125 – 5 Tips for Painting Foliage

Trees are a lot more than elements in the landscape, they are living breathing entities that we depend on , so we have a very personal connection we feel with them.

They also present the beginning painter with plenty of challenges, not the least of which is their sun-flecked, shimmering foliage. It’s tempting to try to paint each leaf with light dancing across them, but this will inevitably get a painter into trouble. Trying to paint every little leaf and every glint of sunlight can result in a spotty, amateurish depiction.

Here are a few strategies for creating convincing foliage in your landscape paintings, whether a majestic oak tree or a humble shrub.

1. Squint to simplify

This will help you to see the overall values of a tree by eliminating detail.

2. Determine the direction of sunlight

Once you do this you can divide the foliage into areas in light and areas in shadow.

3. Use a faceted or straight-edged contour when sketching

This makes it easier to block in the light and shadow. 

4. See the shapes rather than the individual leaves

Separate the overall shape of the foliage into a light side and a shadow side.

5. Keep the value masses intact

Although it might be tempting to add bright highlights all over your foliage, remember what is in shadow and what is in light. Don’t add too many darks in the light nor too many lights in shadow.
There is plenty to learn about the nature of trees; their movement, growth, endless personalities but I can’t think of a better way to spend ones time as a painter than to roam amongst them.

Happy Drawing and Painting!


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