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Light and Tree: Finding Contrast in the Sunrise in the Woods

One thing as beautiful as a sunrise in the woods is a sunset. In my latest work completed in March, I used acrylic on canvas to create a vivid contrast between the sun rising and the sun setting on a tree.

There are two scenes of the same tree in this painting. You can view it in full at the end of this article. The first scene on the audience’s right depicts the sunrise in the woods.

The tree faces the audience. Light hits the tree and reflects off its surface. The tree’s form merges and blends with the light. The whitespace of the canvas typically associated with negative space in art switches roles with the darker colors to become the object and create contrast with the second scene.

While the darker colors reclaim their role in the positive space of the second scene, the sun now illuminates the tree from behind. It shows the sunset in the woods, a reverse of the first scene.

Similar to the Leaf Series which reveals the whole lifespan of a leaf in one painting, my rendering of light and tree shows a whole day. It too exhibits a cycle of nature. It captures the moment the sun rises, as well as the moment the sun sets in the woods.

The contrast of nature’s opposites is a theme that inhabits my artwork. As well as depicting the sun in the first and last moment of the day, the painting also embodies the opposites of energy and matter in the subject of light and tree.

My goal was to create a strong contrast in this painting. As well as discovering variation through subject and themes, the art invokes contrast through color, light and dark, and different types of lines.

An impressionist influence to capture the sunrise in the woods

When the sun first rises in the morning, it seems almost too bright, perhaps blinding as it washes over everything in its path. The idea for recreating this moment, when the light hits the tree is an impressionist influence to capture the passing moment.​

My recent works continue to experiment with acrylic on canvas, rather than acrylic on paper. I still enjoy using both mediums. However, I find the choice of material results in a different effect.

It is the desire for the different effects that determine my use of the medium, rather than the process. I also apply a white gesso to parts of the canvas even though it is not necessary to use gesso with acrylics. Like the choice of canvas, I primarily use the gesso for the contrasting effect it creates with the brushwork.

You can see the impact of the gesso in the image below. It created the darker horizontal lines that streak through the bright yellow paint.

Sunrise in the woods

Using different types of lines and shapes for contrast

As well as the horizontal lines created with gesso, the painting also exhibits my breaking technique.

After the gesso, I used spilled ink to shape the darkest aspects of the painting. The white space of the canvas surrounds the ink. It represents the light. In the first scene of the sunrise in the woods, the whitespace acts as a positive space.

Before applying the second layer, I wait for the first layer to dry. In between the dark and light, I use brown, tan and grey as transition colors. I apply the acrylic colors using the same process for spilled ink.

While my art uses dry Chinese calligraphy brushes to shape the natural flow of the spilled ink and paint, I also use wet brushes to break the paint and create a layered texture. The water cuts through darker colors and areas where the ink and color are concentrated.

I use this technique to create the textured detail on the tree trunks in the extract below. It is the same technique used in the Root Series. The brush and water break the flow of color and creates an intricate pattern. For some viewers, it resembles the appearance of rough bark.

Sunset in the woods

The elaborate detail created with the wet and dry brushes gives the painting a realistic or life-like effect. As well, the different types of lines deepen the contrast. This next extract of the sunset in the woods, exemplifies how different lines, brushwork, spilled ink and color work together to enhance the depth of the painting.

Sunrise in the woods

Fine art as effortless as a sunset in the woods

Although the composition appears simple, the artwork contains many layers, depth, and detail.

The idea for the two opposing scenes of light and tree began as a random thought. While this painting took a few days to complete, I also experimented with my idea on four or five other canvases before I was satisfied. From concept to completion, I spent a few weeks mastering the contrasting effects of the painting.

While nature makes the rising and setting of the sun seem effortless, like a painting that seeks to achieve a strong contrast, both contain many nuanced layers and fine detail.

Sunrise in the woods

Forest Series, 2018, Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 30x30 Inch

Shulin Sun

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