I struggle painting woodland.  I have many failed attempts.  I want to capture the vibrancy of line and tone without obsessional attention to detail.  What I mean is that my attention span is too short for detail.

For this afternoon’s sketch I took as reference a photograph taken at Ham’s Hall nature reserve in the West Midlands.  I also was inspired (strangely and now unrecognisably) by someone else’s painting in which I was impressed by how many shades made up her grey.


I envisaged my own picture as made up of many shades of grey although this is not how it turned out, as you can see.  I may try this again.

I try to get a sense of movement and flow in my paintings, rather than that they are truly representative.  Tidying up today (so I would have room to paint at all) I came across this old sketch.  I seem to remember having in mind an image of rolling waves in shaping the undergrowth.

Comments, especially advice on building woodlands in watercolour, are most welcome.

As an aside, while I fiddled with the settings, my camera took this landscape in negative.  I liked the effect.

17 responses to “Woodland

  1. I love your Heron painting. The half circle curve, shaped by the tree top and echoed in the foreground, and the direction of your mark making, works really well. It certainly adds movement, and draws your eye around and in to the heron. A warm and safe feeling.

  2. Thank you Megb for you comment and for permission to link to your own great painting “Wearing grey”. I got impatient with playing with washes and so started frenetic mark-making using a small calibre brush as if it were a pencil.

  3. I remember my high school art teacher sharing with me that when I paint forest scenes not to get bogged down in the detail. I had tried to paint a scene of the lake at Chincoteague National Seashore with the trees in the background. She took my painting diffused the treeline and added a few tree trunks and let my canopy stay. Each of us finds beauty in different things. I love your second painting!

  4. Thanks Michael and Michelle,
    I would love to be able to express shapes with economy of strokes as in sumi-e paintings. I have some books that I refer to occasionally. You are right, I think I had been practising using Japanese brushes and attempting some calligraphic strokes at the time I painted this,
    So much to learn …
    Michelle, I think that this is one reason why being self taught is so very much slower that having real tuition – an experienced artist or teacher can see the direction of travel so much more clearly than the student and offer even quite simple direction that can be transformative.

  5. The balance between painted detail, and just creating the suggestion of detail is something that I, and many others fight with. There is a lot of work involved to develop the technical ability for creating art with expressive lines and shapes that add to the flow and detail of a picture, without actually requiring laborious detailing.

    I’m learning that a lot of naturalist painters heavily simplify areas of land mass, undergrowth, even individual trees – back to the core elements that signify the recognizable shape and form. Even on a ‘busy’ piece like your painting, it is often more pleasing to only add enough to sell the idea of detail, rather than pick out every little element. It’s not an easy process however, and some can achieve it far more easily than others.

    As ever, practice, keen observation and learning from mistakes will assist to help develop skills.

    I like the movement in your second image too – for me it has a much better separation between foreground and background, which makes the image more readable.

    Just like me, continue to work at it and take inspiration from other artists who illustrate possible solutions to problems you’re facing. Good luck!

    • Thanks! I think any success in this regard is rather accidental – in my mind there is a difference between a painting being dynamic and over-busy. Still, the process of doing the painting and then the collective comments is really helpful. This allows me to reflect more consciously on what I was trying to achieve and how I approached it. I think I begin to have an idea about how to re-do this.

  6. I think you did a good job capturing movement in the Heron painting. In terms of amount of detail, I really like your second image. I think landscapes can be really difficult, because it is so tough to determine when to put a shape describing a group of details or when to actually put in the details. Perhaps in some areas, you could try making a mix of all the colors in the details, and putting in a shape, rather than the details. I’ve had art teachers tell me that less is more, as well. But keep in mind that I’m not a watercolor expert or a landscape expert!

    • Thanks you
      I am having similar thoughts to what you describe.
      Actually I started in this way. I experimented in mixing warm and cool greys, then took the component colours and applied them in glazes, with the idea that they would mix and separate throughout the picture. But, as I say, I got impatient and started making less planned, less careful, faster marks.

  7. Thank you so much for coming by Prufrock’s Dilemma,not least because it has made me aware of you! I have added you to my “Good Reads, All Sorts” listing so as not to lose sight of you. Watercolors (pardon the American spelling!) are so, so hard–I love what you have done here and look forward to seeing more. Woodlands are quite difficult, even to photograph (in my current post, Country Sojourns, I start off with a photograph of winter woodlands, not at all sure that it truly “works,” though it is what it looked like to me that day). The colors are so subtle, and there is so much “business” going on, it’s terribly hard to find a focus, though, to my mind, your lovely heron definitely provides just that. (And yes, isn’t Zoe Keating marvelous–yet I know she is but the beginning of what is out there. So many 21st century cellists making such imaginative music.)

  8. Pingback: Back to the woodland theme: Booted eagle | kestrelart

  9. You do some very fine painting These are more examples. You are right not to stress over detail. We viewers understand what you are saying. I’m only one year into painting with watercolor, but let me give you a thought. Don’t be afraid to add darks. That’s what missing from the top painting. With watercolor we concentrate so much on preserving whites and lights, we ignore that some areas need
    dark passages.

    I’m enjoying your blog very much.

  10. Pingback: Playing | kestrelart

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s