Monday, June 8, 2009

Transparency of Foliage

Foliage in trees has different degrees of transparency.

When the leaves emerge in the spring, you can easily see the sky through the tree. The leaves make a whisper-thin veil that has to be painted very delicately.

Some trees, like the one on the left, cover the sky more completely, with fewer skyholes. (Asher B. Durand)

The tree on the right is an oak, and it happens to be very opaque. As the foliage becomes more opaque, you can begin to see the form of the tree in terms of a light side and a shadow side. The maple on the left is more transparent. The foliage was drybrushed over the sky to suggest the delicacy of the leaves.

Look for a variety of degrees of transparency within a single picture, for beauty almost always accompanies variety. Claude Lorrain almost always had one tree that was very transparent adjacent to another that was more opaque.


Steve said...

Once again, it seems you've been peeking through my studio window. These days I'm working on the pencil drawing for a watercolor painting that's scheduled to be the October cover of a local publication. Its central element is a massive sugar maple in full fall color. I made reference photos of this tree last fall from my canoe; it's growing from the earthen part of a dam in our local river. Saving the right amount of sky amidst the leaves has been a real challenge for two reasons: since the final painting will be watercolor, I can't paint over the leaves with blue sky (or vice versa). And, when I went back this month to look at the tree, I saw the density of foliage was very different from what it will be in October. A subplot to this, since your indexing of today's post is plein air painting, is the difficulty of rendering outdoor scenes from photographs.

Andrew said...

Ah...trees. My arch nemesis.

Not that I've painted them, no. But when it comes to penciling/inking them, it's always a question of if I'm overworking them in comparison to other parts, noodling on each leave or trunk because it juuuuust doesn't look right and I think I can fix it.

This is some great information to think about though, it's definitely something I never think of. said...

the same as Steve, seems you were looking in to my studio, Yes at the moment I am doing a painting of the fall,trees with red, yellow,oranges and a thousand variates of greens, is coming alright,but I had a hard time approaching the foliage , I had to change my brain into a more abstract way of thinking to be able to get it right, thanks for the tips on foliage.

Unknown said...


Now that I've been P. A. Painting, the handling of trees is extremely challenging. Especially handling the paint and surface in such a way as to not seemed overworked and fussed over. Thanks for the post.

Jean Spitzer said...

I am amazed at the attention to detail and care with which these trees are painted.

Jesse Hamm said...

Reminds me of how John F. Carlson would indicate the sky between branches by painting them with a smudge of pale color, rather than delineating them individually:

On an unrelated note, I was just reading an interview with Frank Frazetta in an old issue of The Comics Journal, and among the artists who worked on Fire & Ice, he singled James Gurney out for praise. Kudos to James! Probably old news to you, but I thought I'd mention it.

Chris said...

who's the top painting? metcalf?

this subject reminds me of that old saying in golf, that "trees are 90 percent air."

Patrice Erickson said...

Great examples here, James. I'm reading Edgar Payne's book on composition in outdoor painting, also full of great examples. Very helpful. I love your blog, by the way.