Friday, March 1, 2013


The "Old Veteran" is a magnificent old Cypress tree that is clinging to the edge of a cliff at Point Lobos State Park in California. It is one of the featured attractions along the north rim trail. The problem with doing a painting of "Old Veteran" is its like doing a portrait. It is a structure that is painted often and is a recognizable form. So the trick is to try and capture the true essence of the form while maintaining your own interpretation of it. My other problem is when I paint large I tend to tighten up. One of my goals this year is to do larger plein air work so staying loose in the studio will become less of a problem for me.

I start with a rough line drawing using thinned down burnt sienna on a toned canvas. The tone is pure cadmium orange. This orange tone will show through the paint, especially in the shadow areas and give the painting a vibrant feeling I could not capture if I tried to paint it. I must be careful to make sure the "Y" shape made by the fork in the tree is not in the center of the painting. This would be a design disaster so I set it just off-center.

As with most paintings, I start by painting in the shadow patterns. Here I am painting the underside of the main Cypress tree forms. Notice how much ultramarine blue I'm putting into this area. I already know I'm going to be painting the light areas of the tree trunk with warm tones, so this cool color in the shadows will enhance the warm colors I put down later. By enhance I mean it will make them appear warmer than they really are.

When painting the shadow areas I paint them darker than they really are because I typically will go back into them later in the painting and lighten them with reflected lights. Because of the large fan like dark shape at the top of the painting I put in a similar dark shape at the bottom. This will create balance in the painting. I take this shape all the way across to the bottom right of the painting. This creates a visual block so the viewer will be forced to enter the painting from the left side. That's the plan may change as the painting progresses. Also notice how I warmed up the shadow directly under the tree with burnt sienna and cadmium orange.

I want to create the feeling of aerial perspective so I paint in the distant trees. Here I am painting in the sky holes with a blueish-green color.

This shot gives you an idea of the size of the 
painting. I am beginning to paint the tops of the tree.

My typical studio setup. Painting on the easel, a color photo next to it so I don't have to turn my head and in the background you can see the large HD TV. The TV is attached to my laptop. On my laptop I have my reference photo in Photoshop. This allows me to zoom in and out of the photo reference so I can see details and I can brighten or darken the photo as needed

From this point forward I will basically work from the top of the painting down. Here you can see how I have separated the main tree from the distant tree.

I have painted most of the trunk and the background behind the tree. It has been a challenge, because I want this area to be warm but the trunk is a blueish/grey color which turns green when I try to warm it up with yellow tones. I solve the problem by adding bits of pink and cadmium orange in a broken color application. This way the viewer's eye will combine the colors and interpret this area as I intend.

Now I have moved down to paint the cliff. This becomes more of a design exercise than a painting of this area. This is the one area where I feel I can get away from my photo reference and just paint what I want to support the rest of the painting. If I over render this area it will take away from the tree so the challenge is to make it look rocky, but not attract too much attention.

Remember earlier when I said the orange underpainting would show through and create a vibrancy. You can clearly see it over on the left side.

I've gone back in and warmed up the tree trunk and defined the shadow pattern. I think this creates an interesting play of light.

 "Old Veteran"  18" x 24"  oil/linen

The completed painting. What do you think? 


john pototschnik said...

Good report of progress, Rusty...and a nice result.

Judy P. said...

Love this step-by-step, very helpful observations, and lovely painting with a good sense of light!

Gexton said...

This is beautiful. Really enjoyed catching up with your blog. What a great painting. There were so many amazing views - I could have painted many more too
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Shelley Whiting said...

I love these paintings. They're very bold and I love the gestural marks.

Susan Temple Neumann said...

Looking at the reference photo and seeing how you created your sense of the place is astounding! You transformed the scene and made it your own. Great job! Enjoyed seeing the steps it took to get there!

Rusty Jones said...

Thanks everybody. Been a while since anybody left a comment. I was beginning to believe my blog had become obsolete. You have inspired me to keep on blogging.