Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Commission #4: "The Pecan Grove"

I've done a wide variety of custom artwork over the years, everything from pet portraits to illustrated recipes, but this is the first time I've been asked to paint a grove of trees. This idyllic scene of a family walking through a Georgia pecan grove was a challenge for many reasons.

"The Pecan Grove", 12" x 8" watercolor on 140 lb. paper

First, the top of the reference photo was cut off, so I only had half a scene to work with.

Second, there's so darn much green! I had to figure out how to make the scene interesting when it was basically nothing more than green leaves and tree trunks.

Third, I had to figure out how to represent that glow of warm sunlight filtering through the trees.

Here's how I tackled it:
I started off with a pencil drawing, then masked out a small circle for the sun. I painted a wet-in-wet wash over the entire surface, concentrating my warmest tones in the area where the sun was shining through the trees and down onto the ground.

After the inital wash was dry, I began painting in masses of foliage in the foreground trees with light and medium tones of yellow green. Areas that were in the shade were painted a bluer green. I dropped in darker shades while the first washes were still damp, adding depth to the masses of greenery.

The first light golden brown wash was painted on the tree trunks and branches, which helped to give me a clearer picture of the structure of the trees. After that had dried, I continued adding progressively darker tones, keeping my strokes somewhat choppy to suggest the texture of bark.

Then I laid down some deeper greens and warm golden tones in the grassy area under the trees, keeping it lighter in the center of the picture and being careful to paint around the tree trunks.

Gradually, I began to fill in the spaces between the foreground foliage I had painted earlier. For this step, I used colors that were bluer and less intense than those used in the foreground foliage. I also began to add shadows where needed.

Moving off beyond the edge of the grove, the far landscape takes on a lavender cast, making it recede and fade into the distance.

I added more washes to the grassy area under the trees and used a rough bristle brush to indicate clumps of grass. A bit of spattering added lively texture.

I kept the trees around the central sunny area lighter and warmer, suggesting sun dancing off the leaves. The family - a mom, dad, and toddler triplets - had been masked out early in the process. The masking was removed after the grass was finished. The figures were painted very simply. The two boys are only about 3/8" high, so detail was kept to a minimum. Adding the family to the painting solved the problem of having an uninteresting scene of endless green. Now the picture tells a story.

The foliage closest to the sun was kept light to enhance the feeling of a sunlit glow. After the masking was removed from the sun, I softened the circle to make it look like it was peeking through the leaves. The final touch was to add the rays of sunlight.

To do that, I laid a plastic ruler on the painting where I wanted a line to be, then swiped back and forth beside it with a damp brush. Then I quickly blotted the dampened line with a tissue. I varied the spacing of the radiating lines and skipped parts of some lines, so it looked like the sun's rays were being hidden by leaves or branches here and there. The effect is subtle yet effective.

The young family in the painting was surprised with this wonderful gift on Christmas morning, and they couldn't have been happier. It brings back memories of time spent together relaxing in one of their favorite places - their own beautiful pecan grove.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your process and the story behind each painting. I am just starting to play with watercolor and I am learning a lot from your posts. Your paintings are beautiful and I love the way they glow! I am sure your clients are thrilled with your work.

  2. This is an amazing painting, Leslie. I have a question about your initial wash: Did you use all one color, just varying the tones, or did you use different colors, like blue in the sky area, yellow in the sunlit areas, and green on the ground? If you used different colors, how much did you let them mingle with each other in the wet-in-wet application?

    1. I used different colors, mostly blue and yellow ochre, with the yellow concentrated in the central sunlit area and blue in the sky and shadowed areas of the ground. They mingled a bit where the colors met, but not too much. I didn't want to have a green sky.


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