs blend in with the background to the point where they are difficult to see. Similarly, the trunks of the small trees get lost with the dark shrubs behind them.

Here's a cropped version of the painting, focusing on the small trees:

The artist may approach this challenge using three techniques. These three tricks of the trade are 1). darken the twigs 2). lighten up the surrounding areas, and 3). softening the surrounding area to make it look more fuzzy compared to the sharpness of the foreground object. Here are some images of the effort to bring this small group of trees into more prominence:

In the image above, after I lightened up the mass of twigs, I darkened the grasses that lay behind the small trees. By doing this, the lightness of the small twigs will come forward some more. Its amazing what you can do when you juxtaposition one value against another. In a very dark shady area of a landscape, for example, a middle value placed within a dark value can actually look light. This approach comes in handy with a limited collection of pastels, where the relative values of pastel sticks, rather than the absolute values, can be managed to create the desired effect.

Similarly (image below), I darken the blue-shaded snow behind the shrubs. Creating "sky holes" like these will also help to thin out the shrub. I will need to extend and blend that new blue as it looks a lot like I added it specifically between the twigs.

For this next step, I began to vary the intensity of the small twigs to build some variety, with some of the twigs slightly lower in value as the light is blocked by the branches closer to the sunlight.

Another approach is to darken the twigs. In this case, I applied a charcoal pencil to the wider limbs.

But nature was not "drawn," so I needed to refrain from adding all of these individual twigs and limbs to the trees! The goal is to show perhaps 30%-50% of such detail, and "cloud out" the balance of the fine, wispy branches.

In this version, I warmed up the tree trunks where they face the sun, and softened some of the detail of the twigs, leaving a smaller, sharp portion.

Getting into such detail in a painting can be a bit troublesome. You may find yourself constantly working over a section of the canvas to "get it right." Often, the solution is to stay "soft" with the details, with the exception of a few detailed components.

Visit Elizabeth Mowry's pastel paintings (click here). You will see how Elizabeth conveys softness and detail in her landscapes.

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