My First Released Painting – Yellowstone on Fire

I’ve been working on this for a small eternity, and I am happy to finally release it. It turned out to be a much different experience than I ever imagined. (It’s not for sale… just a personal experiment…)

The work is just below, and under that are a few zoom-in details of various areas, in case you have further interest. There’s also a bit of a how-to down there.


More about the work

Since seeing a painting over the internet is sort of difficult, I have a few zoom-in shots, both directly overhead and from the side with a 50mm prime, in case you are interested in the details.

I have some videos on YouTube where I do these in different ways. ArtRage is pretty good, but this one is PS, where you make an invisible layer on top then use the oilpaint tool (and about 10 brushes) plus a wacom tablet to mix it the paints together. It’s cool because the angle of the brush bristles are the same as the angle of your hand above the tablet!


My goal was to deliver the feeling of a fire and a sunset, one in the same


I think all the blues turned out really well. I was inspired by, among others, the work of Clyde Aspevig.


I found the water very hard to perfect. I remixed my paint about 100 times before I got deep colors.


I did my best to make the edge clouds a mix of fire, clouds, and smoke


This signatures ensures that it will be worth more when I am dead


I repainted the transition clouds time and time again until they felt right. Half my life, it seems, is spent staring at clouds. I did my best to show various layers of clouds in the atmosphere — from the high, wispy, icy clouds to the low, full, clouds of tumult.


The canvas gave everything a nice texture… feels and looks good close up and far away


I kept trying not to sing “Happy Little Trees” during this bit


This was one of my favorite bits of the work – it came more easily than the rest


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  • casusan

    Oh wow!! This is sooo beautiful Trey! Absolutley gorgeous! Feel like I could reach out and touch it – can’t believe you painted this – you’ve been hiding your light ‘under a bushel’ all these years! Way to go!

  • Matt Santomarco

    Of course you can paint…. what can’t you do!!?? Lol. You sure weren’t kidding about studying all the Impressionistic painters and understanding how to capture light using different colors next to each other.

    Great stuff! Love the wispy sunlit clouds.

  • Dino

    Love it! I see a great combination and contrast of the calmness and the passion.

  • Jason Cook

    Love the bush strokes in the clouds and the water. Awesome.

  • Bruce Trinh

    The clouds & color are amazing Trey! I didn’t know you were a closet painter :b.

  • Mahesh Telkar

    This is an exceptional work Trey .. I knew that you are an artist .. this work is beyond expectations .. I simply loved it ! The way the details are presented are beautiful !

  • F. Santana

    You are a true genious, man! Amazing.

  • LightningPaul

    Congratulations! Superb job! Thanks for the close-ups.

  • Tom

    great job! amazing

  • Cliff Baise

    So exactly what medium is this “painting”? Oils? Acrylic? Wacom?
    It is very beautiful indeed!

  • Cliff Cheng Ling Fan

    man didn’t expected that you can actually paint as well! great job!

  • Fran

    Brilliant man :)

    Cheers from Spain!

  • Tim Arai

    …wow. That’s a hell of a painting!! But I like the fact that it has the distinct Trey Ratcliff signature of wide vistas combined with vibrant colors of both bright and dark. An HDR turned beautiful painting!

  • Alberto Oliver

    Truly truly amazing indeed Trey, Congratulations!!

  • Stuck In Customs

    thx all! Sorry for slow responses – internet is sketchy out here – I was just here today in Iceland at 1 AM in the morning!

    (those dashes mean NOT REALLY A ROAD.

  • Evan W Isnor

    I’ve been following your blog for some time now and I’ve been inspired by your photography, techniques and post-processing methods. When I found out recently that your background is in Computer Science I found new respect for you as an intellectual, and now with this painting I have found new respect for you as an artist.

    I love how the rich chaotic tones of the sun set fire to the smokey clouds that billow across the mountain tops. The attention to detail in the reflections is accentuated by your brush strokes and your careful choice of color.

    I hope to see more paintings from you in the future!

  • jovan

    I like it all besides the water…I think the reflection isn’t correct and fire reflection is unrealistic.

    Good job, though ;)

  • Christine

    Wow… seriously amazing! It almost looks like one of the photos you take :)

  • Patrick Ahles

    HDR painting! Just kidding, I think it looks magnificent!

