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Painting an Ancient Woodland – a Gower painting

Emma Cownie in the Gower Woodlands

Me at Work (with Mitzy)

This blog is made up of 5 photos/images that represent the stages that go into the process of creation of a woodland painting. The first photo is the most joyous. Wandering around the woods (read more about this very special place here), taking photos and marveling at the light. On this day the light was perfect. I was delighted by the way it illuminated the leaves, the moss, and the grass. I was also excited by the fact the woods and stream were flooded with light in a way I had not quite seen before. The time of year and the time of day all affect conditions. No two days are the same. Enjoying the sunshine was the easy part. Woodland Painting Work in Progress #1 Now for the hard work.  My woodland paintings are different from my other paintings. I paint them in a different way. They are more of a semi-abstract construction and less organic than my paintings of clouds, coasts or people. I can’t exactly explain how I ended up doing this, I think it was when I was in my fauvist/refractionist phase. It sort of like constructing a giant puzzle and my head usually aches afterward! So I sketch out the basic position of the trees, stream and the main shadows. Painting is a lot of problem-solving. I have to decide which order to paint different sections of the canvas. Some parts I want to dry and then go back and add detail. So I start by flipping the canvas “upside down” and painting in the light blues and mauves of the sky.  I also need to convince myself that this painting will work so I paint in the tree trunks to “anchor” the painting. I look at the painting in a small mirror – this is a way of allowing me to see it in reverse, and trick my brain into seeing it like other people do (rather than what’s in my head). That’s day one of painting. Woodland Painting Work in Progress #2 On my second and third day of painting, I spend a lot of time thinking about colour and how to mix the right shades. Getting the different greens right is vital, from the fresh yellow greens to the very dark hues.  The hazy trees in the middle distance are difficult to gauge as mixing green with purple makes a dreadful sludge on my palette and nothing like the colour I want. I am anxious about the dark green on the opposite river bank on the left hand of the painting. I worry about getting it right. I have to be able to represent the damp dark greens effectively, without drawing too much attention to them. I mark in the darkest part of the bank and leave them for the next day. It is slow work.
Woodland Painting

Work in Progress #3

On the final day of painting, I pick up speed and tackle the far river bank. I attack the most interesting part by painting in the light on the leaves and the purple shadows at the top of the bank. The purple shadow then blends into the green and by the time I have finished with the bank I am pleased with it. The part of the painting that frightened me the most makes me the happiest. Ironically, no will notice probably it. That’s how exactly it should be. Painting of Woodlands “Path by the Stream” The final stage of the painting is solving the showed foliage in the lower centre of the painting. This I simply into blocks of colour. I want to focus of the painting to be the hazy light at the top part of the painting and I don’t want to draw the eye to the foreground at the bottom of the canvas. In my mind, I struggle with this process. There is alot of indecision. The literal part of my head wants to paint it “as it is” but my artist’s head is trying to reduce the colours into blocks. To help in this process,  I move my reference photo onto a chair so my myopic vision can no longer see the details. I push on and eventually, the canvas is covered. I then will leave the room to make a cup of tea and return with the express purpose of “surprising” the painting. This way I can see it with fresh eyes from the other side of my studio and decide if I am happy with it. I am.  
Painting of woods

From further away

I am delighted to report that I sold “Path By the Stream” to one of my most valued collectors, who has bought many of my works, in beautiful Kent, England.  

I have started my next woodland painting, if you want to follow its progress like & follow me on Facebook.  

Woodland Print

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27 replies »

  1. Always interested to see other artists’ processes, both the thoughts and the painting parts. It always pleases me when I find some overlap between my process and theirs. Even if it’s only to stop for tea and then “surprise” the painting. Except my pauses are a bit longer, more like overnight LOL!

    • Oh I will pause overnight too. Sometimes circumstance meamn I have leave it for a day or two, but its never as good when you come back to it. Sometimes, I decide a certain part needs to dry, or I have had enough of it.

  2. This is very interesting to see your process. With regard to the color creation do you find there is a difference between the color you create on your palette and how it looks on the canvas. Is the color also affected by the other colors on the canvas that are adjacent to it? I’m not an artist and only painted some watercolors as a youngster so this is all new territory for me.

    • I know there’s a lot of information out there on colour theory and how colours look different next different colours. Indeed, I have an excellent little book on colour with handy examples in it. But for sme reason I cant seem to hold this inforamation in my head and I paint what I see and what’s on the palette is pretty much the same as what’s on the canvas. The magic part is how the paint blends on the canvas, there I can add tans and browns and they rearrange themselves and end up looking like bark, or moss. Using artist’s quality paint (rather than cheaper student quality paint) really helps with this, the colours are better and they mix nicely. The joy of oil paint is its vibrancy and how it feels to move it on the canvas – its viscosity. The better quality materials you use the better the effects, I love working on linen canvas (the sort with natural weave) so much so that painting on reguar cotton canvases now feels like painting on sand paper!

      • Ah! Thanks for this reply. I find it fascinating to “see” through your artist’s eyes. I’m sure the top quality of both paint and canvas make the work of creation much better.

  3. I think you have captured the play of light through the forest beautifully. thanks for sharing your process.It is always interesting to see the story behind art works.

  4. This is so great, Emma, that you’re giving us a run down of how you do it. I love it all! How you move it further away probably the most. 😀 I love your effort with the colours and the light. In this particular one I just adore the leaves around the slim tree left from the centre. They look exactly as they must have appeared to you. Just beautiful.

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