This is another morning plein air session along Barton Creek just down from the base of the Hill of Life. This was the first session at this particular spot, which I originally chose for the water chute between the rocks, but the lighting wasn’t very good for the water, so I opted to focus on a cool tree on the other side of the creek.
I brought along my trusty plein air sidekick, Zip, to help keep the squirrels in check while painted. The heat was pretty bad today, so we had a hard stop at 11am so Zip wouldn’t get overheated on the way back up the trail. She made sure her temperature wouldn’t be an issue by instantly jumping in the water once I let go of the leash to setup my easel.
I somehow made this piece more difficult than expected. I think the problem was a lack of structure in values and simplification of the greenery from the get go. I used to hate painting trees, but over the past year I’ve managed to get the hang of it and they’re not as frustrating as years past. That said, this composition was tricky because the focal point is a tree within a sea of trees. But I was outside with my dog painting, so I didn’t really care.
The progression gallery below illustrates the various artistic detours I drove along before finding the finish line. The biggest singular challenge was the lack of foliage on the “real” tree, as you can see from the reference photo, so I improvised some leafy bits in amongst the long, spindly trunks. Initially I balked on the vines, thinking they wouldn’t translate to the viewer, looking more like spaghetti, but after a few failed attempts I managed to weave them in convincingly.
The last design decision was using a palette knife for finishing the trunk. I didn’t like the blended look using a brush and invariably a palette knife can add texture, which is ideal for rendering bark on a tree.
If you’re curious about the specific location of this plein air site, I’ve been dropping POI pins on a Google map so I can find my favorite spots in the future. This particular one is located at 30°16’11.0″N 97°49’42.5″W.
PLEASE NOTE this part of the Barton Creek Trail is severely overrun and trashed, especially during the Spring and Summer months. I found tons of trash, especially beer cans, throughout the area. The stretch of the waterway from Hill of Life Dam Falls (northwest) down to Sculpture Falls (southeast) will continue to suffer environmental degradation at an accelerated rate if the City Council and the various environmental groups in Austin (@SaveOurSprings @sosalliance @austinparksfdn @austintexasgov) don’t institute some level of admission controls. Police enforcement and citations for infractions are helpful, but they don’t address the primary issue which is too many people on this sensitive waterway. And last, but not least, the City of Austin needs to honor their legal commitment with the neighborhood to close the Hill of Life trailhead, which they legally agreed to do when a temporary easement was granted by the neighborhood in 1999.
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