30 in 30: Painting loose watercolor trees with wet-on-wet and plenty of puddles

Trees outside my window, January 9 Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Some days you just want to slop paint on paper. I woke up with a yen to work wet on wet (I normally work wet over dry).

My friend Cynthia Brannvall once said to me that she liked art that suggested rather than described, so that she could make up her own story. I try for that in my work, but my literal mind often wants to control my hand. I love how sometimes watercolor will puddle into suggestions, the less help from me, the better.

Note to self: play more.

This is part of a series exploring one 1-hour painting (nearly) every day in January as part of Leslie Saeta’s series, Thirty Paintings in Thirty Days. To see my experience with the entire series, click on the category, 30 in 30, at right.

Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine
Watercolor by Margaret Sloan

This summer I got to meet the bristlecone pines of Great Basin National Park in Nevada. They live precariously above 10,000 feet between rock and sky. The oldest have been there on the mountain for thousands of years. Some have only a thin strip of bark sheltering a living cambial layer; only that bit of xylem and phloem spirals up the dead part of the trunk to the branches that are still alive.

The trees clasp the rock, seeking out the little bit of soil they find there. They stretch branches of tight, bunchy needles to the sun. I thought they seemed as if they were a conduit between the planet and the sky. When the wind whistles through the short green needles, surely the mountain can feel the branches shiver through the wiry, grasping tree roots.

I fancied the trees spoke to me in long, slow, booming voices. I can’t tell you what they said. Perhaps they just let me know they exist, and that they knew I exist. I know this sounds all Tolkieny and Entish, but when faced with these weathered Methuselahs in the thin air above 10,000 feet, a person thinks these things.

Blogger  Susan Miller posted this quote from  In the Global Forest by Canadian botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger:

“If we go into the forest, we enter a cathedral of creation that we cannot fully understand and that we should not touch. If we go into the forest, we’re blind, deaf and dumb.  We’re blind because trees have perfected the photo-reception of sunlight while we haven’t. We’re deaf because we can’t hear the long sound waves of the movement of trees. We’re dumb because today’s best chemists cannot make some of the chemicals produced by trees. Simply put, we should never forget that as a species, we’re all connected through trees.”

I only made 4 studies for the painting at the top of the post. Once I started the final piece, the painting pretty much just fell out of the paintbrush onto the paper.