Thursday, April 21, 2011


The nature in its' various forms, has been playing an important role in my paintings. The trees have especially been a continuouse source of inspiration. I love trees. I respect them, I am amazed by them, inspired,  and I often get elated when standing under a mighty specimen of the largest and the longest living single organism on Earth.
Since my early childhood, I have spent much of the time in contact with the nature. Climbing trees was one of my major trills as a child, especially if the tree was bearing sweet cherries and grew in the neighbor’s garden. And although I spent countless pleasant hours playing in the friendly shadow of many trees, especially a huge walnut tree, that was so big that covered almost the entire yard of my grandparent’s house; it was only when I saw the book Fairies, illustrated by Alan Lee and Brian Froud, that I realized how much I was attracted to the trees. The wonderfully rendered trees of Alan Lee made an unforgettable impact on me. In the subsequent years, slowly and gradually, the trees started to appear in my own work.

Alan Lee

Alan Lee

Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham

Early work inspired by Alan Lee

Beside the wonderful illustrations of Alan Lee, the enchanting art of Arthur Rackham, populated by the most remarkable trees, has influenced and inspired me greatly. These artists not only drew and painted the trees with passion and understanding, but also made them a crucial part of their art and by doing so, enriched it in many different ways.
I think it’s quite safe to say that, without the trees, a number of my paintings would be a bit “meagre”, less interesting and they certainly wouldn’t possess that fairytale feel. I am sure that the appeal of several major paintings from The Legend of Steel Bashaw owes a lot to the trees. From 16 paintings that are in the book,  12 of them contain a tree (or trees), in most of the cases as a prominent compositional element. In the Steel Bashaw paintings, the use of the trees enabled me to strengthen the composition  and to make it more interesting and appealing. I used the trees in order to suggest the overwhelming grandeur of the nature,  and at the same time to emphasize the movement and the drama in the painting. The trees even helped me to define the personal qualities of the main characters, and the nature and the energy of the events. In other words I often used the trees as the secondary compositional element in order to define, strengthen and  emphasize the primary aspects of the composition.

But beside all the rational explanations why I use the trees in my paintings, the main reason is that I just  love to paint them and to have them in my paintings. One could say that the trees are the main silent characters of the pictorial side of many of my paintings, especially those from The Legend of Steel Bashaw. I have heard people often commenting on the trees from my paintings, most of them saying that my trees have a certain character, a personality. Because I am not able to see my work objectively, or through somebody else’s eyes, I have to believe it, and if this is true, it is then probably because of the passionate connection that I have with the trees. For I believe that it is not possible to make a convincing painting of an object, or an event, if we are not able to identify with it within ourselves. If you can’t  feel it from inside, you can’t paint it properly. In case you are a skillful professional, without identifying with the subject you paint, you will probably end up with nicely executed surface, but there will be no soul or spirit inside. It will be an empty shell, in technical terms perhaps brilliantly painted, but still empty, not much more than that… What is this material world of ours, if there is no spirit within…? The best things are coming from the inside.
Awakening, oil on canvas 125x90 cm, 2006/2007

Children of the Lamp #5, Scholastic Inc., 42x57 cm
(16 1/2 x 22 1/2 inch), oil on masonite, 2007

“…being a great fan of South Limburg (Zuid Limburg), a beautiful southern province of the Netherlands, my wife and I often went there to hike over the rolling countryside. Once we came across a beautiful, old  and very small traditional South Limburg house, with a majestic chestnuts tree just in front of the entrance. It was a pleasant autumn day and the warm golden light was hitting the treetop, casting shadows onto the house walls. It looked like a scene from the Brothers Grimm fairytale. I was struck by the charming beauty of the scene and had to stop and make a great number of photos, until the battery of my camera was empty. The next day I came back and made some more photos. I was so inspired by the energy of the place and the majestic chestnuts tree, that I wanted to absorb as much as possible of the atmosphere and carry it home within me, in order to make it into a painting. Back home, I immediately started to make the preparations for painting. The only thing I was certain about was that I must paint that small house and the big tree, but apart from that I did not have any idea about the context. I considered a couple of ideas but none of them turned to make any sense. After many weeks of despair, one morning I went to my studio, took the enlarged photo of the little house with the tree and looked at it for a while, as I often did. Suddenly I realized that it has to be a painting from The Legend of Steel Bashaw. I envisioned the scene and the story, which would go with it, fell into place. When the painting was  finished it became one of my favorite paintings from the book.”
(From the Flesk interview, linked to this blog)

