Bert House – Time Lapse Painting

Bert House

Bert House

Trees in winter, deciduous trees that is, present a particular challenge to the painter. There is no foliage to cloak those fine lines that define the shape. But its necessary to be able to draw the shapes before you paint them.

Trees in a traditional landscape define the scene. The number, type and placing are important if a particular scene is to be recognised or for a design or compositional purpose. Its difficult enough to place the trees as general shapes but its not good if you have to draw in every branch from observation. So being able to ‘construct’ a tree similar to the one you need, is a worthwhile skill to learn. Remember, trees grow to a formula which is found throughout the natural world from the shape of the air passages in our lungs to the delta of the Amazon River.

The rules are simple. The most important one is, the large branch or tree trunk is equal in volume to the sum of the growth of smaller branches into which it splits. Put simply, the branches get consistently smaller the more they split into smaller growths or the longer the shoots have grown. The next thing to keep in mind is that the branches are presenting the leaves to get the maximum light. Different species of trees have developed their own way of achieving this, so there are different basic shapes. Its not necessary to be a botanist or tree expert to recognise the different types as long as the viewer of painting can also recognise the different types.

Practice drawing from photographs or nature to get the route the lines of the branches follow. Using charcoal or a pencil allows a continuous line to be drawn. Start every line at ground level and let it ‘grow’ upward. As each line is added, and not overlapping previous lines, the trunk of the tree gets bigger and if you draw along previously created branches they also get bigger in proportion to the number of lines added. These individual lines end as a fine branch. The tree ‘grows’.  So each branch is the sum of all the lines or smaller branches added. I find this works for me as a starting point with accidents or design changing the shape as I go along.

Painting, as opposed to drawing, using this procedure adds a few difficulties. Paint from a brush is not a continuous line, and a flowing line is needed to give the look of a growing branch. Also the thickness of a brush stroke varies. I use a small long bristled nylon brush which I rotate between my finger tips as i draw. The long bristles hold a lot of paint so you get a longer line. The paint should flow like ink and this works if solvent is used with a little ‘flow helper’ like Liquin. By lifting the brush upwards as I draw the branches, the line gets thinner. This is one of the few advantages of a brush over the charcoal or pencil. Another advantage of brush and liquid paint is to place reservoirs of paint in the thicker branches and use the brush to drag the paint into the finer lines of smaller branches.

I hope this does not sound to complicated but it becomes automatic with practice. This video shows how I used this method on the trees in the foreground. Although the basic principle is followed there are many places where the rules were bent and twisted to achieve the end result. But its good to have some basic guide to follow.

See you soon.


Bert House – Oil Painting

Bert House

Bert House

“Bert House was built between 1720 and 1730 for Captain William Burgh who was Comptroller and Accountant General for Ireland to a design prepared by his brother Thomas Burgh of Oldtown. Thomas was Barrack Overseer in Ireland, a position to which he was appointed in 1701 and was responsible for the building of Trinity College Library, Dr. Steevens Hospital, Dublin and Collins Barracks in Dublin. The latter building is now part of the National Museum of Ireland. The original Bert House consisted of a central block of seven bays, three storey high over a basement. The overlapping side wings were added early in the 19th century. It’s a house steeped in history and the people who lived in Bert House figured prominently in Irish history at various times.” This is an extract of an interesting article written by historian, Frank Taaffe, as part of his Eye on the Past series.

Bert House Photo

Bert House Photo

Its still an impressive mansion on the bank of the River Barrow a few miles north of where I live. I’ve included a photo I took some time ago. In the photo the river is hidden by the line of trees in the middle distance. From the viewpoint I used in the painting, the house is obscured by trees on the river bank. So this painting is a combination of the two viewpoints, probably how the scene would have looked in former times when the grounds were managed in keeping with such a grand estate.

In the last post I mentioned the problems with using a single strong colour in a limited palette of three or four colours. In this painting I’ve used three very strong colours, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow and Prussian Blue. There are none of the problems of any one single colour dominating the painting as in recent paintings. This is achieved by using all three in every single colour mixed. Most of the mixing is on the palette with some mixing produced by blending colours together (as in the sky). Another way of ensuring all three are in the applied paint was by using the same brush repeatedly without removing the previous paint. In this case a ‘filbert’ No. 8 (three quarters of an inch wide). Of course mixing equal quantities of all three produces a grey (as in the clouds), so for example, when a green was needed the crimson was reduced but not eliminated completely.

The video will be ready to post in a few days, see you then.