Trees and Some Notes on Colour

The varied treatment of foliage indicates very clearly the degree of convention that bound the artist at different periods. The Dutchman van der Heyden drew every visible leaf carefully and lovingly; Gainsborough none. Cozens began with an outline, either pencil or pen, and broadly defined the principal masses, and the lines of radiation. a wash of colour was followed by the elaboration of detail. the result was a freely-drawn, and well massed leafy tree. Others symbolized their leaf clusters by using lines in the shape of loops, zig-zags, or ovals, like calligraphic exercise, or dots to represent individual leaves. Zig-zags became popular, and the drawings of trees was conventionalized to the extent that one kind of tree could not be distinguished from another. But the fact that such conventionalism was not confined to the water-colourist is not sufficiently emphasized. The blame is laid unjustly upon the topographical draughtsman. Gainsborough's trees were of this type, all of the same genus. He did not paint beech trees, willows or oaks, but composite trees that looked like all, but like none in particular.

Cotman's trees still satisfy the eye; his manner of simplifying the foliage seems just and veridical. Mr. Brigden's Ontario elms have much of their grace, being massed broadly and invested with dignity and substance by simple and direct means.

There is a danger in water-colour of presenting trees as flat silhouettes instead of rounded forms with an appreciable girth. Foliage beyond a certain distance has a thin aura of gray, a transitional tone which suggests the presence of receding planes, or the sides of the mass. In water-colour the practice of painting the green tree and its background together wetly, by softening its edges, indicates this quality sufficiently well, and with a proper rendering of shadow expresses its volume.

When the sky is seen through small holes in the foliage the gray aura must not be forgotten. Such spots are much darker than the broad areas of sky beyond.

When the trees are nearer and the sun shines through the apertures, images of the sun are cast on the ground below. Seen in perspective, these sun-spots become ovals. many of them may be fused together, but nowhere will be seen a sharp angle or a point.

In the Transvaal we used sheets of corrugated iron very extensively for temporary building. Bullets often penetrated them, leaving clean round holes. I lived for a while in a hut constructed of this material; its walls had been well peppered. Sitting within doors, when the light was right, I could see inverted miniature images, on the wall, of the scene without. I owned a natural camera obscura. I quote this to show what light penetrating a small orifice can do.

While on the subject of light and shade, it may be as well to observe here that all cast shadows are not purple, neither are they always cool in tone. There was a time following the recognition of impressionism when all sunshiny landscapes were painted in purples and yellows - complementary colours each designed to enhance the value of the other. In strong sunlight it is the lights that are opaque and the shadows transparent and sensitive. The warm sunlight is reflected back into the shadow. In painting trees the cool and warm shadows must be recognised and properly rendered.

It is never advisable to follow recipes for mixing colours, but there are greens in profusion, difficult to perceive and to match. While experiment is the best informant, the student may appreciate a little guidance. Girtin, who used a full palette for his time, mixed gamboge, indigo and burnt sienna for greens varied with yellow lake, brown and pink. For green shadows he mixed indigo with burnt sienna. Indigo and gamboge have since been banished in disgrace - they are fugitive, and have gone from the early water-colours too, but there are an immense number of pigments left, and newly invented pigments such as Girtin never dreamed of.

As a general rule, the most brilliant greens are obtained by mixing the yellow most inclined to green, and a blue with the same tendency - aureolin and cyanine blue for example. The pure and delicate greens of the distance demand purer constituents, such as cobalt and yellow ochre. In the distance none but the purist primary colours should be used - cobalt or French ultra-marine, yellow ochre, lemon yell (cadmium), and cadmium red would suffice. Green shadows near at hand may be made of cyanine blue and burnt sienna, or with French ultramarine and sienna, black and yellow, black and viridian, or raw umber and blues of different kinds.

Lemon cadmium and cobalt, or cyanine blue, give a green of the emerald type.

For clear cloud shadows mix cobalt and light red; for a dull gray add yellow ochre to the mixture. A still purer gray is composed of cobalt, cadmium red, and yellow ochre, blended on the paper. Experiment willl discover numberless varieties of gray.

A live, intense brown such as that of the deepest tone of a tree-trunk in shadow is obtained by first painting with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red, using a full brush, and then dropping burnt sienna into the wet touches immediately.

The growth and branching of trees is best studied in the winter. Lateral branches are easily drawn, but those which lean towards you require more careful study. No amount of language will give a student the skill of foreshorten them; he needs the tree, which I cannot provide. Continued practice, and a spirit of humility, will enable him to accomplish anything. He must look at his pictures with a dispassionate eye, not with a fond one like that of a mother. He must look for faults in his own, for graces in another's work.

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