Once, an art lover asked me while looking at my paintings with trees, whether I believe in and exercise the shamanistic practice. “Not that I am aware of”, I replied.  That brought a thought to my mind, an idea that was crystalizing in my mind for some time. As the time passes by I am more and more convinced that if you want to be a true artist, you must not get too cultivated. You must keep a part of that ancient, untamed spirit within you alive. It will show you the true colors… Be more in contact with the intuition, than with reason. Learn the technique as much as you want, or as good as you can, than don’t think about it anymore. Just create.
And, of course - don’t forget to climb trees…….(this one is a joke)

Well, in any case, I wish you a pleasant day!

You might ask what I mean by “true artist”? This is a very complex question and I will be speculating on that topic in one of my future blog posts. For now, I will use Joseph Campbell’s idea that an artist should be a kind of modern shaman, who in search of the answers to the crucial questions, penetrates the transcendental level of existence, and brings new insights to the surface.


  1. Trees, Alan Lee, Joseph Campbell and Steel Bashaw all in one thoughtful and honest post, who could ask for more... Thanks Petar, look forward to the next one :)

  2. wonderful post sir and lovely ending thoughts.
    your trees possess wonderful character and grandeur. Gorgeous!

    roots planted in the earth
    branches dancing with the heavens
    home to those who crawl and fly
    shade and rest for those below
    the majesty and gifts of trees~

  3. Petar - one of the things that first drew me to your work was your obvious love of trees and nature. Thanks for a great post.

    Also - it's interesting to see you working with watercolour in the early days.

  4. One of the great drawbacks of education is its attempt to take all mystery out of art. I see it every day as I work with people who love to talk and write about art more than they love to make it. It is that love of mysterious part of creation that draws me to you Petar. Of course one must have the skills and understanding but that is a given and can be learned. It's that shamanistic presence that resides in a true artists.

    My colleagues would think me cheesy and simple-minded but I love the magic of making images.

    Trees have old souls. Yours especially, and I think you recognized that in the trees of Lee and Rackham, etc.. Your work reveals an old soul.

  5. Trees are like huge solid fractals all around us. Drawing them means to be tuned with their harmony, if not the result is a mess of elements and strokes without rhythm.
    There is another great artist with exceptional trees in his works: John Jude Palencar.
    Thanks for an inspiring post Petar!

  6. Lovely vibrant artwork, thanks for posting I enjoyed viewing these pieces.

  7. Thanks, Nate!

    Tammie - where does this verse come from? It’s quite nice. Thanks!

    Hello Larry! – nice to hear from you again. I might post more of my old watercolor illustrations in a future post… Thanks for the idea!

    Dear Bill – not so long ago the kindred artistic spirits met in a café and with the help of a glass, or two, of absinthe, wine or a good beer, they would discuss the matters that really matter – art, life, sports… We “lucky” modern people are doomed to share our thoughts and ideas through that dry, emotionless internet, or some new long-range communication device …However, I hope it will take you not too long to decide to visit Europe… as you already know, I do not serve absinthe, but proper Turkish coffee and strong brandy, called sljivovitsa (good for inspiration, by the way).

    Antonio – nicely and wisely spoken. Yes, I know the work of Master Palencar, and I appreciate it very much. Thanks!

    Thanks, Atom!

  8. I miss trees! We don´t have many up north on 66´degree, but we have lovely mountains and huge sky and water, it makes up for lack of trees from my grandparents countryside in our lovely Serbia,Petar...I have fallowed your blog after buying your book on amazon, and it didn´t take long to become one of my idols, thank you so much...greetings from Iceland!

  9. Zaza – from the green Serbian woods and lush meadows, to the icy Iceland, with its huge skies and Aurora Borealis, as a compensation for the lack of trees (not bad at all) – that is a huge geographical leap. People say: there where my heart is, is my home. I hope you feel at home there.

    Steel Bashaw in Iceland, great idea. Life is full of surprises, fotunately. Thank you Zaza for the lovely comment, and keep up the good work!

  10. Your work is amazing!
    Thank you for sharing.

  11. Thanks very much for stopping by, Ching San!