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Tree grouping study

 I am planning to paint a larger landscape painting. Two recent attempts were not too successful, so before diving straight in, I plan to do some studies of the various elements in the paintings. In my eagerness to put paint to canvas, I confess that I often miss out these steps. As an insight into the way I think preparing for a painting should work I am sharing some of the process with you, including the bad and the ugly.

I am starting with a study of a group of trees, so typical in the landscape of Provence.


Using a black chisel-end marker, I painted the negative space around the group of trees. A black marker is an ideal way to figure out the overall shape. In this instance I used the negative space (space around the object) but it also works using the positive (actual) shape of the object. I normally use a marker with a 1½" tip, but it had run dry, so I made do with a normal sharpie marker.

Good points about the sketch
  • Good negative abstract shapes between the tree trunks which are all different.
Bad points
  • The tree group fits into a square shape (using the left hand side of my brain instead of the right)
  • Right hand side is very round
Again using a black marker and trying to make a better overall shape

 Good Points
  • Better shape
  • Negative space between trunks still good.
Bad Points
  • Dips in the top of the trees almost the same
  • Two similar shapes appearing on the lhs of the tree - Just when you think you have sorted it, the left hand brain kicks in again.
To fuhter improve the shape, white acrylic can be used to work back into the ink. In this case I used pastel as it was a quicker than getting out my acrylics.

Study 3 - Tonal study
I used a dark grey, light grey and off white pastel for this study, acrylic is also good. This shows how the form starts to come through without using much detail.

Study 4 - Tonal study on coloured paper
Using the same pastels as above, a fourth study. Getting better but still not spot on.

Two things need improving:
  • I need to remove the first dip at the top of the tree which will give the left hand side of the grouping more height
  • I need to extend part of the right side outwards.
 I imported this into photoshop and made a few rough changes
much better.

These studies took me about half an hour to do. It's a great way of working out the shape of trees and keeping it loose.

What do you do to prepare for larger paintings or practice different elements of the landscape? Let me know in the comments (also leave a link) and I will include a summary in a future blog.

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