Great Tree Off Cantongawa: #1


I am trying more and more now to find my voice. I look online and see paintings that I admire, and I find myself trying to paint like them. But, I don’t find much success with Joseph Zbukvic’s silvery greys. I am never restrained enough to implement Alvaro Castagnet’s flare of colors. I can’t get the fluid gestural qualities of Sargent. And I can’t seem to generate interesting composition of light and geometry like Hopper. 

I decided to stop trying to paint what I admire, and start painting what I enjoy. By that I don’t mean “paint a picture that I’m going to like” I mean “find what I think is fun when I’m painting, and do more of that.”

I tend to really enjoy intricate little details, but don’t enjoy realism. I like illustrations, and geometric forms. I also like trying to find gesture in things.

I also really like woodworking, I’ve built a few dollhouses, and I get a kick out of those intricate little details. I like putting my headphones on, crouching over something, and being meticulous about it. It’s meditative. It quiets the barking dogs in my mind.

So I decided, why not try to combine woodworking and painting? I enjoy both of those things…

I thought about woodcuts, and painting, and immediately thought of Hokusai.

By the way, am I the only one who sees a Sumo Wrestler in the Great Wave Off Kanagawa? The foam of The Wave is his hair. The white foam reaching to the wave that represents Fuji defines his neck. And the left-most boat makes his belt.

Am I nuts? Do you see it too?

It’s easier to see when the image is inverted, see? Maybe I’m nuts.

I have never made a woodcut before, so I googled tree woodcuts for inspiration.  I saw this tree woodcut by Steven Noble. I love love love the way he represented the ground, and decided to play off of that. I knew Steven Noble’s woodcut worked, so I tried something similar. That way when it didn’t work, I would know it’s because I screwed it up, and not because I just made what would have been an ugly woodcut.

Anyway… I decided to try using masking fluid to create the feeling of a woodcut.

First, I sketched a tree. Then, I cut a wooden skewer to a triangular point (thinking of a stylus that a Babylonian scribe would have used to write cuneiform) and poured some masking fluid into the plastic lid for my palette. Then, I dipped the stylus into the puddle of masking fluid, and drew what might be the carved out areas of a woodcut.

Once that was done, I painted the background with blues and yellows. When that was mostly dry, I dabbed some water drops to add some texture to the background, and then let it dry completely.

Then, I painted the yellow highlights in the foliage, followed by the purple & blue shadows, thinking of the tree as an inversion of the background. Finally, I mixed the yellows and blues to make neutral browns, and painted the tree trunk, and the ground.

Then… oh god, this description is boring me to death… I let that all dry, and removed the masking fluid.

At this point, the masking fluid left the image feeling a little flat, because all that white just made large sections of the painting a single value.

So I decided to paint over some sections. I didn’t want to lose the masking fluid “woodcut” lines, I just wanted to time down the white a bit so it would have more punch in the places where a bright highlight was needed.

I then went back and painted clean water over each part of the painting, dabbing purple and yellow and browns in places to tone down some of the white left from the masking fluid.

When it was all dry, I used a thin brush to paint some lines in a few places with indigo.

And… that’s it. I enjoyed the process, and I like the end result. I don’t know that this is a style I’ll be doing all the time, but I did get a kick out of the process.

Also, my cat is weird.

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