Lesson: Painting from Imagination

Assignment #3:  A Bare Tree in a Landscape.  This assignment is an exercise in combining two pieces of reference together successfully. Using a bare tree as the subject, place it in a different landscape than the one you find it in. In creating your own, more or less 'fictitious' landscape, you will strengthen your imaginative skills while still creating a composition that is believable and real.  The tree should be leafless in order to emphasize its character and presence as a shape. Search for the right tree, one whose shape or form speaks to you.  The tree should be the main focus of your piece.  – from Braldt Bralds

The Process:  This assignment was familiar ground for me for my landscape paintings are often based on seeing an element in nature and placing it in another context.  For this assignment I discovered a tree near White Rock and was struck by its sculptural beauty.  It was an early Spring day and the tree was just showing its promise – a green-gold haze -- of leafing out.  I was reminded of the line in Robert Frost’s poem, “Nature’s First Green is Gold.”   Because I didn’t have my camera, I made a quick sketch of the tree.  When I got back into my studio, I added details – the bark of the tree – using a hard HB pencil.  I then made several thumbnail sketches, placing the tree in a variety of settings: with a small adobe, at sunset, sunrise, and against a hillside bursting with the colors of Spring.  I painted four of the sketches, all shown here, using mostly watercolor washes with accents of gouache.

The Critique:  I presented all four paintings in class.  While the compositions are strong – the tree is the focal point – there is little variation in contrast and value.   The paintings could all be improved by presenting the shadows – the full range of tonal values – cast by the tree.  All four paintings are representative of my abstract landscape style: loose brushstrokes of color with a lot of the white paper showing through.  While all were favorably reviewed, I have a favorite; it is not the one preferred by a consensus of my classmates.  Which is your favorite and why?  Please comment below.

Lessons Learned:  Imagination is one among many tools of the creative process.  Drawing from imagination is really drawing from memory; it’s putting together bits of memories to make something new. Drawing is about seeing, really looking and understanding your subject. When drawing from imagination, visualize the light source and conditions and make use of the full range of tonal values, the bright highlights and dark shadows.  The best way to learn to draw from imagination is to keep drawing from life and photos, focusing on the things you want to be able to create.  Observing and drawing will train your visual memory so you have a stock of mental images to draw upon. 

"Imagination keeps you from painting the same bowl of fruit day after day." Pablo Picasso 


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