I was driving home from the garage a few months ago after getting new tires, and saw that the park on Middlebranch was flooded. So, I pulled into the parking lot and snapped some photos. I particularly liked this one:
The first time I painted it, I was far too heavy handed on every inch of it. I didn’t even bother finishing it.
There was something magical about the tree in my second attempt that I’m definitely going to need to try to replicate in the future. I’m not sold on whether or not this one can be salvaged… maybe if I glaze the water a bit it won’t be so bad… but water is just mud-dee.
For the third attempt, I started with a very simple wash of cobalt blue. I wanted to limit my palette, and committed at the outset to paint this whole thing with only cobalt blue, Quin gold, and Anthraq Red.
Once my base wash dried, I added clean water to the sky down to the horizon and painted the distant trees. For these I put clean water on the horizon halfway up into the sky. Then, I mixed my cobalt blue with quin gold to get a green. I mixed a separate puddle with more Quin gold for a warmer green, and a third puddle with some Anthraq red for a more neutral green. I used a pointed round to paint the tops of the trees, being careful to leave whispy bits of white in between the strokes. I wanted to suggest willow branches, so I painted these in crooked arcs, dancing the brush a bit as I painted so they weren’t too symmetrical. Then I pulled these down into the clean water and let it flow down to the horizon on its own. As that moved down, I tapped the neutral green into a few spots and let it mingle around, and did the same with the warmer green. In between the two willows, I painted in the clean water almost exclusively so the further distant trees would have fewer hard edges.
Before that could dry, I pulled a fat clean brush through it all to save some whites for the tree.
I then turned it upside down and painted the reflections. I repeated the same process as above, but there was a lot more of the clean water to pull the reflections into. I tried to be much more careful at the bottom where the reflections were less blurred. After painting the reflections near the bottom carefully, I used clean water to bring the pigment to the horizon (remember, it was upside down, so I let gravity do a lot of the work here.)
I really didn’t want to overwork it so I forced myself to leave it be. I then dragged my brush through the reflections to preserve whites for that tree trunk. I then hit it with a hair drier to let it all dry (before it could wick into the tree trunk.)
For the trunk I mixed a very, very thick neutral from my three colors, and painted into a very wet line of paper. The pigment was just deposited into the top of the tree, and I let gravity pull it down the trunk. I added a few spots of the same thick pigment in spots where I wanted to suggest shadows from the branches. I also wanted to suggest a twist in the trunk, so I used clean water to highlight a spot in the middle where the tree twisted as it grew. Then I used the thick pigment to paint the main branches, and clean water to pull pigment out into other lighter branches. As I went, I tried to make sure I allowed the pigment to move on its own, and ended up with something fairly closely to what I wanted.
I then took some of the more neutral green and squiggles some grass into the base of the tree trunk.
Once that was bone dry… and I mean absolutely bone dry, I glazed some more blue into the bottom of the painting, hoping to bring that forward a bit by increasing the value in the foreground. I really wanted to hammer home the fact that the park was flooded. This it turns out, was a good idea.
When it was all dry, I painted some calligraphy like lines of clean water into the trunk, and tapped thick pigment into the lines of clean water. I let that sit for a moment to flow around on its own, then I used that pointed round to dance some lines of neutral greens and yellows into the trunk. I thought of this like cross hatching, trying to add texture and value to the more shadowed areas.
I really liked the effect I got with this, and I did the same thing into the reflections. I wanted to add value to the reflections, without muddying things to much. Finally, I painted some of the trees in front of the willows, above the horizon, with a thick neutral gold and let these trees touch the wet reflections so they would flow down and create their own reflections.
Then I used my “leaf brush” to paint the leaves using the thickest neutral I could mix. My “leaf brush” is just a very cheap brush that I cut with scissors to create a very shaggy head. I use this by just tapping the bristles into the pigment, then onto the paper, twisting the brush in my hand in between applying pigment to the paper. This gives me very randomized patterns that suggest leaves in the canopy of the tree.
When this all dried completely, I used that cobalt blue to glaze some more value at the bottom, and dragged it across the water to suggest ripples in the water.
I didn’t paint many of these ripples onto the foreground, and painted a lot of them into the water just at the horizon. I really like the way the ripples turned out at the horizon, it looks like the wind blew across the surface of the water and blurred things in the distance.
I think I’ll try this one again, or at the very least, I’ll try these techniques again. Much of this painting relies on first painting clean water into areas where I’ll want pigment eventually and then dabbing pigment into those lines of clean water, and allowing it to move on its own. I really like that effect.
Compositionally I wish the base of the tree were higher a bit so I could have more of the tree trunk’s reflection in the water in the foreground. There is a jog in the trunk about halfway up where I think I should have stopped it. Other than that, I’m relatively pleased with this one.
Maybe I’ll try this one in a large format. I haven’t painted a full sheet in quite a while…