  • Corliss Blakely

    Beautiful painting you capture the light very rich. Have you tried painting on the iPhone . I have painted for years with oils and now using the iPhone and iPad .

  • Aaron Priest

    So, what are you doing with a camera?! Hand that man another brush! :-)

    Seriously, incredible painting. You must have many, many hours into your creation. I also think it has your signature HDR vista feeling.

  • p.m.w

    it’s official, you’re a better painter than photographer…i’m in shock right now….so beautiful…i could stare at that painting for hours….i love that place…i love yellowstone…so wonderful trey :)

  • Jesse

    Nice painting. Good job!

  • Thomas Churchwell

    I’m impressed Trey. Seems we have another interest and talent in common. Bravo!

  • Kali

    Trey, awesome job! Well, I guess we have another painter we need to collect. :) Can’t wait to see more of what you can do with landscapes; you really have an eye for them.

  • Chelle

    Wow, looks awesome!

  • Jimmy Denham

    Looks fantastic Trey. Congrats!

  • Kostas Grigoriou

    This beyond amazing and awesome!!!! i can’t imagine how it will be your last realese!

  • Kostas Grigoriou

    if you can tell us what materials have you used please :)

  • Charles de Courval

    You’ve got tallent man! Congrats!!!

  • David LaSpina / JapanDave

    Fantastic work, Trey! Your next career? :)

  • beautox

    Wow these CS5 plugins are getting real good ;)

  • jacyjoypals

    Congratulations Trey…it is Beautiful!! Amazing color; the sun and clouds had wonderful depth and light. Happy to see you taking your gift to another level.

  • valerie Jardin

    C’est vraiment magnifique! No wonder why you got into HDR, it’s your vision. I bet painting is your way to relax and de-stress.

  • Gail Stayton Moshier

    Wow, Trey, I agree with casusan, you have been hiding yet another great talent!!!! I hope you don’t have to wait until you are “dead” to reap from your painting, lol. I’m sure you will sell lots of prints. It’s very beautiful and well done!!!! Thanks for unvailing your picture on your site!!!!

  • http://www.nekphotography, Jen Hannux

    You definitely delivered the feeling of fire with that painting! Very very good. I especially love the sun’s reflection in the water. And your clouds look amazing.

    NEK Photography

  • Bianca

    Truly AMAZING, Trey!!

  • iWantnext

    holy…this is beyond beautiful! I can’t really say more that there has already been commented. But thanks for sharing this new piece of art of yours.

    I am impressed with the quality of the first picture you took of the whole thing, by the way.

  • Michael Steighner

    Good lord, is there anything you can’t do? Beautiful work my friend. I seriously thought about attempting to paint a few months ago. You have once again inspired me.

    It’s been great fun watching you grow as an artist over that past couple of years :)

  • Fred Schmidt

    Trey – That is absolutely wonderful! It sounds like you are painting traditionally (with brushes), not digitally. You are now translating, via a new medium, all of that deep knowledge and eye you have developed over the past few years, via your HDR photography and production. And to think the drawing all started with some early morning coffee and a sketch pad down at The Driskill. I’m so delighted you have now fully engaged this side of your talent — gotta be so much more liberating and gratifying for you than “running a game company.” :) Looking forward to more!

  • Rob Webster

    Dude, you surprise me with your talent! It’s great to see that an eye for color and composition crosses over from photography to creating your own image from scratch. Maybe you’ll start a trend – photographers picking up paintbrushes. Good work, Trey.

  • Jim Nix

    Trey, very nice indeed. I echo all the wonderful sentiments expressed in the previous comments. One question: is this a painting of a photograph you have somewhere? If so, I would love to see the photo too that was used as inspiration for this beautiful work. Well done. Jim

  • Neel | Learn Food Photogaphy

    This is absolutely amazing Trey. Like some others have said, absolutely fabulous painting.

    The first photo… is that scanned or a photo?

  • Will Kelly

    Love the Bob Ross reference. :)

  • Anthony DeChiaro

    Trey, that is amazing. I initially thought it was a digital edit of one of your HDR’s. I was first drawn to photography for the very reason I am not talented as an artist, it is impressive you are gifted at both – how long exactly have you been painting for??

  • Sue

    So how do you even have time to paint with all your traveling?? Nice job!

  • Nora

    My favorite part of this painting is the color of the sun, it looks as if you applied physical light into the orb and not paint!!! Wow.

