Jac’s 100 days of skies and trees

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    No points.

    I was going to wait until my family leave town before starting another challenge in earnest, but why wait!

    The goal for this challenge is broadly to continue to develop my landscape oil painting over the summer, but with a specific focus on:

    • Skies – atmosphere, basic meteorology, and instilling a specific light effect/time/place
    • Trees – start to treat them more scientifically, like what anatomy is for figure drawing
    • Mini-goal – for the one year anniversary since my first landscape (9 Sept) I’d like to try and complete one larger painting, more resolved than I usually take practice pieces
    • Average 3 hours of practice a day (only managed 2.4h last time)

    …I think that’s it. It’s a bit late and I may have forgotten something else I want to do. As usual, I’m happy to make exceptions for the Russian Drawing course.

    I might also start posting this stuff to a blog or something, so it’s not spread out over forum posts – we’ll see, maybe not.

    Let’s get to work!

    No points.

    Day 1 09/06/2022

    • Woke up bright and early to work on a morning scene of a tree – it’s a work in progress. There’s not much to the composition, just an exercise in painting a tree really… the plan is to get outside tomorrow as the weather looks good again. The intention behind the piece is to show a ‘drop off’ and distance between the two trees, to practice aerial perspective and drawing.

    • Meanwhile, I spent another 2 hours just ‘tidying’ up a couple pictures I worked on during the week when I attended an in-person landscape course (reflection to follow).
    • There are bits about each of them that I think is working – like the background of the left picture, and the compositional ‘key hole’ of the one of the right. But there’s still something about them that I dislike – they’re just a big ugly, the trees are cut out, they lack a unity of effect, or a sense of atmosphere. They’re a good benchmark, perhaps, for what this challenge is looking to help improve.

    • I’ve also been reading John Constable’s Skies – but I’m onto the section that is evaluating Constable’s understanding of meteorology. Spoiler alert, he understood it just fine.
    • Then, spur of the moment, I started The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting: Techniques for Rendering Sky, Terrain, Trees & Water by Suzanne Brooker. It’s pitched as a book for ‘intermediate’ painters, so it might be a bit of a stretch for me. I read the first chapter, which was already quite insightful.
      • Opacity of the pigment matter – transparent darks recede; opaque darks tend to come forward. So you want to mix your shadows using transparent pigments.
      • Indirect vs direct painting (ie phased layers vs going straight for final effect). The former emphasising ‘optical effects’, whilst the latter is gestural and expressive.
      • Fat-over-lean
        • Paint diluted with too much solvent will have little oil (binder) in it, so once dried will not stick to the surface.
        • Paint when used direct from the tube is ‘lean’ when thinly applied, and ‘fat’ when thickly applied.
      •  Pigment, Medium and Solvent
        • Once a picture is bone dry and had several layers of paint, apply a very thing layer of linseed olio even out it’s reflective surfaces and restore it’s darks. Don’t dry the picture vertically.
        • Use pigment, solvent and oil for blocking in on tinted surfaces
        • ‘Oily paint’ should be used for dark transparent pigments

    Practice Time: 3h

    No points.

    Day 2 10/06/2022

    • I spent a couple hours finishing up a sketch of a nearby oak tree.
    • The goal was to capture something of the morning light – but admittedly I spent most of the time just tweaking values to make some sense of the mass of green of the trees and ground foliage.


    • 6:30am-8:30
    • 10c, several days of dry warm weather, little moisture on the ground
    • Little wind from the north (toward the viewer)
    • High humidity (90-100%), but it was perfectly clear – I actually kept the purple haze in the sky from the day previous


    Practice Time: 2.5h (hopefully get some more time this evening)

    No points.

