Christmas Traditions

I decided to dedicate my first blog post of 2014 to a glance back at Christmas 2013.

2013 Christmas Tree
Oil on linen • 8"x6"
2012 Christmas Tree
Oil on linen • 7"x5"

Harvesting our 2012 "tree."
Our 2013 tree was a full (though tiny) tree
Last Christmas (2012), Andrea's and my first together, we instated two traditions: 1) harvesting a live Christmas tree and 2) painting it from life. These last two Christmases, we enjoyed picking our trees from our own yard.

Please excuse my ragged painting garb
These paintings are a lot of fun, but are also challenging for a few reasons:

1 The lights of the tree look most dramatic when there is little or no other light in the room. This poses the problem of poorly-lit canvases. This year, Andrea clamped a battery-operated barbeque light to her easel. I used a spotlight and placed it outside the doorway so the door frame would help mask the light's influence inside the room.

2 This year, we decided to paint our tree with the shade opened, so we could capture the lights reflected in the window. I found I had to paint these reflections softer and dimmer than the actual bulbs to prevent them from reading as part of the actual tree.

3 Since the light bulbs are at all different angles to the eye and are hidden to various degrees by branches and ornaments, they appear to have differing levels of brightness. If I paint all the bulbs the same brightness, they simply don't look realistic. To achieve the correct effect in my painting, I first have to choose one bulb to be the brightest. I then have to dim the others in the correct proportion to that brightest bulb. The key to accurately comparing values (darks and lights) is to squint slightly at the subject. When your eyelashes come together, your visible range of values is compressed, making it easier to determine how much lighter or darker one value is compared to another. Once I determine how much dimmer each bulb is compared to the brightest one, I have to make sure those same relationships hold true on my canvas.

At the top of my 2013 painting, my stocking is to the left and Andrea's is to the right. They're both hanging at the same level, but Andrea's stretched out longer. Apparently candy is heavier than coal.

Merry Christmas, everyone (really, really late)!

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