For this first assignment I am still drawn to the previous work with the baobab trees. I asked a friend who is to lucky to have a baobab in her garden and on in the middle of the street in front of her house in South Africa, to send some pictures of different perspectives – looking up into the tree.

I am influenced by the work of Georgia o Keefe and would like to attempt some of her ideas in The Lawrence Tree in my work.

The work needs to be representational – so I need to show what I see. I keep in mind that o’Keefe’s work was more abstract, as her knowledge of the natural world was channelled into abstract compositions of lines that form shapes and contours while eliminating distracting details, a process of identifying the very essence of a given location or subject. On the Modern Met website I read the following about the artists:…….helped to usher in the American Modernism movement with a style that favors the interpretation of subjects rather than representing them through strict realism. O’Keeffe was best known for her ‘sensuous treatment’ of flowers and her landscape paintings. I am looking at the work of Georgia O Keeffe and read her own words about the tree she painted on the estate of D H Lawrence: “…There was a long weathered carpenter’s bench under the tall tree in front of the little old house that Lawrence had lived in there. I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree…past the trunk and up into the branches. It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree.”

I still think she knew how to look more intently – almost as if with a lense and trying to magnify the beauty of what she saw and bring the viewer ‘into’ her work. I looked at her painting of New York, and again see this different perspective and compositions – almost to dramatise the building by not showing any natural or artificial light.

I decide to work along with the following statement I found on the Tate website: “Representational Art is a term that generally refers to a painting or sculpture that is clearly recognizable for what it claims to be. … Representational Art depicts any identifiable object or series of objects and their physical appearance in reality.” I will aim for my painting to be identifiable, but still keep touch with my idea of looking at the perspective that Georgia O’Keeffe used.

City Night, 1926

On a blog I read the following: “By virtue of the vantage of these paintings, there is a gesture towards some first-person perspective: it looks like we are on ground level, looking up, or from a high window, looking down. But that is all there is: a gesture. From there, the perspective on the city is seeped in ambivalence. Too plain and simple to call it romantic. Too grand to call it disgusted or satiric. The paintings evoke a particular eye, but then resists a point-of-view.” (

I choose to work on a Prussian Blue imprimatura layer and work on a paperboard support. This is a cheaper option than canvas and I feel confident to experiment, if I feel the need to start the process over again. Thinking about the perspective of the tree I want to use, my mind goes to the work of George Beselitz – the upside down works and why he did that.

Drawing on ground

I want to create the feeling that one is looking up into this big tree. I work wet in wet and try not to get to absorbed into detail – the light falling on the branches is not easy and the forms are abstract. I work with Raw Umber, White and Magenta. Looking at the tree from a upward view, there are many lines and angles that could indicate abstraction, and even something almost like a fantasy. I do hope this is what I can indicate. I did a small painting on paper – composition ideas as to how to place the tree for the perspective idea. I decided to use the support in a portrait format, and was later sorry I did not explore using landscape set up for the support – I think I would have been able to get more of the tree canopy into the painting, which could create more drama to the viewer experience. Point I learned here, is to do more preliminary drawings – notes did say so and hinted to ….”look at different possibilities for composition” (Study notes:46) I was over eager to start. I felt happy with idea of purple/brown tonal colours for the tree – this is one of the trees in Africa I had the opportunity to really observe over years, and feel it will be more representational.

preliminary drawings – line and composition

As I started painting, a thought came to mind – it is that I want to feature an enlarged view – almost exaggerated – as this has to do with the feeling one has when standing under such a big tree. I do think this is what I am after. I decide to change the painting – I am going to add another support and elongate the tree – to really experience the upward stare into the tree canopy.

preliminary drawing
Start of painting
Baobab 1 & 2 on paperboard in oil

I decided to do more work on the smaller branches, but I also wanted to do another painting – this time I need to be more observant.

My choice is landscape format and I looked at the O’Keeffe tree and found that if I cut across the support in at least 2/3rds for the canopy of branches of the tree, it would make for a great perspective view. I think of doing a grisaille painting and then add very view colour to the painting. My ground is again a washed Prussian Blue.

small preliminary exercises, pencil and watercolour

Now I like think to add black to my palette – drama for the smaller branches. I start to prepare for the underpainting and use black, white and umber.

my grisaille palette -prefer the off white of flake white, or I mix more OMS into titanium white

I blocked in the darkest darks and needed to work with a drier brush at this stage. This is the slower part of the work. At this stage I have not done anything to the background – still keeping the idea of G O’Keeffe alive in my mind.

This could have been the grisaille and I could stay very realistic with the background and treatment of the tree

Whilst painting, thoughts about the detail work for the surface of the tree comes to mind – I work wet in wet and should be looking at the mediums I add to the paint – less oily would definitely work better. I use linseed oil and Odourless Mineral Spirits (OMS), I did add a bit of Liquin to one of the mediums.

By adding a background with curvy shapes in darker blue , I realise the work becomes more abstract and not what I see on the photograhp references. I will try and add more surface markings to the tree stem and work around the smaller branches. By now I am thinking about size of canvas – I feel I tried to put an idea onto a space, but think a bigger size canvas could have made the dramatic appearance I am after more accentuated. I am also wondering if a bit of yellow sunlight as a light source would not have been a good option. My reference photos were taken early morning/ greyish sky..

Looking back at the exercises and work I have done I am doubting whether the way I set about this assignment was a wise choice. I do believe my tutor will see and advise on many shortcomings. I think I was over eager to start the painting and that I should have stuck to a more realistic painting and given more attention to the details of the tree. At least I know with guidance I can come back to this work. In the process I learnt a bit about the staining quality of my ground layer – I could come back, remove some of the darker overpainting (PBlue) and dilute it with a little bits of OMS. I also realise that different supports would play a role in this process.

I would like to experiment and create feelings into my work . I do love standing under a tree and looking upwards into it- this was at least what I aimed for.

Boabab on paperboard in oil

Thinking about my why for this painting, I realize my own needs to see and realize that in my work. Maybe I saw what I needed to see in the Lawrence Tree, and wanted to tell my story in my painting.

Looking up

Looking back at the experience of this part I think that painting in monochrome made me more aware of looking at forms and lines of the object I wanted to paint – I find that I saw more than what I would have seen if I just looked at the tree. I came to the conclusion that is why this subject stayed longer with me and I wanted to explore my experience of looking at a Baobab tree.

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