Apple Tree, oil pastel – a painting WIP diary

I thought you might enjoy seeing how Apple Tree was developed as an oil pastel painting.

First, an underpainting was done using acrylic white and ultramarine paints.  Limiting to one color to concentrate on only forms and values of the scene.  This was a cool underpainting, I could have easily turned the painting into a seascape with a raging sea – do you see it too?

Underpainting Apple TreeNext step was paint in the sky (cobalt blues) and establish the darks (Sepia, Indigo Blue and touches of dark-cool grays) in the apple tree and begin to develop the background landscape.  The painting was set aside for a bit because I needed to figure out how to do the background orchard without it interfering with the foreground tree leaves and blossoms, and not be too complex with detail.

DSCN9146 infraviewIt was decided on mid and light-value range colors (mid and light-value Vandyke Brown of Holbeins, and cool-grays) for the background orchard.  Once painted, I was able to scratch a bit of the paint back to letting the ultramarine show through some.  Also I worked on the mid-ground tree allowing the underpainting to show through for a little depth to the scene.  and finally the foreground grasses were beginning to be established.

DSCN9168Next, some tree branches on the foreground tree were worked in so I could establish the knobby shape of the apple tree, additional tree trunks in the background were developed, a wood fence was painted into the scene and more foreground grasses and a footpath.  The grasses were painted in, then scraped away to find patterns, then painted in again.  It’s a process that I follow to develop thick patches of grass.

DSCN9180 infraviewFinally the leaves and blossoms were painted in – once the initial dark and medium layers were laid down, I scraped them with a razor blade to smooth them out a bit, spread the OPs and also to establish patterns.  I used a painters knife to scrape onto the surface flower blossoms and leaves that would stand out – many colors were used here (pinks, magentas, whites and creams).  The darks pushed the apple tree forward giving it some distinction from the background orchards.  Various other aspects of the foreground grasses and background orchards were more fully established using a painters knife.  Notice that there is a lot of the underpainting peeking through the foreground grasses.

The final, Apple Tree (10×8) ~ click onto the image for a larger view.

Apple Tree with text


About Mary

Oil Pastelist
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76 Responses to Apple Tree, oil pastel – a painting WIP diary

  1. iarxiv says:

    Going from the icescape in the first pic to the last, finished image… wow, what a surprise!

    • Mary says:

      Thanks so much – glad you enjoyed the series of shots, it was one of those interesting underpaintings that was fascinating to develop.

  2. Very interesting, much to learn for me, thanks for this special lesson!

  3. Gallivanta says:

    Love the background image as much as the final product.

  4. lesliepaints says:

    Oh! I absolutely loved seeing this develop. Mary. That first one is so sci-fi when you laid in the underpainting. I see so much more in that than just a seascape. I see a whole landscape in the sky, also. Then, the bare bones of the tree…. so spooky! Thank you for this treat!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much Leslie – I almost left the underpainting just as it was and called it done. My husband has decided he likes underpaintings! I’m glad you enjoyed the series!

  5. dsaquarelles says:

    it is very interesting to see how you do (it is different for watercolour) and it is so magnificient!

  6. So wonderful to watch you building up the layers and the colour. Quite magnificent.

  7. Resa says:

    Wow! Mary, my grandmother used to sing… Don’t sit under the Apple Tree with anyone else but me! Love, love this painting! 🙂

  8. Love the progression. VEry beautiful, Mary!

  9. MAGNY TJELTA says:

    So nice to see the different stages on building a painting. Even all the beautiful work in the first photograph that eventually gets covered up with the foreground.


    • Mary says:

      Thank you Magny. This underpainting was pretty interesting I almost left the underpainting as the “painting” and called it done!

  10. Heidi Hjort says:

    Thank you for sharing your process. It’s wonderful to see the subject emerge. Love this painting!

  11. The step by step progress makes it all the more beautiful at the end… 🙂

  12. anna77dennis says:

    I loved seeing your painting progress and i especially like the apple tree and the way you handled the foreground, really nice!

  13. So fascinating to watch your progression, Mary, and seeing how each step takes us closer to the finished piece. Always appreciate you sharing your process.

  14. Lovely, Mary! Thank you for not only documenting each phase, but for also sharing the process. It’s very interesting to compare the stages. The apple tree looks like she’s dancing. You really brought her to life. The foreground grasses also look very happy. A mini-film!

