A painting usually starts when I am outdoors walking, and I come upon a scene that stops me in my tracks. An interesting interaction of form and colour ignites an emotional reaction in me: most often a mix of awe, curiosity, and joy.
What catches my attention usually involves the way light falls. I am drawn to the bright light peaking between leaves creating dancing shadows, the organic curls of intertwined tree branches, and the chaotically beautiful tapestry of autumn leaves strewn across the forest floor. During my latest trip to the forest surrounding the La Hulpe castle, south of Brussels, in early November 2020, I was struck by the soft pale yellows, greens, and pinks of the dried fern carpet under the trees.
When a scene catches my eye, I take a series of reference photos as a jumping off point. As explained in my blog post, “The Joys of Painting on Commission” , photographic references should not limit a painting. My favourite part of painting is what I think of as the second phase of the process (or the third, if we include the inspiration walks). At this point, I have completed my composition sketch, done my wash, and the main forms and colour values are taking shape. Now I am ready to let the painting come to life and evolve in its own, often surprising, ways. I put away any references and focus on making the painting work by itself. It is here that intuition plays an important role: a splash of green or yellow seems to announce itself as necessary. Following Bob Ross, I ask myself if maybe there’s a little tree here or, one over there, in the distance. It is during this intuitive play that I see familiar elements reappear in my new work (see my blog post on “play” here).
My latest painting, Through the Branches, was born of an interest to continue the exploration I started with Berry Passage (see left image below). I wanted to focus on the depths created by layered tree branches and leaves and play with the highlights of white branches against the variety of green, yellow, and brown foliage. What surprised me as a painted was the realization that, while this painting could be considered a partner to Berry Passage, I was reminded more and more of my Dandelions painting (see right image below). What I think worked well with Dandelions was the repeated yellow blossoms against the curvature of tall grasses and the bright white of the twigs and roots. Like Dandelions, Through the Branches is a close-up view of a nature scene, which offers the opportunity for an overall patterning to emerge. The dark shadows in both of these paintings create the depth required to maintain visual interest and keep the eye moving across the canvas.
As I continue to work on my Forest Series, I notice the themes and patterns return in new ways in each new painting (see my blog post on the theme of paths here). The scene that inspires a painting inevitably collides with my experience of my previous work and, sometimes, without me seeing it until later, what I am interested in reveals itself to me in the finished work. Here is Through the Branches:
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