  • Liz Ness

    That is AWESOME-BEAUTIFUL, Trey! Love the details, the brush strokes, the colors. Spot-on!

  • Liz Ness

    PS: What is the medium?

  • Rich

    “Happy Little Tree…” I wonder how many people got the “Joy of Painting” reference.

  • Karanjit Singh Sidhu

    So.. is this available for purchase ?

  • Marcus

    Yeah, well… I could do that in Photoshop in a couple of hours! Haha, just kidding :D Truly amazing, the HDR is clearly present in your handicraft. Greetings from a devoted reader in Finland (first comment ever, though)

  • Fernando José Marques Junior

    It is very, very, very beautiful!!
    Love it!!! Congratulations!!!

  • Valentina Vayntraub

    Wow. Truly amazing. Thank you for unleashing it out into the world! Keep it coming! I love the style!

  • Robin

    Nice work Trey! Looks absolutely stunning!

  • Brad

    I’m sure Bob Ross would be very proud of you!

  • john

    I always thought that in artistically talented people it could bleed over into related media, this kinda proves my theory. Do you play an instrument Trey? How about math, thats also related I think.

  • Tina

    Freaking amazing..have to say one of your better photos..I know hard to imagine..You are one talented photographer!

  • Pat

    Breath-taking! Congrats on completing a gorgeous piece of art.

  • starla

    This is simply breathtaking Trey! Beautiful!

  • Zippi

    This really is something to be proud of, you’ve done amazingly. I like the right side of the painting more, it looks so calm as opposed to the left side, and I like calm. Though the fire and clouds on the left look furious and I really like that too. :P

  • Chris


  • Daniel Norwood

    Trey, this is absolutely fantastic! I love your style there in the clouds – they’re gorgeous! I really love how you used various shades and used the impressionistic approach. Fantastic.

  • Bobann

    Amazingly wonderful!!!! You have gifts.

  • Linda Castellani

    This is glorious, Trey!

    P.S. When do you find time to sleep?

  • lucky henry

    Why is the artwork on the mantel covered in plastic?

  • Jamie Zartman

    Well Trey, you win the MVP (multi-dimensional vision painter) award this month. Enjoy Iceland.

    I only wish I had been into photography when I went to high school there in the 60s.

  • Trevor Driscoll

    Wow nice work Trey thats pretty impressive

  • Pradeep

    mind blowing work man!!

  • Tyler

    That is awesome! Great painting, don’t know how you do it.

  • Stewart Baird

    Super man – is it oil? Funny, I was thinking the other day that you should try soft pastels; I’m sure you’d love the tactile feel and rich colours you can get. PLus you can get the layers, you’d get from oils etc. I’ll send you one I’ve done (on flickr I mean).


  • Nate Cornelius

    Stunning work! Im always inspired by paintings and this is certainly no exception. It was worth every hour you spent on it.

  • Kim Gibson

    Wow! This is just fantastic! Yellowstone is one of my fav places and you have really captured it, I am right there when I look at the picture. You are a very talented man!

  • CWKen

    Was the the picture initially shot at Hayden Valley? THe mountain looked like Mount Sheridan to me. Lovely piece of work, Trey! :)

  • Grover Woessner

    Very very beautiful.

  • Patrick Smith

    This is superb! It is a new way of painting. Somewhat impressionistic but with your new-wave eye for hyper-realistic photography. It will be interesting to see how quickly this sells and at what price. You are helping to refresh the arts, so keep up the great work!


  • Jake

    wow, thats so good.

  • Wild About Music Art & Gift Gallery

    Wow Trey! Better start with some music themes to submit next go round…Happy little notes? Great work!

  • kelly morgan

    Apologies if someone has already posted this comment: I hate you (in an endearing, respectful manner, of course)!

  • Pingback: Openness in Photography (and Creativity) | LomiMonk Photography()

  • Wally Benson

    its sad that there are people that come to your site and not know that they have the right brain to make a painting like that….these are special people with special art interests and can do it.

    get a Wacom Intuos4 tablet [or a bamboo], a HDR photo and have fun! Trey thanks for everything you do.


  • Lori

    I was looking for your email to tell you that you should find a really good painter to paint your photographs. You’d make millions!!!!
    And, low and behold, you’ve already thought of that! Good job. Good painting. KEEP IT UP!

  • TJ

    A photographer who can paint and draw?! This is really, really beautiful.

