Saturday, December 10, 2011

WE Lab Report: Pine Tree Studies

A lot of my paintings feature trees, so this week's Wondertivity Experiment was all about pine trees. To paint trees well, you have to understand their structure and how they are put together. Luckily, I am surrounded by pine trees and finding the subject matter was as simple as stepping outside my front door. I also got some exercise while looking at them. It was a win-win experiment. Look on for the results of my pine tree studies in milk paint on encaustic.

Statement of the Problem:
In order to paint pine trees better, I need to practice. My teacher taught me that "practice makes practice". I often have the problem that I know I can do something, but I don't do it because I know I can. BUT, to become a better artist you have to do it again and again and again. That's how you get better... So, this experiment is to get in more repetition in order to better paint pine trees and to further test out how the milk paint works.

The milk paint will perform similar to water color, but thicker and will have the capability of adding layers of paint on top of each other. Pine trees are not just a solid mass, but have holes and many layers. While they are big, dark and hulking, you should see the light of day through them sometimes.


  • Camera
  • Pictures of pine trees
  • Prepped small encaustic panels (gesso + layers of encaustic)
  • Brushes
  • Jar of water for mixing and rinsing
  • Milk paint - variety of colors
  • Rag
  • Encaustic medium for finishing

1. Take lots of pictures of pine trees.
2. Give panels a background reminiscent of a sunset sky that fades from blue to yellow to pink. Add a horizon with white paint. Cover with a layer of encaustic and fuse.
3. Stare at pictures of pine trees for a long time until you "get them".
4. Begin painting the shapes of pine trees as best as possible. Lay down a preliminary trunk and wait for it to dry. 
5. Paint outline of tree branches and fill in with tree color making sure to leave holes.
6. Wait to dry then add additional layers of highlights if desired.
7. Cover with a layer of encaustic and fuse.

Totally pleased with the results. Keep in mind that my trees will often be hid underneath layers of wax, so it's not imperative that they be super realistic, they just need to look like a good silhouette. So underneath a couple layers of wax, these babies are gonna be beautiful. Again, with the milk paint, keeping a wet edge is important if it needs to flow. But sometimes you can create a cool look by leaving edges. Adding multiple colors is tricky, too much can make it blotchy (see right above), but the right amount gives it a good contrast (like the left one below). 

Will definitely be applying the techniques I learned this week in future paintings. The wet/dry stage is where the magic happens. Serendipity plays a huge role in many of my paintings. Overworking can kill  what you initially laid down, while just enough play can give depth. This new paint is really exciting and I can't wait to get back in the studio tomorrow to do more.