How to Paint Wood and Old Fence Posts – Learn to See

For as long as I can remember, I have loved wood. I am not talking about plywood or about bits of sawdust glued together and pressed flat. I am talking about wood that still bears resemblance to the time that it spent growing as a tree.


I certainly love trees. I see people within trees. A tree’s branches are its arms reaching toward heaven, and the knots and scars on a tree tell its story.

One Ditch: A Fishing Hole Back Home
Jacki Kellum Watercolor

Not all of a tree’s stories are bright and cheerful, but something about wood is permanent and elemental and epic. A decent piece of wood, even after it has been yanked from the earth, continues to speak to me, and when I paint a piece of wood, I try to tell part of its story, but before I can repeat what a piece of wood says, I must listen.

Fence Row – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

Certainly, I must look, and I must acknowledge the specific marks that makes each piece of wood different from the others.

Fence Post – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

When I paint a piece of wood, my eyes begin to almost touch the scars and the grooves that make it what it is. When I can almost feel the woodgrain, I am ready to paint.

I teach art, and if I were forced to list the top lessons that I would  want my students to carry away from their studies with me, I would have to say that spcificity is one of the most essential qualities of good art. I have looked at many paintings of fence posts online, and I can almost say which artists copied a bad photograph or someone else’s painting of wood. Weak paintings of natural wood and trees and fence posts lack the details that distinguish one piece of wood from another.

The number one thing that artists must learn to do is that they must learn to see–not to merely look–but to see. They must learn to feel with their eyes, and they must learn to hear with their eyes. Then, they must learn to repeat the specific and true stories that they have sensed.

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