Continuing Education

Class Quest: Landscape Painting – “What it Means to Look at a Tree”

Welcome back to Class Quest and the first submission from our new program coordinator, Marianne Legg. As a seasoned artist, Marianne leapt at the opportunity to visit Sarah Norsworthy’s class, Landscape Painting.Image

Our class stood around a tree, looking at it. We were in Licton Springs Park, gazing into the wetlands with its Doug firs, vine maples and wild roses, tall grasses and ferns. There was the smell of newly mown grass and the air was full of birdsong. A beautiful landscape, and we were a class of landscape painters, there to capture the beauty in paint.

Sarah Norsworthy, our instructor, was telling us about trees. We think of them as green trees with brown bark. But she thinks of them as yellow and blue, with a bit of red added, maybe, or purple. She thinks of them as patterns of light and shade, warm and cool color.

Sarah is an accomplished landscape painter in oils. We are in her Landscape Painting class to learn what it means to look at a tree and really see all the colors of that tree, to see all the areas of dark shade and bright light in the trunk and leaves, and in the undergrowth around the tree. And we especially are here to learn how to put all the wondrous things we’re seeing onto paper with paint.

Sarah starts us off by reminding us that each form in nature is composed of light, medium and dark shades, and asks us to notice where the darkest darks are in the scene we’ve picked to paint. Where are the lightest lights? Next we are to mix a paint shade to brush in big broad Imagestrokes onto our paper, establishing the base color of the tree and foliage we want to depict. Everyone ends up with big swaths of light or dark color in the middle of their painting. Around that, we add the base colors for surrounding forms—shrubs, grass, a sidewalk, whatever else we want in the picture.

Now we begin to paint in more detail. If our base color is a dark one, we paint over it in lighter colors, indicating places where the sun has picked out a pattern on the form. If our base color is lighter, we start to pick out areas of darker shade with darker paint. We all concentrate hard, really trying to match what we’re putting onto our paper to what we’re seeing in the landscape. “Yes,” says Sarah, “foliage is not always made by using green paint or even mixing yellow and blue. You might add some red, maybe, or another color.” We learn to take our time and mix exactly the right color, comparing it constantly to what we see in nature.

We paint so that “cool” colors, like blues, dark greens or purples, browns and black, form the shade areas of the painting, and “warm” colors, like yellow, orange, and red, form the sunlit areas of the painting. We learn that cool colors seem to recede from the viewer and warm Imagecolors seem to advance toward the viewer. Also, objects in the distance are less distinct than objects up close to us, so we need to paint the objects in our paintings the same way.

Everyone paints absorbedly and our class time flies by. As I walk around and look at everyone’s paintings, I’m amazed at how well each person captures their bit of landscape. We have learned to see what’s in front of us more deeply and accurately than we perceive it normally, and everyone has started to suggest the depth of what they see in interesting and beautiful ways. Thank you, Sarah!

Learn more about Landscape Painting.

Photo credit#1: Ross Dunn_cc_2.0
Photo credit #2: Jay Mattews_cc_2.0
Photo credit #3: Phil Roeder_cc_2.0