Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Playing Around with Violet

This is probably my favorite of the five fog paintings. I didn't post one of them, because it refuses to cooperate, so it's in time-out.

I've been gradually adding more violet into the mix, primarily red-violet, because it goes so well with the oranges and greens. I gray it down a lot, but it still helps keep the scene much warmer than grayed down shades of blue. That, and the addition of the dirt helped to break-up the darkness of the foreground, and tie the foreground to the background.

I paint trees a lot, so I'm adding a couple of detail images to illustrate some things, I think, help me when painting trees.

First, all that dust that falls into the easel tray when you're painting makes for wonderful grays, don't throw it out, make use of it. These trees were painted or started with gray-green easel dust. Add a little distilled water and you can easily make your own. It's not difficult to change the tint, tone or hue by adding purer sticks to the mix.

Second, if you want a particular tree or trees to stand out, add a surprise color and drag it over top. In the detail below you can see I used the same red as the leaves. It adds interest, warms the tree trunks but remains subtle because of the similar value.

Third, notice there are more hard edges in the top detail, compared to the bottom detail. Hard edges attract attention and bring things forward in visual space. The lost and found edges make things more interesting. I used the same method for the sparse leaves, to make some come forward and some recede.

This second detail, best shows point number four. The bottoms of the trunks are darker and more saturated, basically warmer, and have more clearly defined edges. As I go up, I make them cooler, lighter and less defined. This adds weight to the bottoms of the trunks and helps reduce, somewhat, the vertical linear pattern.

And lastly, most trees are loaded with smaller thinner branches near the tops. I lay down a heavy sky and then very lightly drag the base tree color over top in various directions. Then I take a small round paint brush to remove most of that layer into a branch pattern and tap it with my finger to smear edges and reduce the contrast here and there.

That's, pretty much, all I know so far.

I always enjoy painting river birch trees, probably most people consider them kind of ugly, I find them very interesting for both texture and color. If you aren't familiar with river birch, I took a couple of happy snaps today so you could see what they really look like.

They don't mind having wet feet, so you find these mostly in swampy areas. They tend to grow in clumps of two or three, are tall and skinny and are loaded with hundreds of droopy branches. 

And finally...'s gotten all gray and dull around here, so more violet -- but, I think it added a lot. 

I like these light, feathery grasses, but what really grabbed me were the little tiny twigs with over-sized leaves of brilliant reds, oranges and purples.


  1. This painting is large is it? It truely is beautiful. and your blog hints and details are so very helpful...I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Wish the others were on this same page...I'll seek them out.

  2. So you went and painted trees without me! I may have to go out today in the COLD and find some trees,'s a.lovely painting Dan.

  3. Love the fog painting, Dan, and I see why it's your favorite!

    Great tips you shared; I should do more of that on my blog as well. Those birches are fascinating - I've never seen a river birch before, only paper birches. I'd be all over painting those as well!

  4. Thanks Cindy. It's 8x10, I'm glad you were able to get something useful out of my ramblings.

    Hello Gina! Yes I did, only because I ended up out in the woods again. I don't really want to take anyone out there until hunting season is over. I'll email you about Friday.

    Sonya: personally I like to read about tips, thoughts etc of other painters. It kind of lets me get into their heads a little, and gives me a better idea of what they are trying to accomplish or communicate. I don't think I ever saw any river birch until I moved here.

  5. Wonderful post Dan: two beautiful and poetic paintings,and great tips! I'm sure your paintings look even better in RL. The top one is also my favorite of yours so far. It's amazing how a little bit of violet makes it look warmer. It stills convey the feeling of dampness and cold but the violets make it more inviting.

  6. Thank you Adriana. Congrats on your Festival sales, that had to make you feel good!