Painting the Inside of Trees

Blogger Des Moines Art Collector wrote recently about wanting to see into a painting of a tree, not just see the surface. So while I painted this weekend, I took some photos showing one way to do that.

Delta Eucalyptus by Stephanie Benedict
Delta Eucalyptus at the end of a plein air session. It will need some touchup when it’s dry.

I was out with painters from the Sacramento Plein Air Painters Meetup group in the Sacramento River Delta. The Delta is famous for its narrow, winding roads on top of the levees that both protect the islands from floods and cut off their source of new soil—silt from those same floods. It’s not unlike the situation in New Orleans.

We had a beautiful January day by the historic Grand Island Mansion. We pulled off in a rare wide spot by the road and set up our easels, where this eucalyptus tree called to me to paint it.

Setting for Delta Eucalyptus
The scene for Delta Eucalyptus. Minus the postal service truck!

This technique for painting the different layers of trees I learned from Terry Miura. Usually painters are taught to think of trees as shapes: cones or ovals or balls. But because there is shadow inside a tree, as well as any cast shadow on the outside, you first have to paint that interior shadow.

Delta Eucalyptus plein air first layer
First I painted the shadows inside the tree with a thinned dull blueish-purplish-greenish color.

I started with a cool bluish-purplish-green, because it was a sunny day and the shadows were cool. Using thinned paint, I laid down a transparent layer to color for the shadows, and then let it set up for a bit while I worked on the other parts of the painting. I tried to do similar interior shadows for all of the upright plants (though in reviewing photos for this post, I can see room for improvement!). Then I went back over the shadow color with opaque pigment, this time a warm reddish-yellowish-green, because the sunny surface of the tree would be a warm color on this sunny day. (And there’s lots of red in eucalyptus leaves.)

Delta Eucalyptus by Stephanie Benedict, in process
This shot shows the painting at an intermediate stage.

Because I was thinking about this blog, for once I didn’t overwork it, though I think I’ll do some touch ups when it’s dry. Des Moines Art Collector also commented he didn’t like to see the texture of the ground, but I rather like the very thin paint scumbled onto that canvas surface around the edges of the tree in this one. (I use a yellow-toned board for exactly this reason. If some of the canvas shows through, it is warm like the atmosphere.)

What do you think? Do you have a technique for painting the interior shadows of trees?

 

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3 thoughts on “Painting the Inside of Trees

  1. Beautiful work.

    I love the effect you’ve created. The tree is awesome, but I also like the white to blue effect of the sky.

    It’s those “little” things that really show the work of a real pro.

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