Bluebells Demo

Armand Cabrera

The bluebells are starting to peak around the Piedmont here and I had to get out and paint them while they last. They usually come and go in about 10 to 15 days. My two favorite spots are at the old stone bridge at Bull Run in The Manassas Battlefield and Riverbend Park on the Potomac in Great Falls. The Bull Run patch is much smaller than Riverbend Park but provides an intimate setting within the trees along the river. The painting time for this 16×20 was two hours.

In this scene everything is backlit, the sun is low in the sky and is moving from left to right as the sun sets. In a scene like this it is important to lock in shadow patterns and stick to them from the beginning as they will change in a matter of minutes.

I establish my horizon line and big anchor points first in the correct tone and color.

My goal is to cover the entire canvas in the first few minutes to get the color and value relationships that will be constantly shifting later as I paint. While I am willing to incorporate some changes that occur later it is important not to deviate too much or the strong sense of light and shadow is ruined.

Once I have the big shapes established, I start adding elements by designing them into the scene not just trying to copy their placement.

I want to use the colors of the bluebells and there leaves and the game trail that is leading away from me to weave back through the painting breaking up the verticals of the trees and the angles of their cast shadows.

I continue to add elements and refine the larger masses of the painting.


At this point the light has changed enough that I focus on the painting looking up occasionally for information from nature to resolve any passages that haven’t been resolved to my satisfaction.


The finished painting, Bull Run Bluebells 16×20 Oil on Linen

10 thoughts on “Bluebells Demo

  1. This is awesome, I have just recently been looking for information on how other artists deal with changing light situations.

    I know schmid says if you start a painting with the subject in full sunlight and it becomes overcast, then he focuses on the shadow areas until the light emerges again. (obviously your tutorial is about light direction and not consistency but i hope you'll forgive the derailment..)

    This is a great solution, but what about trying to start a painting when it's already partly cloudy and the light is intermittent from the get-go? Today I spent two hours looking for a subject in changing light before giving up because I couldn't be decisive in choosing whether to paint the subject in light or shadow.

    I've also heard some artists say not to bother trying to paint if it's overcast or the light is changing too rapidly but that just seems silly since the world is not always sunny and picturesque..

    Sorry for the long comment, was wondering if you had any thoughts or philosophy on the matter. Thanks in advance!

  2. What I do in situations like that is design the light and shadow patterns on the landscape. Decide where you want a center of interest and thenorchestrate the painting around that idea. Here in VA I am constantly dealing with shifting light outdoors. It is important to not just try and copy but to use the information before you to orchestrate the image.

  3. Thanks for responding! That makes good sense, maybe I just haven't worked up the confidence to make dramatic changes to what I'm seeing yet. Something to work on, thanks for the help 🙂

  4. I like the way you planned that light effect of overexposing the tree limbs in the middle, just shows how much experience you have. Thanks for the look.

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