Since beginning my latest painting, I’ve been obsessed with the dewy, dark forest. My painting does not have any trees, moss or ferns in it, but I am trying to recreate that magical atmosphere and lighting that you see when you are immersed under a huge canopy of trees that blocks out the sun and the quiet that immediately surrounds you.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved elements of nature and the forest that has brought me immense inner peace. Whenever I can, I explore these elements and sometimes I don’t even have to be in a deep dark forest. Just two days ago I went on a small hike with my son just a half hour drive from our home and as soon as we descended into the redwood canyon, it fell quiet and the light faded and the temperature dropped. The whole atmosphere changed into something completely different. If I was alone, I would have taken my sweet time, drinking it all in through my senses. It really is nourishing for my soul.
Here are some of those elements that are especially strong for me that I am either exploring right now in my paintings, or will in the future.
Whether they are growing in the wild or carefully placed in a garden, ferns add a sense of lush greenery. The sword fern, shown here, is very popular in California. One of my first paintings was a close up of a maiden hair fern in unexpected colors. Fiddle head ferns are so beautiful and then the big fern trees look pre-historic. I plan to incorporate more ferns into my paintings.
I can’t begin to express to you how much I love moss. From the long beardy moss that covers trees to the carpet-like mosses that enrobe stones and boulders. If I could only have a moss garden one day! Or see some of the moss forests in Japan or here in the US.
I have a Pinterest board on moss AND fern with some absolutely beautiful photos. You will see why I am so enchanted. I’ve tried painting it, but it just looks like green-painted stones and trees. It’s a bit tricky.
Over the weekend I took my son on our favorite hike into this canyon of redwood trees. We got some desperately needed rain a few days earlier and the ground had been drying out just right by the time we went. The rain made the duff and humus under the trees just explode with little mushrooms (and a few big ones!).
I like not only the variety of shapes the mushrooms have – tall and slender to short and round – but the more deep respect for their ability to either feed or kill. They taste great – on pizza, in soups and wild ones, like Morels are divine! Let us not forget the luxury of the truffle. Mushrooms can also make you very sick or kill you if you consume the wrong kind. Then you have the kind that can expand your consciousness and take you on a mind-bending journey. Many times these journeys change people’s lives and bring deeper meaning and understanding of the universe we are a part of…
Anyway. Mushrooms. While I haven’t painted them, nor do I have any plans to at the moment (although they might be a detail of a painting) I still get really excited when I see them on my hikes. I look out for them and my son and I point them out to each other in delight.
On the hike I just mentioned, we descend into this canyon where the redwood trees grow tall and block out almost all the sun. The forest floor is unencumbered with brush as all plant life compete for sunlight. The temperature drops in the shade. The air becomes absolutely still and it is profoundly quiet except for occasional bird calls. And the light turns this muted green that is so soothing and nourishing to my soul. The lighting looks a lot like the photo above, especially if the sky is overcast in the first place.
It’s like a spotlight shining on nature’s beauty, saying “Look at me!” And I do. And I appreciate and love what nature has shown me.
To round out the experience of the dark forest, I love the smells I encounter. From the fungusy, earthy smell of the ground to wet logs and fresh evergreen trees, I am transported when I step into this environment.
When the sun is out and I’m on a hike that is on a ridge or more inland, I love the smells of the eucalyptus trees, sage brush and manzanita. The eucalyptus especially gives wonderful fresh aromatherapy. Almost all the plants and trees I’ve ever encountered give off a slight herbally smell that is released by the sun’s warmth if you pay attention.
Hiking for me is a sensory immersion and the dark forest is one of my favorite environments.