The Brown Family Massacre

Working on pastel landscapes of an often drab Michigan Winter, I find that my selection of pastels tend to favor browns. It's a shame, when one considers how pure and vibrant pastel colors can be. So it was time to ignore the browns and spice up my collection of hues, and leave those monotonous browns and grays of Winter behind.


Here's my reference photo. A swampy area at the Pittsfield Preserve off Textile Road near Saline, MI. Plenty of back light in the late afternoon created a glare and subsequently darkened the trees. But there was a lot of brown and grays in this scene.

Brown is a combination of red, yellow and black but can be created by combining complementary colors such as red and green, mixing red, yellow and blue, as well as mixing orange and black (yellow and red to make orange, then add black). Varying the proportions of these colors can vary the shade of brown.


I started with replacing the browns with purples and blues representing the values of the brown and gray landscape. The purple, being a mixture of red and blue (the brown mixture above less the yellow), can be modified effectively in this landscape. Same with the orange and black, as a darker orange seen in the final rendering of this photo also sufficed as my brown.


The point is to see the colors in the landscape. Spend some time gazing at a view and begin to cull out the colors that can be concealed in the landscape. They are especially hidden from sight in a photograph. When I use digital reference photos, I change the color saturation to the extreme to help see these hidden gems. Below is the color-saturated version of the reference photo. Notice how the orange and pinkish purple hues emerge:


There are a lot of trees in this painting. As for the composition, the challenge is to express the trees not as a jungle, but in a structure that leads the eye to a focal point.


I chose the right half of the bright horizon as my focal point. The composition includes a "tunnel" formed by the mass of trees on the right. The eye catches the wide, dark trees in the left half of the painting. Reflections and highlights in the water lead the viewer up toward the strong backlighting in the distance. Here is "On Golden Pond:"




The closest we get to brown are the dark red-orange trees, and gray is captured with blue and a hint of black.





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