Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step

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Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step 1 Obtaining Reference Material

Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree
Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step.

The tree in this painting is a quiver, which are found in dry, semi-desert regions of Southern Africa. They start as a single trunk with a grayish bark; this splits open to reveal a golden, paper-like bark as the tree grows. The ‘leaves’ are thick like those of a succulent, rather than thin and papery as on a ‘normal’ tree. I find quiver trees very appealing because of the way they manage to grow in tough conditions, under the harsh sun baking the soil, with little rain ever refreshing the landscape. And for the golden bark (for which quinacridone gold is perfect!).

This landscape painting is one of a series which came out of a trip made to Kamieskroon in Namaqualand (an area more famous for its spring flowers). Some 50 kilometers east of this tiny village (with one garage and an old, family-run hotel), along corrugated dirt roads, there’s a forest of quiver trees. I stopped on the side of the road and spent several hours sketching, taking reference photos, and generally imprinting the scenes in my mind’s eye. During this time, one car that went by, slowing down to ascertain if I’d broken down… why else would I be wandering in the veld at midday? Next time they’ll know: it’s to obtain reference material for a landscape painting!

02
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Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step 2 Blocking in Shapes

Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step
Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step. Marion Boddy-Evans

This landscape painting was done in acrylics on ready-made canvas. My palette for this landscape painting consisted of: cerulean blue, Prussian blue, titanium buff, quinacridone gold, raw umber, and chromium oxide green. I used a size 14 hoghair filbert brush, a painting knife, and a disposable paper palette (this makes cleaning up really easy!). I chose to do this landscape painting in portrait format because the main subject of the landscape painting was going to be a tall tree and the shape of the canvas would help emphasize its grandeur. The size (18x34”) was simply because this was the largest ready-made canvas I had which wasn’t square.

Using a little raw umber on a brush I sketched where the trunk of the tree would be and roughly some shapes for the rocky landscape. I then painted the sky, first putting down a layer of cerulean blue, which is an intense, opaque “sky blue”. The sky needed to be lighter towards the bottom and darker towards the top so I used thinned the cerulean blue (with water) for the lower parts and used it more thickly towards the top. Once this had dried, I brushed on some Prussian blue at the top. I worked fast and roughly, wanting the brush strokes to be strong and visible as this creates an interesting, textured sky, rather than wanting a flat, perfectly smooth sky.

I then washed my brush out thoroughly to ensure there wasn’t any blue left in it before starting on the rocky foreground.

03
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Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step 3 Blocking in Color

Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step
Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step. Marion Boddy-Evans

Using my brush I blocked in the rocks using titanium buff (a very opaque, creamy paint) and quinacridone gold (a transparent paint which is very intense used straight from the tube and very subtle when used thinly).

I’d decided the sun would be coming from the right-hand side (as you look at the painting) which is why the tree trunk has the shading it does. (Someone who saw the painting at this stage asked who’d stolen the branches!) At this stage the rocks don’t reflect the direction of the sun, I was still just playing with rough shapes and sizes and laying in some base colour for the next stage, which would be done with a painting knife.

04
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Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step 4 Adding Detail

Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step
Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step. Marion Boddy-Evans

I had decided to use a painting knife in order to create texture on the rocks and tree. I didn’t work on any one element at a time, finishing this before I moved onto the next. Rather, I applied one colour to the whole painting, moving onto the next color immediately, not waiting for it to dry.

I worked more or less from dark to light, starting with raw umber for the dark shadows, then quinacridone gold “straight” from the tube, then titanium buff. Lastly I scraped on a little quinacridone gold into some of the still-wet titanium buff, creating the lighter gold areas.

Working wet-on-wet with a painting knife gives you quite a different result to working with a brush. Think of the kind of results you get when you spread jam on top of peanut butter and how this changes depending on how hard you press on the knife. It’s similar working with a painting knife. While I now know what kind of result to expect when I’m using a painting knife, there’s still an element of unpredictability about it because I’m not loading precise amounts of paint each time and am working in broad strokes, not painstakingly. One of the added attractions of working with a painting knife is that the effects can easily undone by simply scraping the paint off with the edge of the painting knife!

05
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Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step 5 Adding Foliage

Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step
Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step. Marion Boddy-Evans

When the rocky ground had dried, I decided it was too dark and a bit busy, that there wasn’t enough of a sun-baked feel to it. So I harshly obliterated some of what I’d done with some titanium buff (I’ve found that it pays to be bold when doing this, rather than tentative; I can always paint in more detail again).

Waiting for the foreground I dry, I moved onto the leaves of the tree. The foliage was applied with a painting knife. I used chromium oxide green, mixing in increasingly more titanium buff. I’d put a little paint on the knife, dab this onto the canvas, moving around to cover each branch, then mix in a bit more titanium buff and go round again.

Never one to waste paint (I usually squeeze only a minimum onto my palette, but had misjudged how much green I would need), I used what was left once I’d finished the leaves of the tree in the rocky foreground. My reasoning was that it would help tie the painting together, even though the landscape didn’t actually have that color in it. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the result, but left it overnight to judge it fresh the next day.

As you can see in the final painting on the next page, I still didn’t like it the next day and painted over it. You can’t see it in the photo, but in the final painting there’s just a hint of green showing in a few places which I think does work. Next time I’ll be more restrained about it.

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Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step 6 The Finished Painting

Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step
Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step. Marion Boddy-Evans

So what else did I do to this painting before I stopped and declared it finished? The green got eliminated from everywhere but the leaves of the tree, the rocks got worked on again to make the lights and darks more subtle. Oh, and the lower part of the sky had a thin glaze of titanium buff on it at some stage, because the sky’s not as blue towards the horizon as it is higher up.

I was pleased with the resultant contrast between the sky (which while ‘busy’ is smooth if you run your hand over it) and the tree and rocky ground, which are quite textured (especially the tree trunk and leaves). I like the slightly abstracted rocky foreground, with the rocks becoming more defined towards the tree, which is the most realistic element in the painting.

While I was working on this painting, the about whether larger or smaller paintings sell better was happening on the Painting Forum. This left me wondering whether I could paint small, as I usually work big. So as soon as I finished this painting, I got out a small canvas to try and so a “small version” (see Step 7 for a photo of the result).

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Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step 7 A Smaller Version

Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step
Landscape Painting: Quiver Tree Step by Step. Marion Boddy-Evans

When I first started working on this “small version” of a quiver tree, I picked up a tiny painting knife I have, thinking the larger one would be too cumbersome for this scale. But, similar to when I use a small brush, I found myself being too fiddly and fussing.

I abandoned it for my normal painting knife and, to my surprise and delight, had no trouble using this for smaller-scale marks. The painting seemed to take no time at all, not just because there was less canvas to cover, but also because what I’d learned with the larger painting was fresh in my brain and hands, and I got seriously into The Zone and it just flowed.

The “small version” has become one of my favorites, been varnished and hung up. When I look at it, I’m reminded of all the quiver trees I’ve painted in the last few months, of my research trip, how by working at a subject again and again, trying to improve on each one, I’ve developed my painting skills, and my sense of achievement. It's even led to a commission!