The next exercise in Ray Hendershot’s “Texture Techniques for Winning Watercolors” is to paint fully foliated trees. This exercise demonstrates what appears to be a great strength of the pedagogy in this book. The distant trees exercise is useful for this exercise, but it isn’t necessary. Because Mr. Hendershot encourages us to paint loose representations of what he’s painted, we are free to explore things a bit. That means we can try using the distant trees techniques that he just taught in the previous exercise. Because he doesn’t require this, or detail exactly how it should be done, I have to decide for myself.
So, he just taught “how” to do the technique, and now we explore using the technique to better understand “when” it should be used.
In this exercise, Mr. Hendershot recommends using what he calls his “scary brushes.” To make a scary brush, he takes a fan brush, and adds a drop of acrylic medium at the ferrule. This dries, and as a result the hairs are splayed out in a random, ragged shape. This ragged brush is then used to paint random dots and splotches when making foliage in a tree. I have a brush that I made a long time ago, but in a slightly different way. Instead of using acrylic medium, I simply used some hair cutting scissors to trim some of the bristles on this inexpensive brush that I had sitting around. I cut some hairs at the tips, and some at the ferrule–really just random snips here and there to get a messy brush.
After getting this book by Ray Hendershot, I created some brushes using the Acrylic Medium, but to be honest, I like the old brush that I made better. The brushes that I made by adding the acrylic medium are still too uniform for me. Maybe I need to play with the technique to make these… but this one seems to work just fine.
Here you can see the benefit of using this brush. I just have to wet the brush and tap it, rotate, tap, rotate… and I get splotches that are reminiscent of leaves.
The trick with using this technique to render foliated trees is to leave gaps in the leaves where the light should be coming through. I also need to be thinking about the anatomy of the tree as I’m adding the foliage. Unfortunately, when I painted this exercise, I was focused more on the technique of tapping with the brush, and rotating, as well as trying to get the colors in the correct spots. As a result, the mass of leaves that I rendered are all sort of meaningless. I would have had better results if I had relied on fewer random taps, and used larger washes in most places. This painting ended up feeling very busy – there is almost nowhere for the eye to rest. The painting is riddled with detail and contrast, and the eye has nowhere in particular to look – as a result, it doesn’t look at anything.
I am happy with the results to some degree, I like the pine trees, and I like the texture in the foreground. But, I spent too much time on the details in the foliage, and as a result everything feels cluttered and messy.
The results here are not an indication that the book somehow lacks – I genuinely like the pedagogy Mr. Hendershot employs. He asks the reader to experiment. He doesn’t give every step and every brush stroke – because he reduces each lesson or exercise to one thing. In this example, he wanted to focus on painting the leaves on a tree. I chose to focus on painting EVERYTHING. So, I learned a bit about foliage on trees, and I learned a bit more about composition. (Namely, make sure that there are places in the image where the eye has little work to do so that it’s more obvious what the viewer should be looking at.)