Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Constant taper, in women and trees

I think how the tree series is going to go, is I will post one small fact, idea or lesson a day for a while. There is so much to say and that seems to be an orderly way to do it.

Here is a masterpiece by Corot. This painting is a near perfect design and the sparkling accents and silvery and olive tones give it an enchanting feeling. I chose this painting because it illustrates a concept that is important in drawing trees, constant taper.

You may have read Victorian writers who praised a woman's pale complexion (that was thought highly desirable) and her TAPERING limbs. The ideal figure of the 19th century would often have a wider middle, or a more hour glass sort of silhouette than might be popular today. But they also prized very small hands and feet. The idea was that her arms and legs tapered in a smooth and continual decrease. Here is an Ingres that does that.

Look at the left leg or the arm of this painting and see what I mean.

Trees do the same thing, each section of the tree as it grows further from the ground, decreases in size. The trunk is the thickest part and the large branches leaving the trunk are the next largest, from that arise smaller and smaller branches and twigs, growing ever thinner still. This gives a grace and an essential logic to the appearance of a tree.

So when representing trees, look for the constant reduction or taper as each structure grows further from the root. If you ignore this you will get a clumsy unnatural look. HOWEVER there are a couple of complicating factors. The reducing size of the trees limbs behave in a slightly different manner than the limbs of the comely maidens of La Belle Epoche. Tomorrow I will build on the principle of continual taper.


Gregory Becker said...

If a tree limb is tapering and foreshortening itself as it approaches the viewer do you think it adds interest or not?
The reason I ask is because alot of paintings show the limbs stretching to the left and right but forsake the approaching and receding limbs.

Love2paint said...

While I am still online, I was just thinking about the shape of the branches today as I plan out in my mind how to handle my oak tree branches. They are tapering but not smoothly, they are gnarly, sometimes jutting out in funny knots & angles. The key here is to study each tree`s growth, some are smoothly tapering, some are not. I always observe the differences in each type of tree.

Allison said...

I'm always entralled to check your posts as I find the design/composition post especially well thought out and useful to me in my own art.There's so many questions I have stewing in my brain about composition and colour and I'm quite sure you would have answers to them!

but as luck would have it, if I'm paitent enough the answer usually crops up in one of your posts eventually.

Thanks for a wonderful reasource!
Allison Lowe

Unknown said...

Now that my nicely tapering limbs are back from holiday travel, I can catch up on posts. What a lovely Corot. The abstract quality of good design is very evident in that one.
I like these posts on trees and hope you will touch on different tree types (ie, pines, firs, hemlocks, as well as deciduous varieties) and how you might approach painting them.

billspaintingmn said...

I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.
Stape, these tree "posts" are really helpful. I love elm trees, I
like the way they express themselves.
Your posts will help me to capture that. Thank you.

Mary Byrom said...

Very nice design posts Stapleton.
Observing trees in a number of paintings... Carlson masses the trunks like walls (when they don't have leaves) then puts a variety of well placed branches in. Grupe does that brush haze treatment to mass the branches of trees in the back ground as a supporting element in his design. Kent did a impressive portrait of a single large tree in New Hampshire. Could you discuss these different approaches and how and why they did this regarding style, technique,handling of paint, focus and design? And my tapering limbs? Oh joy! I can palm a basketball with these tapered delicate hands of mine....

Mary Bullock said...

I believe a few months ago, you mentioned that you had been commissioned to paint a famous tree and had posted a few pictures of the beginning. Did you ever finish that painting and can we see it?

Prairie painter said...

I always knew I was born in the wrong era! Now I know how to describe my foundations. Tapering indeed! Happy 2010, and looking forward to more tree information, something I need to work on a lot more.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sometimes it makes a tree look flattened not to have those.They are often hard to see in practicer though, I guess it depends. They can be the devil to draw.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I begin discussing on of the variants on that tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I have a feeling you are not real interested in snow painting though are you?

Stapleton Kearns said...

We are getting there. I will talk about that but down the road.I am not going to do a lot of tree ID or taxonomy, its nicer to know that stuff but it is out of the purview of this blog. Is that a hornbeam?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Kiss that last elm goodbye. They used to be everywhere didn't they?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will try to remember to comment on that its a good idea for a post. Whats a basket-ball?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will hunt it down, Soyou can see it.I do have a picture of it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, the 19th century is nice, but don't get sick there!