Skip to main content Close up of Pgisrn… Gprins… Spring, a painting by Kate Phoenix.

Inspiration: Pine Forest Paintings

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much

Mary Oliver

There is a place we go, high up in the hills above our hometown, when I am missing the sea. It’s a reservoir and though I’m pretty sure it isn’t tidal, it fills me up somewhat in my incessant quest for water. Water is the answer to all troubles. At least any troubles I’ve encountered and I guess for that in itself I should be grateful. There’s no situation that can’t be improved by a trip to the sea, or failing that, a visit to the reservoir, lido, a wild swim, a warm bath. Even a glass of wine water does a lot to improve a fractious, anxious mind.

A photograph of Dowdeswell Reservoir, near Cheltenham, taken in the winter by Kate Phoenix.

Perhaps what I love most about trips to the reservoir is the eerie, silent pine forest that borders the water’s edge. It is my favourite place around here to visit, both in summer and in winter. In spring and autumn, pines lack the drama, the candyfloss blooms, or the fiery splendour, of their deciduous counterparts. But in winter, they come into their own. Ordered, inky green triangles cut out of a hoary sky, reflected in the gelid, silver water of the reservoir. This is a place that indulges all of my ‘let’s sell everything and move to Norway or Canada’ fantasies. It is a place where wolves and bears live, at least in my imagination. And in summer, the pines provide welcome shade from a searing midday sun.

A photograph of Dowdeswell Woods, near Cheltenham, taken in the winter by Kate Phoenix.

I have produced two very similar pieces of work, inspired by the pine forest. It was the first time I had used techniques that I would normally apply to a smaller piece of work, to a large canvas. I painted an abstract background of inky greens, with hints of blue and white. Even in the height of summer, pine trees feel like they belong to a world of perpetual winter. The sky above the pine tops is white, the clouds fat with billions of snowflakes, as is the ground, which is covered in a thick blanket of frost. I have synaesthesia and so I like to paint how things make me feel, as well as what they look like. For me, pine forests are locked in an eternal frost and so I strived to capture their iciness in my choice of colours and in neat, white lines.

A work in progress shot of Pine Forest I, a painting by Kate Phoenix.

I added some gold, as a subtle lustre often lifts a painting and conveyed lots of texture and energy in my brushstrokes. The pine tops were filled in with fine lines, using a waterproof, white paint pen. With the pen, I had the control I needed to produce delicate patterns in the trunks. I relaxed and gave into the process and have created something which I feel has the personality of pine trees. Elongated, gangling trunks, with sparse foliage, like balding giants.

Pine Forest I, a painting by artist Kate Phoenix.


Pine Forest I, Kate Phoenix, 2016, acrylic, ink and mixed media on canvas, 1.6m x 1m.

This was also the first time in a while that I had worked on a smaller piece. I was initially reluctant to work on a smaller scale, because my style is generally quite painterly, free and abstract, so I often feel cramped when I have less space. However, I was commissioned for a smaller adaption of the original and as it is an illustrative style, I didn’t feel like I was compromising my process. It was certainly a useful project in terms of figuring out what works in different sizes.

Pine Forest II, a painting by artist Kate Phoenix.


Pine Forest II, Kate Phoenix, 2016, acrylic, ink and mixed media on canvas, 90cm x 65m.

A detail shot of Pine Forest II, a painting by artist Kate Phoenix.