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?