santa fe spring, i — nambe forsythia
— oil on panel — 6 x 6 inches — copyright dawn chandler 2011

Forcythia, growing beside the window of my friends Susan and Jeff’s home. I painted this a couple of weeks ago, from a photo I took last year. The challenge was that the lighting in my photo wasn’t very good. It was an overcast day, so there was little contrast to the landscape; shadows and highlights were dull or nonexistent. I tried to fake it by pushing the highlights and smears of sunlight on the wall. Almost, but not quite.

A friend stopped by my studio as I was working on this painting. Not a painter herself, she was surprised to see that I was painting in the window and adobe wall last. She said she would have expected me to paint in the house first, and then paint the forsythia last, on top of the house. Instead I put in the mass of yellow and branches for the bush first and excavated the adobe wall and window around it.

This is usually how I approach painting trees and foliage anymore. I find working this way breaks up the edges of the various shapes, in a more expressive and painterly way than were I to approach it the other way. If I had painted the bush in last, the edges of the branches and foliage would be too sharp relative to the rest of the painting. I know this because that is exactly how I used to try to paint trees and foliage, and came up frustrated every time. Only through trial and error, and studying the technique of some other painters (Kevin McPherson and Richard Schmid, especially) and how they approach trees and foliage, did I start to get the hang of it.