The Ponderosa Pines I saw in Yosemite recently were fascinating: the branches come out from the trunk at all kind of weird angles and the bark is uniquely grooved and segmented. They call it the puzzle pine (as in jigsaw puzzle) for a reason.
I’ve now done three watercolors of one particular ponderosa pine from Yosemite. The first was fairly representational to get it out of my system and record what I remember seeing.
The pattern in the reddish brown bark is quite distinctive.
In the second one, I decided to zoom in in an effort to make it more abstract … which didn’t really work very well (it’s not a bad painting, just not very abstract). So then I did a third, and in the spirit of ‘no brown tree trunks’, I made the tree pink. And once I decided to make the tree pink, I had to change some other things too…
And there you have it: a pink ponderosa pine.
Frank O’Cain (my teacher at the Art Students League) liked it, but said I should do it bigger (this painting is 13 x 17). I do have paper that is 18 x 24 … but I dunno. I think he means even bigger than that. I’m going to have to get some bigger brushes.
I had a plein air workshop this weekend up at the Vytlacil (VIT-lah-chill) campus of the Art Student League in Rockland County. The leaves are already turning and the colors are really beautiful. Frank O’Cain did an hour lecture (dos and don’ts of plein air painting and history of modern art) and then an hour demo … and then turned us loose.
Three hours and a half sandwich later I had three paintings of varying sizes. Day two was a repeat (sorta) of day one.
Here are the two I like the most …
Artists will tell you that tree trunks are NOT brown. Tree trunks have green and red and BLUE (etc. etc. etc.) in them (as you can see above). And once you put one color down, that helps determine what the other colors will be. Brown tree trunks are boooring. Not that I haven’t painted a few boring trees in my day. But I’ve turned over a new leaf so to speak. Rather than painting exactly what is there, I’m aiming for my impression of what is there, my sense of the masses of color and their movement. In Vytlacil Fall Colors, I like the way the red/orange and blue colors vibrate against each other.
Vytlacil Fall Colors IV is even more abstracted with only a hint of branches, but I picked an area where the trees had just started to turn with small patches of bright orange and yellow against the varied greens.
Painting outside is so much more challenging than working in the studio. You have to focus and decide what to paint and what to leave out. The more abstract the painting the more it hangs on the success (or failure) of the composition. There are a million colors to choose from. And the light changes from one minute to the next…
But there’s all that fresh air and sunlight, and the rustling of the leaves and the glorious colors. And if the painting doesn’t work, you just rip it off the block, turn it over, tape it down and start a new one, having learned something (presumably) from the failure. That’s progress in a beautiful setting.