Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Autumn Forest" - Painting with saturated color in nature

Well my challenge for myself is a large 18x24 painting with fall leaves as the main subject. I took a series of photos last fall of  brilliant yellow leaved trees in a country setting. None of the photos is just what I am looking for composition wise. In fact this one is more experimental than I usually do. I've never been completely happy with my fall paintings. When I'm out there I have a feeling of being surrounded by color, as if I am breathing color. The yellow gold atmosphere I felt under these trees was really magical. There was sunlight, but it was soft, and the air was cool and crisp and fall like. I want to somehow create that feeling, of breathing the color. Feeling the soft golden shades on my skin.
Here are the reference photos:
 I decided to use the mossy tree trunks in this first photo, and the nice foreground fallen leaves. I also like the close up leaves and the transition from the small leaves further back to the larger ones in front.
 I like the softly lit background field in this one, and the small trees on the left.
 I like the directional branches going from right to left in this one, and more beautiful leaves close up. Just still not sure how to compose. This one has a very angular composition. Hmmmm
This one shows more of the background trees. The barn is nice, but it's not my focal point so I don't think I will use it in this one. The warmth in the leaves is giving me more of the feeling I remember from the day. It's amazing to me how photos can't capture that feeling! So that's my challenge!
Here is my block in stage - with work done on the background
I expanded on the background hills to get more cool colors which should help the golden leaves pop more. I want the background to just give a sense of space and softness. Once I put that center tree in I realized to was smack dab in the middle! Arg. I ended up just taking it out as that whole area needs to stay very quiet and will be largely covered up. I used purply colors for the block in, hoping again that the complimentary color will help my golden leaves glow. Playing with the idea of a path as a lead in, we will see where that goes!

At this point I got rid of the green in the field. it was too much color and seemed to be making a different statement than fall leaves to me. experimenting with the composition and laying in tree trunks. Having fun creating the layered texture of the tree trunks and the ground. Using a lot of alizarin crimson and quin gold.

adding fallen leaves to the ground. starting with darker mixtures of alizarin crimson, quin gold, cadmium red greyed down with Ultramarine blue. then less blue for the brighter leaves. I'm using single brushstrokes with a soft edge and a hard edge to define shapes. Not drawing them. I started with greys to create some some background foliage. My thought being that will help the brighter colors pop. Trying to keep my shapes smaller in the back, with larger leaves as I move forward. Stopping here for a couple of days as I'm not completely happy with the composition. The two tree trunks are too similar in size and placement. And I know I want some closer leaves but again am not sure on the composition... I am liking the warmer golden color. The yellow in the photos is just so much cooler than I remember from that day.
well, a very experimental day! At a certain point, when I feel like I'm not achieving what I'm going for I have to get myself to step back. Relax and realize it's all just an experiment! I'm trying to find that line between realistic leaves and blobs of paint. I think I made some progress, but not there yet. I did decide on a kind of spiral composition. Maybe it will give that feel of the swirling leaves as they fall. I thinned out the left hand tree a bit and brought it forward.. I'll give it a rest for a day now and come back. There is kind of a cartoon feel to it still I think. Maybe those saturated colors. But those colors are the whole point of the painting! Haha, I love this little journey I go on in each painting. :)

Sooo. Back from the "day job" yesterday. Can't say I am even a little bit happy with this painting at this point. I did a google search for autumn leaves acrylic paintings. No help. Pretty much people do close up leaves or distant leaf blobs. But this painting has been in my head a long time and I need to come to some sort of peace with it. Ugh. I'm feeling actually physically ill which is how I get when I can't resolve a painting. I'm hoping it's because I'm nearing a breakthrough! Hoping, hoping, hoping!

Well, let me articulate what I don't like if I can. The big leaves look sooo heavy and dense, like they are made of clay! I got tired toward the end and especially the bright yellow brushmarks are mushy and not courageous. The spiral theme feels gimmicky. I love the reds on the ground - the ground looks bluer here than it is. But, is the ground lava?! (a game my kids used to play). This doesn't feel cool and crisp like a fall day. It feels hot. I had gone through a phase where the big leaves were more realistic. But they just looked overworked (and still do)

Okay, what is the breakthrough? Let's try some specific changes. I need more air/background in the big leaves. Less dense. I need a gradation of color from big leaves on right to smaller on left. They are all the same. Need to lose the 3 big same shaped leaves - vary the size and orientation of the leaves. I need more neutral colors in the leaves. Just too much saturated color. And some lighter yellow, maybe cooler yellow. Do I need some dappled sunlight catching a bit of leaves and ground? Maybe use sunlight as part of the spiral instead of all saturated color? Edges. I need some crisp edges in the big leaves. just a few and the rest much softer and more lost.
 So, lets give that a try. Chime in here any time! I can use all the help I can get :)

Okay, todays progress

some things are better. Big leaves are okay. dappled light not so much. too much I think and too cool. Not to happy with the dull gray flat spots upper right. light on tree trunks not convincing. left tree trunk not good, also dont like the curved smaller branch on the left

Well, aside from the fact that I can never seem to photograph the color right. This one is actually truer to the  real colorsm but there is more green in the dark areas of the leaves. oh well. Dappled light better I think, and tree trunks. It may be done. I think I made some forward progress. It feels kind of fantasy like to me. Like there should be a troll peaking out of the trees hmmmm

okay, final final....

"Autumn Forest" 18x24 acrylic on canvas. Original available in my etsy shop
Happy painting!


  1. Karen, I can't believe no one has posted on this piece. It IS lovely! You nailed it! What I especially like is your recording your thoughts about this piece. This makes the whole process more inspiring to you, and certainly to us the viewers. Keep painting these beauties!

  2. Just great how you get the colors shining, beautiful. Love your blog and paintings

  3. Your painting is fantastic. Its detail colours make a real shining statement. I love.

  4. Your painting is fantastic. Its detail colours make a real shining statement. I love.