When the holidays were over and it was time to get back to work in January, I sat at my desk in Ann Arbor feeling more stumped than inspired. I had finished a couple of commissions and was ready to start something new – what exactly I wasn’t sure. I wanted a fresh direction to reflect the new year but I also wanted to build on my previous work, to continue to explore the world of trees. In what follows, I write about what I’ve been working on in the early months of 2022 and how a new direction doesn’t mean having to leave past themes behind.
During the last months of 2021, I had been focused on learning and refining some artistic skills. As I wrote about here, I followed courses on watercolour painting, portrait painting, and botanical drawing through the Ann Arbor Art Center. At the start of 2022, I was keen to get back to acrylics and continue my exploration of landscapes, in particular, the subject of twisting trees, which became my Sculptural Trees paintings in 2021. Here are some of these paintings below:
There was just one problem: these paintings were inspired by my walks in the dune forests of Belgium. While I wanted to continue to explore this subject, it is also important to me that I take this unique opportunity of being temporarily in the U.S. to record my surroundings here. Feeling a little overwhelmed at all the possibility this could entail, I looked out my window on this snowy January morning. In the backyard, along the sides of the house and in the front yard, all around, are trees: large and small, dark-barked and light, some with rather twisty branches and trunks, little berries still hanging on. I spotted a small tree and smiled.
What struck me about this particular tree wasn’t its shape. Rather, I was taken with the stark contrast between the dark winter bark and the fresh snow that was nestled in its nooks and crannies. I knew I wanted to paint the elegant twist of this tree’s branches, but I also wanted to capture the way the snow lay in the tree and around its base. This is Snowy Trees I:
I started with the solid background colour for this painting: a blue-grey colour close to that of my painting Fundy Coast. This is one of my favourite colours, whether it appears in the sky or the siding of a building. In my Fundy Coast painting, the opaque blue communicates the densely foggy summer day. In this family of blues, I like the heavy effect of its opacity and its subtle warmth due to the brownish undertones. The colour I made for the background of Snowy Trees I is a combination of blues, browns, and white and is echoed in the shadows of the snow around the bottom of the tree. Upon finishing Snowy Trees I, I knew I wanted to continue to paint snow, given its presence this winter.
I grew up in an environment of very snowy winters (Canada’s East Coast). I can still remember the feeling of being bundled up and snuggled against my sister as dad pulled us on the old wooden toboggan along our neighbourhood street, packed thicky with snow. More than twenty years later, I can still hear the crunch of dad’s boots as he walked in front of us. Spending this winter in North America has brought these snowy memories to the fore and has given me the chance to make new ones. I have loved waking up to the sight of soft falling snow out the window and walking along sparkly sidewalks, squinting against the bright sun. On the evening of the first snow this season, I took a walk in the empty neighbourhood street. I started Snowy Trees II straight after finishing the first:
By taking inspiration from outside my window, I’ve been able to continue to paint what I like—twisting trees—but also record the specificity of my immediate environment. Of course, trees are pretty easy to find no matter the country, but selecting the tree and looking at it closely, provides for the rendering of endless shapes and tones. I am interested in capturing the mood of the environment around me and am enjoying using this cool but rich winter colour palette. When looking for some inspiration, I embrace the environment around me and see all kinds of scenes the encapsulate my winter stay in the Midwest!
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