Intimate Nature

posted in: Blog, Classes, Composition, Painting | 14

Intimacy implies proximity in relationships. A sense of private confidentiality thrives in intimate relationships. Building an intimate relationship with nature can begin by getting close to your subject.  In the 18th and 19th century landscape painters found intimacy with nature making closely observed studies or etudes.  These were not meant to serve as finished fully designed pictures. They were the result of getting close to a particular subject for purposes of scrupulous observation. These etudes could be placed into later larger exhibition pictures. This was standard procedure for Hudson River painters as it was for European landscape painters.

In the mid 1800’s Edward Lear, the poet/painter, traveled widely to create paintings of exotic destinations. As a part of his method he began with etudes of small patches of nature as you see in example 1.  You see how close he got to his subject in this study.

Example 1. Edward Lear’s study of rocks and bits of nature in oil and graphite on blue paper, 9×13”, 1847.

At the same time artists like Robert Leopold LePrince were a part of a trend in which artists visited commonly accepted subjects like the Fontainebleau forest outside of Paris. Here artists made small studies in close proximity to nature. These were not like the specific etude of small patch of nature but rather, they were more complete designs at a small scale. This example (example 2) of LePrince’s is a small oil on cardboard. He places himself alone in a secluded woodland with a meandering stream. He is in close contact with nature here.

Example 2. Robert Leopold LePrince, 1829, Intimate Woodland, oil on cardboard, 11×16”.

Late spring offers a view of lemony immature greens as trees leaf out.  Finding a quiet corner of nature fed by a stream and filtered sunlight has been a strong tradition in landscape painting. I wandered through  local woodlands discovering intimate scenes as you see in the following examples.

My first example is early spring with a close up of a vernal pool.  My point of view is low to the earth, like a raccoon’s.  Evidence of winter’s recent passing can be seen in the cool palette and the bare forest floor but, yellow sunlight and green luminance are on the horizon.

I began this by overpainting an older landscape.  I thought I might be able to harvest some of the qualities of the older landscape while building the new one. Example 3 presents the older landscape before being sacrificed my experiments. Example 4 presents the first stage of the overpainting. Example 5 presents its further development and reveals of the substrate. This example (5) presents the painting in its present state.

Example 3. Step one, the substrate of an older landscape whose colors and textures can be harvested in the creation of the new landscape.

Example 4. Step two, beginning the overpainting with some harvesting of colors and textures from below.

Example 5. Step three, the painting, “Spring Vernal Pool”, an oil on Dibond, 24×24” in its present state.

The genesis of the next painting (see examples 6, 7 and 8) begins as I wandered along a trail and slipped down a muddy embankment to find myself in a small glen with stream that appeared to be swallowed by a forest. My back still shows scars my mishap.

I found a natural arched frame of trees and foliage over a shallow stream. I recognized a familiar composition. Light could bleed from the back and spill with quiet reflecting colors across the stream. To improve analogous color harmony I began this painting on a panel of brushed gold enameled laminated aluminum. This helped amplify the experience of reflected sparkling light.

In step one (example 6) I cover the panel with translucent yellows and blues and vaguely establish the design, a dark circular form surrounded by light and resting on a dark threshold.

Example 6. Step one of “Enchanted Spring” an oil painting on a 24×36” panel. I begin with the blended translucent colors.

Example 7.  Step 2. I start texturing the surface and lift color to find patterns of light.  The textures and colors and orientation of the marks are easily associated with foliage.

Example 8. Step 3. Here is the image “Enchanted Spring” in its present state. I began applying dry brush stippling of opaque light colors to enhance the sensation of luminosity.

I hope you can join me in one of my online zoom classes with demonstrations of various techniques, new and old as well as illustrations of historic and contemporary masters and, discussions of the biology of vision and, how to use science and history to your advantage

You can register for my online classes at this website, or at You may want to check out my new article on how to build a painting in the current Artists Magazine.  My work is also featured on the cover and inside the new issue of American Art Collector magazine.

14 Responses

  1. Connie

    Dear David – It is amazing that you can create these beautiful paintings so gracefully. Your creativity is fabulous! xox, Connie

  2. Janine Robertson

    I love the warm filtered light. A beautiful taste of spring.


    The poetry in your paintings reflects your love of nature and how it seeps into your soul.

  4. Melanie Ward

    I love the fresh spring colors of Enchanted Spring. Your first example, where you painted over an older painting is inspiring and the colors of blue and green reflections are beautiful.

  5. Chris tugeau

    So good to see your work – I take it Silvermine classes won’t be in effect this summer?

    • dd_admin

      Chris, thank you. I will be offering online courses through and here at

  6. Patricia Scanlan

    David: These examples are inspiring me to go ahead and paint some of the woods I take photos of on my walks. You have given me direction. The colors of Enchanted Spring do feel luminous! Thank you. I will try the dry brush technique and hope to know when to stop!
    Patricia Scanlan

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