    Day 2 10/06/2022 (continued)


    • Read some more of ‘Elements of Landscape’ – it’s proving useful thus far. Here are some notes:
    • Blues:
      • Early morning sky often takes on a cool blue like robin’s egg
      • Afternoon sky has most dust and pollution from the day
      • Winter skies = pearly grey-violet blue
      • Summer skies = cobalt blue
      • Humid climates = cooler blue notes
      • Drier climates = warmer, richer, turquoise blue
    •  Simple sky conditions -> Few clouds, mostly blue negative space between. When the sun is in an upward arc, the blue of the sky pales to a warmer colour closer to the horizon.
    • Complex sky conditions -> Several layers of clouds at differing altitudes that overlap -> Indirect painting – paint from back to front -> blue sky, highest altitude clouds, medium, lower, etc. Allow paint to dry somewhat between layers.
    • Dramatic sky -> Indirect painting relies on an intense toned ground and transparent layering
    • Drawing clouds
      • Eliminate confusing or confusing elements by simplifying what you see
      • Exaggerate a sense of wind by emphasising the diagonals
      • Search for interesting positive vs negative shapes
      • High altitude clouds = cirrus, cirrocumulus, cirristatus
      • Middle altitude clouds = altocumulus, altostratus
      • Low altitude clouds = status, cumulus, nimbostratus, cumulonimbus

    Speaking of clouds, There were fantastic clouds all day, in fact it was on the news. But I only managed to sneak outside for an hour to do some quick 30 min cloud studies. Mostly cirrus clouds with, I think, rows of little puffy cumulus clouds catching the last of the day’s sun.

    Surprisingly tough – and you have little to show after 30 minutes. Getting the clouds to appear bright and luminous is a real challenge, by the second one I realised I had to lower the value of the sky if the clouds are going to stand any chance of being high value and colourful.

    Practice Time: 1h

    No points.

    Day 3 11/07/2022 

    I had the month down as June previously… that says something about where my head is at.

    Spent a good few hours today tweaking a painting started last week during the landscape course. It’s the last one. I disliked how cartoon-like it looked, so most of the adjustments were to try and infuse a sense of realism. Not a total success, but learned some (of the same) lessons.

    1. Too much cad yellow. It makes the greens look like a highlighter.
    2. Cool greens in the light next to even cooler green shadows, will make the light look warmer still.
    3. Better to start with hillside background too blue and too low contrast, than the reverse.



    I’ve also read a fair bit of Elements of Landscape, it’s better than I expected:

    • Aerial perspective
      • Applies equally to the sky as it does the ground plane – a drop of contrast, sharper edges, less textural paint.
      • Organic perspective: Overlapping clouds implies depth, clouds will reduce in scale with distance, larger clouds near the top of the page, thicker paint pops forward, diagonal clouds suggest depth vs horizontal clouds
      • Remember a cloud has an under plane and sides. There is light and dark over the whole shape, but also individual elements within the shape.
    •  Toned grounds
      • An orange ground complements and invigorates a blue sky of similar value. A neutral gray can be used too, as it will appear blue as the eyes try to eliminate the strong orange.
      • Applying thin coats of pigment mixed with linseed oil allows the underpainting to show through, adding depth and transparency.
      • For sunset skies, you can try a yellow ground; violet grey for winter; burnt umber for storms.
    •  Palette
      • Pigments for skies should be considered for opacity, tinting strength, value, intensity, and temperature.
      • Scraping back a tone to reveal a layer beneath is called ‘draw down’.
    •  Brush Technique
      • The sky should be applied without texture.
      • Scumbling – vigorous rubbing action with the tip of the brush at a steep angle, so that paint gets within the weave of the canvas. This allows paint to be applied on top, with speckles showing beneath.
      • Blending – appearance of a continuous surface by feathering to different values/colours. It’s best to mix and apply major transitions of value, leaving minor transitions to blending.
      • Flicker Stroke – paint applied in one direction looks flat – instead, use a random starburst pattern. This will reflect light and bring illiminosity to skies. To be used after scrambling.
      • Trailing Stroke – “. Dragging or gliding the brush across the surface and rocking the brush tip from side to side leaves a scattered brush mark.”
      • Curving Stroke – used for cumulus clouds, twist brush as you apply the paint. Use a dry brush to soften edges


    Practice Time: 3h

    No points.

    Day 4 13/07/2022 

    I got up early to start a painting outdoors – it was a nice spot. I liked how  the thin tree stood proudly silhouetted against a misty backdrop. The sun soon came up and changed the sky considerably.

