Thinking of trees

Winter branches Faywood

Winter branches Faywood

On my dog walks through the neighborhoods, I often think about trees…well really, I think about how to paint them.  They fascinate me with their different foliage, shapes, sizes, colors of green.  As the leaves have come in this spring, I’ve realized I didn’t get out quite enough during the winter when the leaves are gone, making painting trees easier and more fun.  The sketch and wash above was done at Faywood Hotsprings outside Deming, NM.

It’s really a form of mindfulness, to focus on an aspect of nature around you and really truly look at it.  When my kids were toddlers and life was way too hectic and harried to paint, I would practice mindfulness by finding something cool or interesting in every front yard or house on my route.  It’s amazing what you can find to revel in:  a cool shadow of a weed, the shape of a rock, a beautiful bloom (but that’s the easy part)…you get the idea.

different evergreens        nectarine tree      fuzzy tree

So anyway, back to trees, I decided to snap photos of trees that I see and really look at how I would show them in paint.  Trees are defined by their shape and their color, and important things to consider are the eye holes or the gaps where there isn’t foliage.  the “windows” of the tree.

You can see the left evergreen has more windows of sky that sweep in almost to the trunk and some of the branches are more lacy than others.  The evergreen further down the street has is chunkier, with different size windows.And not all the windows show sky of course, some show houses or dirt behind the tree.   And you would want to vary the shape and sizes of the different boughs, and windows, so that it doesn’t look uniform, even if in life it is uniform.

The middle photo is a nectarine tree and you can see how scraggly shaped it is and if you were painting it the trunk wouldn’t be brown but probably a darker form of green brown.

The fuzzy tree is there to show how it doesn’t have to be crisp and clear to paint from it, and perhaps it’s better because then you aren’t tempted to get bogged down in leaf detail which is really unnecessary and looks less professional to include.  See how those sky holes are very different with this tree.  Note how little of the branches you see before the foliage starts.  In some trees that is way more pronounced than in others. Take for example this palo verde tree in glorious spring bloom.

Palo verde in bloom      palo verde closeup

I’m intrigued lately with how to paint a palo verde against the deep blue cloudless skies we’ve had lately, and I’ve worked out a strategy, so stay tuned…on the right is a closeup of the flowers and rather insignificant greenery of the tree.  It’s name means green stick, and its trunk and branches are absolutely green.

So those are my tree thoughts for the day….what do you focus on when you walk?

Thanks for stopping by…

Riordan workshop wrap up

Cloud_Shadows #2_rachel_murphree_watercolor

Cloud shadows #2

When I was unhappy with my clouds in “Storm Approaching” there was some extra time, so I figured I would try another clouds/mountains landscape. This one is it, and I’m happier with the clouds because they are expressed confidently and freshly. But the rest of it? hmmm….I think the mountains are a bit wonky as is the cloud shadow, but regardless.  it is what it is!!

Views earlier in the morning

white winged doves on a dead scrag with the beautiful Organ Mountains in the background socked in with clouds.

The last workshop day (Friday) was plein air and it was a chilly, windy, cloudy, spitting rain cold day for here.  We were huddled under a shade structure watching the demo and trying to scout out places to paint.  I wished I had brought a hat and gloves!  You can see the earlier cool of the day in the photo of birds in the desert brush. This might be an interesting photo to paint from some day.

Michael gave us a several good tips on finding a subject when painting plein air:  Look for the area of deepest contrast and work out your back, middle and foreground. Move around other components, like trees or bushes, from elsewhere in the landscape if they make the composition more effective.  Also if you’re doing architecture, roofs are lighter than you think because they reflect the sky.  I guess now is a great time to say that he has a new book coming out in February where all the stuff he drilled into us, and tons more I’m sure, will be in.  

Eventually the weather warmed up and the sun came out, followed by sprinkles, and it was a beautiful afternoon.  I think I was just tired from the whole four days and the driving and parenting stuff in the evenings, and didn’t want to do another landscape.  They’re not really what I’m passionate about.

So with his cautions I tackled a more difficult subject, santa rita prickly pear plants that were getting old and tough.  And because it was plein air, I sketched a value sketch but didn’t take a photo.  Silly me.  Those cactus pads are pink/purplish when fresh, and as they age, these ones got very cool gradations of peachs/lime greens/purples/browns, and they really drew my eye.  They were sprawled on the ground and a challenge to work out (invent) a foreground and background.

So in the end, it was an off day.  I didn’t come out with something I’m proud of, but I sure did have fun mixing deep colors wet in wet and playing on  how to pull out edges to make the stiff bristly bits on the edges of the pads.

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

playing wet in wet

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

santa rita prickly pear plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

On the left is a play piece I made and then on the right, the not -so-fresh planned one heavily cropped!!  but still, it was fun, and I was proud of myself for persevering to get something halfway representative. And yes, on more than one bush, I’ve seen prickly pads that are distinct heart shapes, as the little one here in the center.

And I had my first sighting of the year of white crowned sparrows (winter visitors) squeaking to each other in the brush, and a I had to shade my eyes from the warm fall sun to get a gorgeous sighting of a hawk (either  sharp shinned hawk or coopers) flying low overhead.  WOW!  you can’t get better than that for a day that started out dismally!

Trapped clouds

20130921-085315.jpg. My dog walk today was lovely. Cool, delightful breeze and look at these beautiful clouds trapped on the mountain peaks. My dh just told me these are altocumulus standing lenticular clouds. That is a mouthful!

Early morning birds

This morning i came back from an early morning walk to find this juvenile white winged dove in my courtyard. It stayed for over an hour and when it attempted to fly over the walls it didn’t have the skills. It ended up on another pot and it let me drag it out to the front yard. It since joined the other birds feeding on the ground under the feeder.




Yesterday we came back from the dog walk to find four juvie woodpeckers in our front yard trees. You can see one’s silhouette on the mexican elder branch here on the left w grown white winged dove at top.



Arent these blooms amazing? This is from the front yard of a house in my neighborhood. I don’t know what species it is, but note it is in partial shade. Does anyone have a guess? Yesterday i had a lovely driving tour of gardens i like w jean, and it was the only day for these funnel shaped blooms. Perfect timing!

I have been walking mostly twice daily for a week now and it has made me feel so good!


Roses in the snow


The picture says it all.

Photos from my walk

Spring is blooming here and I took some pics on my dog walk.

My small red bud tree finally has blossoms on it this year at least one’s to actually photograph!  Either I don’t give it enough water OR it needs to be a certain height/age before it flowers well.  I’m happy.

This is my beautiful Texas Mountain Laurel bush that didn’t bloom AT ALL last year because of the four day freeze we had (that killed a bunch of trees) but it’s blooming its heart out now!  The smell of grape kool-aid is all over the front yard from this bush.

Cherry blossoms in a neighbor’s yard.  I might want to paint these!