When confronted with a complex subject, I often despair of ever being able to see it clearly, let alone paint it. I felt that way about this mossy branch. The wood wasn’t so difficult, but the moss bits were very complex. Also, the forms and colors blended together and were mostly indistinct, making them very hard to puzzle out. At first, the best I could do was to just approximately show the positions of the various forms. You can see this stage below.

At my next session, below, I tried to see some further details. Interestingly, the previous stage of just showing the basic positions and shapes helped me here. Unlike before, now my eye had something to fix on in my painting, so that when I looked at the set-up, I knew where to look on my canvas for the corresponding area. The words in my mind were something like: ‘In the set-up, see that clump of moss on the branch near where it forks on the top edge on the right– it actually has a dark greenish bit where it touches the wood.” I could then easily find that bit on my canvas and paint it. I couldn’t have done this right off of the bat at my first session–I was too overwhelmed with detail. For now, I didn’t try to do much more with that little bit of moss, but moved on to another, trying to see just a little more than I had the first time. Below you can see the forms beginning to take shape.

I think it’s important not to criticize yourself for not being able to see and paint details all at once. Until some work has been done, and the eye can identify areas on the canvas that correspond to areas in the set-up, it can’t do the quick back-and-forth studying necessary to accurately observe and capture a color, shape, or relationship. As the painting progresses, and more areas are worked on, it becomes easier and easier to compare and see how the painting needs to be adjusted. Every layer of paint further clarifies the image. It’s amazing to me how after a few sessions, what seemed like chaos in the set-up, is now understandable and paintable.

Above is my latest session. Now that the basics were in, I could begin to see quite detailed bits of shadow, highlights, colors, and forms. Seeing and painting takes time!