    Usually, paintings start well, enthusiasm dips by about the 1 hour mark and I start to question “is this a stinker?”, and then I spend a few hours making something ugly better. This painting was the opposite, everything I’ve done from a good start has made it worse and worse! So I’ve decided to just let it dry and have another crack at it later – probably taking it back outside. Maybe it’s just badly composed and no amount of tinkering will help?

    It got me thinking about whether I ought to alter my workflow; spending one session doing the drawing and value underpainting, then come back a second day to colour it. Might be worth experimenting with.

    For next time, I need to fix:

    • Three identical shapes of the hills.
    • The foreground… don’t have a clue what’s going on there. I’m trying to make something out of nothing.
    • Light effect / sky – what am I going for here? Overcast? Sunlit? Early morning? Hard to say from the current painting. Need to figure this out as it’ll have a big impact on everything else.

    Practice Time: 3.5h

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by JackJack.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by JackJack.
    No points.

    Day 4 13/07/2022 (continued)

    I’m keen to continue with the Russian Drawing Course – so the plan is to work on cadaver heads before moving on. Here’s a start on the second of three.

    Practice Time: 1h (4.5h for the day)

    No points.

    Reflections on the landscape course

    So a week ago today I finished a four-day landscape course. It was the first in-person art course I have been on, so I thought I’d write up a few reflections.

    In general, it was a brilliant few days, but not for the reasons I expected beforehand. It was a positive experience because:

    • Long, free days dedicated to painting and nothing else. I don’t have a very demanding life, but it was still a real pleasure to carve out time to prioritise just one thing. I quickly got into a routine and all-of-a-sudden, 5-6 hours of painting a day wasn’t enough. he time was energising. Hopefully this carries over into my daily practice. For the first time, it made me wonder whether a life as a professional artist might be a very good thing.
    • Meeting other students. It had never occurred to me that I took my art study and practice quite seriously, in fact, I’m constantly berating myself for not putting in more time and effort. But, without sounding too self-congratulatory, it was only by contrast to other attendees that it really struck me that this was something I’m taking very seriously.
    • Time spent drawing is well-spent. I’m no great draughtsman, but it was really clear that decent drawing skills separated those who could paint well from those that couldn’t. Many students struggled with basic proportions, or foreshortening fields, etc. Some gave up on a representational depiction of landscape all together. Seeing the value of drawing carry over into painting felt like good justification (if I needed it) for ploughing on with the Russian Academic Drawing course.
    • In person critiques and new techniques. I was a bit nervous going into the course as I had never painted in front of anyone, nor had anyone in-person provide critical feedback. Getting guidance mid-painting was helpful. I was also exposed to a few new techniques, like glazing and the use of transparent pigments, varnishing, etc.
    • Muddy colours. The instructor’s style was higher key and more colourful than mine. Admittedly, I’m aiming for a more naturalistic, Barbizon-style of painting rather than impressionistic. But the instructor often commenting on the dullness of my palette – so this is something I’m thinking about and trying to correct.

    What didn’t make much difference:

    • The Instruction. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a great deal of theoretical instruction. The format was basically just outdoor painting with critiques. Which for me, was a positive, as I think most of the basics would have been covered in NMA’s course already. But there were attendees who had never done landscapes or worked in oils before. They struggled.
    • No smoking gun. Part of me wanted there to be something big that I was missing in my learning and approach to painting, that I could fix and improve. But all the critiques were more around improving that one painting, rather than a impactful gap I could leverage.

    I left the course energised and more pro-NMA than ever (3 people wrote down my recommendations for NMA courses to take, I hope they do). I wouldn’t recommend the course for a beginner, nor do I really think it was worth the money, but I’m still really glad I did it.

    Daniel DaigleDaniel Daigle
    No badges. No points.

    Keep up the great work Jac, those trees are exquisite

    No points.

    Thanks Daniel, making a bit of progress 🙂

    No points.

    Day 5 14/07/2022 

    • I spent a couple hours out on a footpath painting this fantastic oak tree. It doesn’t picture particularly well, but there’s something about the composition I really like. I did an initial lay-in with some thin colour, the plan is to go back a similar time over the weekend to have another stab. I’m enjoying the multi-day process of working on pieces – even if it means I have less resolved pictures to show each day.

