It was a dull day, nothing much happening. Not that there wasn’t much light, quite the opposite. It was clear and bright but that’s not necessarily a good thing when you are looking for colour in an intimate landscape. I was in search of something challenging to paint in the bush near home but the light was too intense and nothing was really grabbing my interest.

The fact is, I could have painted anything I came across really as there are subject possibilities everywhere. But it would be all green and grey/browns. Not very interesting – and today I’m looking for a challenge and some bright colour.

I always like a challenge. I pass up on the simple stuff all the time; But if it looks really hard I want to have a go because that gets me excited. It’s like a Jigsaw Puzzle or Sudoku – you end up trying the harder and harder ones because they are more stimulating. There is also a bonus to tackling the stuff that is too hard for you. Eventually, you get your head around it and you’ve mastered something new – even if there is a trail of woeful canvasses leading up to that point. Once you are there, that satisfaction is something you have earned.

So when I come across this spot after wandering around the bush aimlessly for what seems like hours, I’m confronted with a scene that looks something like this. Masses of trunks and foliage stretching back to an unseen horizon, a towering stand of burnt and dead wood, and the star of the show – dieing leaves on the rear tree blazing orange amidst the new winter green. A whole lot of stuff going on from black charcoal to shimmering highlights – add spectacular colour and tie it all together with dancing linear elements across the whole subject. Perfect!

Now comes the hard part, actually doing it. So I set up my French Box easel and lay out my palette. It’s getting late in the day by now and the shadows are moving so fast across the ground, you just about have to run to keep up with them. Everything is so bright, I can hardly look into it without having a hat low over my forehead and squinting a lot. There is little time. I take photos for later reference but the camera has no hope of capturing the depth of tone between the dark and light extremes without me messing around setting up with lenses and filters and doing High Dynamic Range stuff which I really wasn’t there for. This is not a “snap the pretty scene and paint it later in the studio from a photo” type of subject – in fact very few are if you are interested in accurate color but that’s a subject for another day.

So I have to do it the old fashioned way, with my eye and paints on the spot in front of the motif. Firstly, I have to find some way to simplify this staggering amount of light and information. I start by trying to get a basic design in place – positioning the elements on the canvas where they are going to work best from a composition point of view – dealing loosely with the larger masses and paying almost no attention to any details. One thing I have to work on quickly is the position of the shadows that are being thrown across the ground because they are moving so fast. They are not there for long. After a short time, they are gone. This is one of those times a camera is a useful tool. A quick snap with the digital camera is all that is needed to give me a record of where those shadows should be placed.

In no time the entire foreground is more or less in shadow, so I can take my time as it gets later in the evening to put in the sky, mess around with the edge control of the foliage in the background and make sure the drawing of the limbs and other linear elements is correct. I’m not too worried about anything other than getting the shapes and the lines accurately on the canvas. Everything else will come later.

When the light has gone and it is time to pack up after the first session of plein air painting, I have a reasonable idea of the range of values across the picture plane and I am happy that my design is not too bad.

As I leave it at this stage, I don’t have a lot of colour information in the painting, and I certainly don’t have anything in the way of a useable colour reference in the photos that I have taken. The only way to get that accurate colour information is to come back to the site another day and record what I see.



Blazing Orange Leaves – Part 2