To Return To My Trees

There is a Welsh phrase (not a “Welch” phrase) “dod yn ôl at fy nghoed”, meaning “to return to a balanced state of mind” or the literal translation is “to return to my trees“. This, as you know, is something that I do often. But sometimes, I even surprise myself with how powerful the pull of trees can be. Take this latest tree. I walked out onto this huge expanse of hard sand and then headed directly across to where there was this amazing old fir tree whose growth seems to have split the sandstone, its top is blown off, and its roots getting salted with every winter storm. I could not easily capture its grandness in one image so I pieced a few together and relied mostly on a short video for painting references. After all the little plein air paintings, this is my first studio painting from Hornby Island. Well, let’s see what we have shall we? 

I could have used a 60 x 40 inch canvas for this painting but I resisted and decided instead to see if a smaller 36 x 24 inch could communicate the power of this tree.

We have a start as I gather up the branches lost against the westerly afternoon light of sun and sky.

These will, at first, contrast hard against the expanses of the dark trunk… until I get the reflected light from the sea and sky to the east involved.

I can now sense where the tree is in space as we look way up from the beach floor under our feet. From here, the blocking in process continues until the canvas is covered in wet oil paint.

Now, the real work begins! I build up the paint from both the lightest lights to the darkest dark and everything in between. I desperately what to keep the strength, power and movement of time and space that is already on the canvas. This is essential. I seek the most minimalist of details that all lead towards this one intention and will guide every mark I make from here forward. (Don’t hold your breath though as it will take another few hours and we don’t need any readers passing out in anticipation 😉

I take a long break, plan what we will have for supper, feeling pleasantly pleased with myself that I remembered that we would need to eat. This phenomenon doesn’t always happen when I am in the middle of a larger painting. Sometimes, when I am holding several brushes and standing before a canvas I forget such domestic requirements… until the natural light fades in my painting space. I continue painting…

Now it is late. I have lost my light and I’m too tired to walk up the stairs to the loft studio and get the studio lamp. Besides, I see some rather tricky changes I want to make that will require scraping a bit of paint and starting over. I must stop. This is it for today.

In the morning, with my body stiff and slightly sore from the hours before the canvas the day before, I begin again. As usual, sleep seems to find solutions that a tired painter would struggle with if attempted without it. The last stretch goes easily and each mark of paint finds its proper place.

The painting has come to “resting”. It still needs a final photograph and the edges painted but the majority of work is done!

I am calling this 36 x 24 inch, walnut oil on canvas, painting “Standing Below the Old Fir at Tribune Bay” but it could just as easily be called “Lost Against the Light”.

Let’s step back so you can get a wee bit of distance from it…

The work is still drying and had its edges painted so it will be a bit before I release it. I am thinking, maybe for the show that opens in July at the gallery, unless someone lays claim to it before then.

Hopefully you have enjoyed this behind the scenes development of a new work. In addition, if you are interested, at about the 18 second mark in this next video from Hornby Island, there is a segment that shows this tree in its environment.

Well, that is about it I think.

What are you losing against the light?

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