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Pastel painting: Light on the rainforest floor

Many artists paint the majesty and gloom of rainforest, but what about the liveliness of patches of sunlight on the forest floor? Magical scenes of water-saturated mosses, combining with ferns and fungi, to create brilliantly, if briefly, illuminated fairy dells and shining crystal palaces of hanging water-droplets.

I have set as my new goal, to try to capture the feeling of rainforest, not just the sombreness and mystery, but the bright beauty of those little scenes. I am not expecting great success in the first instance.

The photo I have chosen (left), taken in 2014, in Washpool National Park, shows the problem with trying to take photos of sunlit patches in rainforest. Cameras exaggerate the contrast between light and dark, making light areas too pale and dark areas can become black.

But I liked the way the sunlight danced over the stones and pebbles beside the creek before settling on the mossy rock in the middle ground, casting lacy shadows and shining light into hidden corners. Yet still much of the picture remains mysteriously dark. My task then was to try to produce a reasonable painting of it using pastels.

I felt that my first attempt (right) on dark brown paper, was too cold - too much black in the shadows and white in the highlights.

So I tried again using a dark blue background paper. In this version (right) I used warmer colours amongst the foreground pebbles, and in the sunlit mossy patches on main rock. But I still felt that the shadows were too dark and uninteresting.

For my third attempt (below), I used a lighter background paper and then under-painted with yellow pastel in the sunlit sections, and with light and dark blue for the rocks in the shade. As a painting, I thought it was brighter and more successful overall.

There are things that I would change, if I did it again, but I think it is time now to move on to a new subject.

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