April 20, 2020
At this time of year those of us with a garden and an apple tree have the perfect model for this week’s painting challenge. Start by looking at Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of peach and almond trees in bloom. Also look at blossom trees painted by Monet, Pissarro or Sisley. If you don’t have a live model in full bloom, use a photographic reference or make your own version of a Van Gogh or Impressionist work.
There is a fine balance between getting the essential character of the tree by getting the angles of the main trunks and branches right and the challenge of overlaying it with blossom and leaves in a way that does not appear overly detailed or fussy, but does give an idea of the tree’s character. If the blossom is all the same tone it can appear quite flat so look at where the light is coming from and observe the shadow areas well.
Composition: You may like to make a tiny tonal sketch or even two or three to work out a successful composition and to observe the overall shapes and tones. These should made in pencil and be no more than about 2 inches by 3 inches. Remember to include suggestions of where background objects you wish to include, garden sheds, fences etc. Also start to think about what you may leave out.
Paper: Choose a pastel paper that has a good enough tooth to take several layers of pastel. This may be white or coloured. I used a sandy coloured paper for the example above.
Making a Start: When ready to start on the final work I find it useful to start with the trunk and main branches, delineating them with a very light touch at first and observing the girth of the main trunk and the angles formed by the main branches. I then like to indicate the outline of the whole mass of the tree with a broken fine line and mark out any other features I wish to include like fences, shrubs, a garden shed etc., again with a light touch.
When indicating indicate these first shapes it is sometimes useful to indicate these areas with colours and tones close to the colours and tones you see for each shape especially in the palest areas. Whether working in a rather impressionist style with short strokes of broken colour or you decide on a blocking in approach after your initial drawing, try to keep the work fairly open by continuing with a light touch. This gives far more scope for modifying shapes and forms as you develop the painting.
Develop the Painting: Look for colours and how they are modified across the form. Shadow areas of blossom may reflect some of the colour in the sky. Look out continuously for colours that are reflected from one object to another. At some stage you will want to go in with much stronger colour in some areas. The palest colours and vivid colour accents are best added last as then they will remain fresh and undisturbed. As you can see from my middle stage of the ‘Apple Tree’ I don’t always follow this advice, sometimes preferring to add touches of the palest tones so that a balance can be worked between extremes of light and dark.
Do fix your work as you add layers of pastel, but after your last touches of bright pastel are added, fix very sparingly or leave the work out for a few days. In our fairly humid climate the pastel will become somewhat fixed just by the moisture in the air. However if your work has to travel, a light spray is advisable with the nozzle no nearer to the work than 2 feet.
A complex branching system can be daunting but as you can see from the finished work at the beginning of this post it can be reduced to little dots and dashes of pastel. I hope to finish the ‘Apple Tree in progress’ tomorrow or Wednesday and will insert the final stage sometime this week.
Enjoy the colours and hopefully some sunshine!