    • I also managed an hour or so to continue my second cadaver mask for the Russian Drawing course. The plan is to definitely finish this tomorrow, so I can work on a third before moving on. I’ve found out there’s a fortnightly live model session not too far from me – so I’m keen to progress to the figure.

    • Aside from that, I managed a dozen or so pages on Elements of Landscape. There wasn’t any new information – although a section on the use of transparent vs opaque paint applications was a useful summary of some new stuff I have learned. I’m definitely paying more attention to opacity when painting shadows now.
    • I did read a little bit of John Constable’s Skies. I’m onto the section that’s more about Constable’s understanding of meteorology, as opposed to new information that might help me paint skies. Still, it’s a good book that has me interested in the meteorological conditions featured in paintings.

    Practice Time: 4.5h

    No points.

    Day 6 15/07/2022 

    First day back in work after a couple weeks off and, sadly, not as much time for art practice. I mustn’t lose the energy for practising that ample free time allowed to grow!

    I worked on getting the second cadaver head to a satisfying place. It’s missing refined details, but I think I’ve done the heavy lifting of getting the planes in their right place (roughly speaking). That’s enough for now.

    Practice Time: 2h

    No points.

    Day 7 16/07/2022 

    I just spent a couple hours working on the picture from the other morning. I ended up turning it from an overcast/foggy light effect to a bright morning.


    • Warm 13-15c, despite it being early morning 6:30-8:30am. Heatwave starting in the UK.
    • Humidity relatively low, 75%. Visibility ‘VG’.
    • The background hills were getting swallowed in a fierce warm white light as the sky neared  the sun. The rest of the sky in frame was yellowish-blue.
    • Mostly stratus clouds (I think), appearing to rise from the hills as the morning went on. Faint traces of cirrocumulus clouds above.
    • Ground mostly dry underfoot.
    • Very still, little to no wind.
    No points.

    Day 8 17/07/2022 

    4 hours working on the following picture, half outdoors for a second time and the other half inside. I’m a little bit stuck with it, unsure what else it could use. Plan is to let it dry and perhaps take a third and final look at it.


    • 8:30-11am
    • Warm, 20-23c.
    • Sudden bursts of wind from the north, then stillness. Unlike the other day, the wind was dry and warm.
    • Humidity low, 50-60% – little moisture in the air. So visibility was decent.
    • Low-lying cloud, stratus? Turned the horizon into a violet haze that began clearing as the morning progressed.

    I also worked for an hour on an evening painting. The idea was to follow Juliette Aristides’ process from her Oil Aterlier (which I’ve started watching), but on a landscape instead of still life. So I’ve started with a grisaille underpainting – but I didn’t get very far before I had to get picked up. So this might be a week or so in the making as I still want to do most of it outdoors.

    Aside from that, I read more from Elements of Landscape regarding trees. Nothing too transformative – but I might bring together all the learning I acquire during this 100 day challenge into a single document to share with others. We’ll see.

    Practice Time: 5h

    No points.

    Day 9 18/07/2022 

    Perhaps it’s the heatwave, but I struggled to muster the energy for much art practice today. So I worked for an hour on a charcoal drawing of Dupre’s Old Oak. The idea is to use this as an underdrawing for a master study.

    I also started a third cadaver head for the Russian Drawing course.

    Practice Time: 2h


    Day 10 19/07/2022

    I spent a bit more time on the third cadaver head, still early in the process – hopefully I’ll get it closer to being done tomorrow. I’m keen to get to the full portrait part of the Russian Drawing Course.

    I also spent 1.5h starting an outdoor landscape. I thought it’d be an interesting experiment to follow a similar process used by Juliette Aristides in her Realist Approach to Drawing to Painting, but outdoors. So I worked up an ‘imprimatura’ of the scene. I also spent some time watching YouTube videos on the subject as there’s surprisingly few good tutorials on the method, and none that I could find for landscape (maybe for good reason?).

    I think the next step will be to let it dry, then work up thin layers of colour. I’m unsure where I’ll go back outdoor to do this, or work from photo/memory. If the conditions are similar, I’ll probably go back outside.

    Practice Time: 3h


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