38" x 24"
This is the second painting I have made of the Smoky Mountains in Early Spring. I find the soft pastel shades so peaceful that I could paint these mountains again and again. In a few weeks all of these trees will be green. But during a short period in the spring the trees are in flower or sprouting new leaves, which often begin red or ochre before turning green.
The trees covered with white flowers in the foreground are Juneberry Trees, also known as Serviceberry or Shadbush (Amelanchier in Botanical terms). Juneberry flowers are “showy” like the flowering trees in our gardens. All of the other trees in the forest have flowers too, but they are not as showy. From up close the flowers on the oak trees, mainly Red and white Oaks (Quercus rubra and Quercus alba), look like strings of breakfast cereal—tiny rust colored crumbles. And the flowers of the Red maples (Acer rubrum) look like tiny red bouquets. You wouldn’t be inclined to pick them for your flower vase. But, when tens of thousands of them cover a huge tree, they look like pastel colored pillows from a distance. This is what I tried to capture in this painting.
A few years ago, these pillowy mounds would be punctured by dark spires sprinkled all over the mountains. The spires were Hemlock trees (Tsuga Canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana). Today all that is left of the Hemlocks in this vista are bleached skeletons. They have been killed by the woolly adelgid blight, an invasive bug from Asia. As an artist I was faced with a dilemma. I could have easily clothed these bare skeletons with the lush dark green branches or I could have left them out altogether. After all, if I had painted this scene ten years ago, the Hemlocks would have been healthy and if I would have waited a few more years from now the bare trunks will have fallen down. But in the end my respect for validity won over my desire to make a pleasing picture. This is how these mountains looked in the spring of 2013.
Spring colors require a great deal of restraint from the artist. Most colors, like orange or red straight from the tube, are too brilliant to depict the subtlety of the spring colors. They have to be muted. A better approach is to use the earth colors, so called because they are all compounds of iron oxides, like the siennas, ochres, and browns. Even these need to be muted further to depict the greying of the colors as they disappear into the mist in the distance.