Artist Troy WeidenheimerFor those who have studied art, most had to take a course in human anatomy but for landscape artists, no one ever told them that tree anatomy was necessary. Members of the Fluvanna Art Association discovered that trees could be just as daunting a subject as the human body.

At a recent workshop, members gathered for Woodland Painting with artist and FAA member, Troy Weidenheimer. But for this workshop, Weidenheimer had some useful advice for artists while sharing valuable insights on everything to do with trees.

He began by reminding members of a previous workshop on clouds.

“The cloud workshop taught you not to paint whip cream balls in a sea of blue but to paint clouds that were ephemeral and diaphanous, fading into the atmosphere,” said Weidenheimer. “This workshop will focus on trees…We will learn to recognize different configurations rather than specific trees.”

He opened by using a folk song to illustrate how trees work. This surprised the members and made them laugh. He stressed not to put foliage on a tree until the tree itself was complete.

“Putting foliage on an awkward tree is like putting a necklace on a pig,” he said. He reviewed with the group foreground, middle-ground and background, and that all the trees in the background would recede or become softer while the trees in the foreground were the sharpest and largest.

He gave the artists tips on how trees work. Light being the main determining factor when doing anything artistic, trees naturally gravitate toward the sun. Weidenheimer explains that trees lean toward whichever direction the light is coming from and that bottom branches grow out and up from the bottom toward the sunlight. In forests with clumps of trees, limited space forces trees to be less bushy and more vertical and leaner, reaching upward toward the light unlike its bushy counterpart out in a pasture.

He described the limbs and branch growth and how they are affected by steady side winds, crowding of other trees when older branches break off and all this forms the shapes of trees.

“As trees age, their branches tend to grow more out than up, in order to give the lower leaves more sunlight,” he said. Showing examples of trees, he noted the details in the branches, the knobs and spurs which give it depth and character.

Once he discussed tree anatomy, he went on to demonstrate painting techniques.

“Trunk, limbs, branches and twigs must slowly taper from beginning to end,” he said. “Masses of tiny branches and twigs at the top of a bare tree should be painted softly, even blurred somewhat.”

Regarding shadows, he reminded artists that branches cast shadows. He then followed this by discussing adding foliage.

“Paint remote branches, leaves, etc. softer and grayer, just as you do all things more distant in a landscape.” He added, “Better to blur or soften all the texture and outer perimeter to suggest the fact that foliage is softer than rocks or buildings and to keep trees from pulling attention away  from the center of interest in the painting.” He added that with a forest, lay in dark color first then paint the first row of trees in the front of the forest.

“Broken branches, squirrel or bird’s nests peeling bark or remaining leaves, add character and realism.”

He explained the color reflected in the tree’s foliage and to pay attention to the light source in order to capture it realistically. He takes issue with the form of painting instruction that mixes a color then dabs it on the canvas to represent trees throughout the painting.

“It looks fake and it looks cheap,” he said. He believes in concentrating on tree anatomy and construction to convey more emotion and realism in one’s work.

“Sunlight reveals movement, branches coming toward you are darker and those receding are lighter and softer creating more definition and contrast.”

Though some artists were frustrated or overwhelmed by the intricacy of a tree’s anatomy, many left the workshop with a new understanding of trees and wanted to carry forward the challenge.