Summer paintings can be a challenge because they are so, well, green. First, although there may be a hundred shades of green, it’s still all green, and a single color lacks interest. Green is the bane of artists. Somehow, the green in that spot in the grass, in the tips of that tree’s branches, the green right in front of your eyes, is never in your selection of pastels. Pablo Picasso famously said, “They’ll sell you thousands of greens. Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like, but that particular green, never.” At this point, every artist reading this is nodding in agreement.
One solution is to mix greens, and often you can get just what you need that way. Why the manufacturers of pigments cannot also mix greens to get what I need is a mystery.
In “Midsummer Maple,” I was faced with a delightful abundance of greens. Sigh. I love them, but they are a challenge. Here’s the painting:
“Midsummer Maple,” 16 ” x 20″
This is a larger than usual image so that you can see some of the difficulties and my solutions. I cannot tell you how many efforts I made to get the color of the grass just right! Finally, I tried a fairly bright yellow-green (close to the patch of grass just to the right of the flowers), painted a very pale yellow – almost white – over it (Pastellists call it “scumbling”) and blended the two. Voila! Whew.
The tree is the star of this painting. I love all trees, and here in Vermont a maple is certainly nothing special, but I think they are my favorite. Look at this one, in its prime. It’s a rich explosion of a tree, a lush exuberance of a tree, the very definition of maple health. Oh, I wanted to paint that tree!
Most representational painting is a matter of using a two-dimensional format and making the subject look three-dimensional. For a tree, that means “sculpting” it with light so that you can see the shape not only of the tree itself but also of the branches. Every kind of tree has its own characteristic arrangement of branches, with those of the maple being fairly horizontal. See how the shadows in the left part of the tree, away from the light, gradually become less frequent as you look at the tree’s right side. Yet even in the side facing the light, there are shadows, and these define the branches.
Looking at the tree, it’s easy to think that it’s just green, with a lighter and darker green. But there are at least half a dozen greens in that tree’s leaves, and another three or four in the shadowed areas.
As to the overall green of the image, this has the visual relief of those magenta flowers as well as the half-hidden house and the distant mountains. The magenta of the flowers (again, there are four or five shades of it in there) is a direct opposite on the color wheel of yellow-green, so the viewer gets the excitement of that contrast.
I don’t know that you can see it in this image, but I also added magenta throughout the painting. A dark magenta is in the far trees. Both dark and pale magenta are in the maple, its leaves as well as the trunk. The fence and house are both touched with the color. It’s the kind of thing that most people won’t “see” (in the sense of being aware that it is there) when looking at the painting, but they will respond to it. And that’s what art is all about: the response of the viewer.