  • Pingback: Yellowstone Through the Years()

  • Shell LaPointe

    I can see years and years of studying landscapes in real life here.
    The light line at the base of the land. The feathering clouds are
    wonderful. Would like to know if you used a feather brush? Great effects.
    and contrast. Been working on a similar type painting myself for quite
    awhile. Getting the greens toned down and shadows are challenging!!

  • AM




  • Deise Lemos

    Muito legal a versatilidade que você possui. Seus trabalhos são sempre surpreendentes e com emoção. Parabéns!

  • Bruce

    A truly delicious painting, Trey. I enjoyed and appreciated the in-depth look at certain aspects and the commentary that went along with it.

    Very interesting how photography (and other explorative activities) can lead to such a good understanding of light and the physical properties of the word, ultimately resulting in being able to express that in a beautiful painting. :)

    — Bruce

  • Hope OHara

    I thought I had commented on this before.. happy little trees.. is hard not to sing when painting.. you really did a marvelous job capturing the beauty and essence of Yellowstone Trey..

  • Veronica Ruiz

    Wow, Trey! You truly are using your God given talents. I’m super envious, but mesmerized, too. What medium did you use? I say it’s acrylic, but with those bright colors, there’s a possibility you used oil.

  • laila ballack

    Well done !

  • stefblog

    amazing work, love it :-)

  • Lucia Vanhoof

    Really beautiful! The light is truly amazing! Congratulations!

  • NotAFool

    This is a canvas print of a photo-shopped image. You know how to use the smudge tool.

  • Trey Ratcliff

    it’s not the smudge tool – it’s layer on top with oilpaints mixed together with on a Wacom. There are about 10+ brushes that you can use… I made a video me doing a subsequent one too. (it’s all up there in the how-to)

  • disqus_AX8SLtuTPj


  • boblane3000

    calling a digital painting a painting isn’t lying…if that were the case 90% of the entertainment art today is a “lie.” however… it sounds like he was insecure that it was digital… which is stupid. Digital painting is so common nowadays people just call it painting… the reason? Because regardless of medium a painting relies on traditional, fundamental skills. The medium doesn’t matter at all aside from getting familiar with how it works. You give me a pack of soy sauce and some water and I’ll paint you a photo real image… or I’ll draw you something with a fucking chocolate bar… or use charcoal, or acrylic, or oil… it’s all based on the same fundamental principles. (I don’t have time for any of that and I don’t care about reddit enough to get my ego all vaginaed up when one of you asks me to paint the mona lisa in soy sauce-not gonna happen, just trying to make a point.)

    For non artists and shitty ones- this type of study from a photo can be as quick as 20 minutes to an hour when done digitally… so chill the fuck out.

    Tip though- don’t use the fucking smudge tool or stupid cs5/cs6 oil brushes like that- it’s what’s making people think you just went over a photo… and if you did paint over a photo that you took later in the day, you will not develop the skills needed to get a job. So, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot… and identifying yourself to everyone as a talent-free liar…IF that’s what you did.

    But definitely, you did not paint this on a canvas. You printed it on canvas, then put a glossy medium over it (notice how the strokes of the gloss don’t correspond to the paint brushes strokes?), notice that there is literally no buildup in texture on the canvas? Anyone who has ever painted traditionally would know, this wasn’t actually painted.

    For the signature to mean something you have to make legitimate contributions of art to the world- you have to become meaningful first, before you signature has any weight.

  • Pingback: Yellowstone on Fire - Phenominal Digital Oil Painting By Trey Ratcliff | American Live Wire()

  • Brie

    Wow, wow Trey! Super ! That is spectacular ! Publish them, YES ! Really nice profit,

  • Got Your Number

    Except of course, you betray yourself with your signature/worth comment. You have an exceedingly high opinion of yourself. It comes across in almost every sentence your write. In this regard, you lack honesty and integrity. And it comes across in your ‘art’ too. It’s our imperfections that make us the unique individuals we are. Acknowledge that, understand that, and you’re half way to becoming an artist of some merit.

    But instead, everything I read about you, as written by you, is about how wonderful you are. Trey Ratcliffe – world’s greatest human being. And I’m afraid that isn’t the thinking or insight of a great artist. Quite the opposite

    Until you open up, your art will always be limited: self aware elder v naivety of child. One has something to say. The other has to say something. Which camp are you in Trey. I know what I think.

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