    • Mary says:

      So great to see you Theadora, thank you so much for your generous feedback and thoughts – love your description of the subject, yes I can see her dancing!! I like that, a mini-film!

  15. Wow…love seeing your vision in the steps of the painting! You have the gift 🙂

  16. exiledprospero says:

    From such humble beginnings…

  17. Interesting way of using oil pastel – the underpainting and the textures. Thank you.

  18. I of July says:

    nice to see your work process… and yes, I definitely enjoyed seeing how Apple Tree was developed 🙂 how do you finally decide that the final is complete and how long did it take you?
    great hand Mary, love it!

    • Mary says:

      Hi Heath, thank you very much! This painting took longer than normal, because I kept setting it aside to think through the process, but actually painting time took about around nine hours. How do I know when it’s finished? Well first oil pastels need tooth (gritty surface) to being able to move the paint around, so if I run out of the grit I can’t load and lay down any more paint – this is one way to tell. But second and usually (like when you write), there is a point when the painting kind of says it done, like in this case there wasn’t a need to add another blade of grass or, more blossoms or impressions in the background of other apple trees – I kind of get a sense that adding anything else will be overplay or gone too far and ruin the piece. Hope this gives you a sense for what you were looking for.

      • I of July says:

        Certainly does, Mary. Thank you for letting me in on the secrets to your successes 🙂 I can totally relate to a piece kind of saying it’s done and it certainly doesn’t appear to need anything added to it – it’s just perfect. I appreciate you taking your time to satisfy my curiosities 🙂

      • Doug says:

        I like how the painting could speak and say it’s done. Seems more joyful than waiting for the grit to groan or colors to turn to all brown. I like seeing and hearing your process. Thanks.

  19. aFrankAngle says:

    As I’ve stated before, I love that you share your process … the method to your madness. 😉

  20. Marcus Case says:

    That’s such an interesting post. Thank you so much.

  21. Ogee says:

    I marvel at how you pull such beauty out of a blank canvas. Wonderful!

  22. Don says:

    So good to see the process Mary.

  23. Wow! Love the way the ocean is lighting up your apple tree. Wonderful process; thanks for sharing, Mary!

  24. Amy says:

    Fascinating! Thank you, Mary to spending time to show us the process. 🙂

  25. A.PROMPTreply says:

    Oh, I love this! The process laid out. Very interesting, Mary!

  26. This is a brilliant post, Mary. It is often thought that a painting is just something the artist “dashes off” because of superior genius or talent—and though that may occasionally be true, in an inspired moment, most of the time it is work (work that is play!) and you have shown here how the process goes. I think the famous artists of old proceeded in the same way (da Vinci, Michelangelo) and I admire how you can show and talk about your thinking process and take us along for the ride!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much Cynthia, loved reading your generous thoughts on the process we go through as an artist. Sometimes it comes together quickly and other paintings take a bit longer to develop, in this case I really had to think through many of the stages. I began taking photographs of WIP stages for every painting when I first stated to paint four years ago, it documents the stages of my work, but more important at least for me, the photographs allows me to evaluate the painting every step of the way. I also stand back and review the work, this combination really helps me to see the piece from different view points. Thank you Cynthia for your compliments, means a lot.

  27. This is so amazing, Mary. I wish you could be my art teacher. 😃

  28. dorannrule says:

    That is the most astounding process and the end result is stunning.

    • Mary says:

      Dorann you always know how to make my day! Thank you so much for your generous compliment – glad you enjoyed seeing the steps.

  29. I loved seeing the stages of your brilliance, Mary! You make it look so easy…and I know it’s not. 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Jill. In some aspects painting is much like writing, from the development thought process to doing and then stepping away to think about the progress of the piece. Appreciate it!

  30. Jet Eliot says:

    I sure enjoyed seeing the progression here, Mary. It’s fascinating to learn how you came to the final and beautiful result. I really liked it a lot. 🙂

  31. This is a superb demonstration of how you build the painting. Very good indeed. Thank you, Mary:)

  32. Wow! I am amazed by the process! Wonderful work!

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Derrick – usually my paintings go much faster, but this one took about 5 or 6 days mainly because I had to keep stopping to think and consider the process.

  33. Arts & Rhymes says:

    Super Lovely! Thanks for showing steps of how it’s done! 🙂 ❤

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