Three Twisted Trees — A Study in Symbolism

Maybe one of the reasons I’m so in love with tonalist art is that almost all of the landscape paintings predominately feature trees. Of course, trees are a truly large part of nature — not only in size but in symbolism. Trees represent many things: growth, strength, perseverance, and immortality. Many cultures feature trees as part of their mythology, such as the Biblical “Tree of Life” or the Norse “Yggsdrasil”, the World Tree.

For those with an interest in folklore, you might find this site interesting:

Forest and Tree Symbolism in Folklore

The painting I’m sharing today is the 15th in my series of 31 little landscapes. It was inspired by “The Sentinels” by Charles Warren Eaton. As usual, I took my interpretation of his painting in a slightly different direction — lighter skies, trees that are a bit twisted rather than straight, and a more defined foreground area.

I used a very “soft” palette for this painting with colors leaning toward blues and violets. Even the leaves of the trees — which resemble eucalyptus trees — are a deep gray-violet.

What I kept from Eaton’s painting was the idea of sentinels, and I saw these twisted trees standing guard over the landscape. They form a group of three, bringing additional symbolism into my little index card painting.

“Three represents the triad of family; male, female, and child; beginning, middle, and end; birth, life, and death. Of two things we say both; of three things we say all.” From Number Symbolism – Dartmouth

Of course, there are also many symbolic interpretations for the colors I’ve used, and while I didn’t give conscious thought to the concepts violet represents, I find information like this quite interesting:

“Violet is the color of imagination and spirituality. It stimulates the imagination and inspires high ideals. … In terms of colorviolet represents the future, imagination, dreams. Spiritually soothes the emotions, increases our psychic ability, spiritual enlightenment, but holds firmly to the ground.” From About Colors

One thing I am learning through my tonalism project is how important the spiritual aspect was to the landscape painters whose works I am studying. Each wanted to express ideas that went far beyond the simple visual beauty of the earth and skies and forests and lakes they painted. While I’ve always felt a profound reverence in nature, I’d struggled to understand how to express those feelings.

Painting “Three Twisted Trees” gave me an opportunity to consider elements not as mere shapes or forms or simple colors, but as representations of spiritual ideas. Those ideas are vague yet real, difficult to put into words but very much a part of this art. Perhaps others will see those ideas, perhaps not.

For some, this may be nothing more than a 3 x 5 index card painting of three trees. That’s all right. We each see the world differently; we each have different sets of beliefs. Some of us see symbolism easily; some of us tend to see the real much more than the ideas that exist beneath reality.

It was exciting for me to play with my paints, come up with my own interpretation of a painting I like, and give thought to spiritual symbolism as I created this painting. I hope to bring more of my own spiritual experiences to future paintings and in doing so, take my art beyond the ordinary to touch upon something just a bit divine.


  1. What a lovely combination of ideas. 🙂 I love the symbolism of Yggdrasil and multiple representations of it throughout my home and personal life. So, to paint it with even deeper symbolism (in colors and such) is to truly embody all that it represents. I might have to try that myself one of these days.

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    1. I’ve reading more and more Norse mythology, and I’m especially drawn to the goddess Baduhenna because of her connections to “sacred groves”. There’s not a lot of information about her, and she’s usually more associated with battles than with nature. Still, she speaks to me in a clear voice.

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      1. You’ll find very little information. At first, that was discomfiting for me, but through meditation I feel I’ve come to know her. Despite her associations with battles and warriors, I see/feel her more as a comforter for those who have suffered.

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