The foliage project was a quick project we painted in between other projects. It was also the last project we painted that the instructors demonstrated on.. The foliage project came toward the end of the second week of Cobalt Studios Summer Scene Painting. After the foliage project, the format changed and we were accountable for everything we had been taught to that point. I liked that approach. Class demonstrations until all of the skills had been taught and then a whole week of painting where we had to determine for ourselves with a little guidance from the teachers what paint techniques we would use. But more of that later.
Rachel had pre-mixed all of the paint we would need on the foliage project. The first thing we did was to look at photographs from magazines of trees and foliage. We talked about what we noticed in the pictures, things like the aerial perspective and such. Then we went over to the paint deck and Rachel demonstrated the techniques for painting foliage. Each of us painted from the same photo as Rachel. This was the last time we would all be painting the same thing.
Step #1: The Sky
The first thing we did was cartoon out our horizon line with charcoal on a bamboo. Then we were ready to paint the sky The sample we were given to paint from had a very pale sky, almost white with just a little hint of blue in it. We put our paint in a garden sprayer and laid in our sky color very quickly.
|Horizon line and very pale sky color laid in with garden sprayer|
Step #2: The Horizon Line Part #1
We had several greens and blues pre-mixed by Rachel. These are colors that she derived from our photo reference. We painted the bush in the background first by brushing and dabbing. We dabbed our paint to create a leafy texture. It's also important to find a brush that has splayed bristles or a brush that you can get the bristles to splay. That helps with the texture.
Once that part is dry, we had to paint the aerial perspective. Aerial perspective is when items in the background appear lighter and hazier than things in the foreground. I had always thought you had to mix separate paints for aerial perspective. Seemed like a lot of extra work.
Rachel introduced us to a new tool called a PreVal Sprayer. Basically, a PreVal is an air canister with a jar beneath where you can make your own custom color of spray paint. It works with oil, alcohol or water based paints and dyes. Pretty incredible.
We took the sky color and put it in a PreVal and sprayed over the background bushes. Now that I know about that, it seems intuitive. But it was mind blowing at the time. Suddenly, by adding the sky color over the top, it blended the background bushes with the sky, or at least brought them a little closer together. The real thing it did, though was to make the bushes in the background live in the same world as the bushes in the mid-ground because we used the same colors. The sky color made the background bushes hazier and lighter.
|The background bushes dabbed on with three colors or so|
|The PreVal Sprayer with sky color|
|The background bush with sky color on it|
Step #3: The Horizon Line Part #2
Next, we painted the mid-ground with the same colors we used for the background. This time, though we used an additional darker brown to get into the shadowy part of the bushes. This was painted by brushing and dabbing as well. When we painted the background, we deliberately painted over the lines between the background and the mid-ground so we'd overlap them. We also spent more time on the mid-ground shaping and giving drama and character to the bushes. We paid attention to highlight and shadow in this step.
|The mid-ground painted with stroking and dabbing|
Step #4: The Tree Limbs
We painted this project very rapidly and I did not get any photos of this step. However, in the final photo you can see what we did.
We took large Purdy brushes (two or three inch angled sash brushes) and a darkened burnt umber and while looking at the original source material upside down, we painted the tree limbs upside down. On drapery and foliage, Rachel said she liked to paint upside down because she could focus on the abstract nature of things rather than try to intellectualize about shade and shadow. That made sense to me because I like intuitive stuff better than intellectual stuff for the most part.
We laid in the tree limbs and then paid attention to the minor branches. Then it was time to finish the piece.
Step #5: The Leaves
For the leaves, we used cut rollers. These were foam rollers with leaf shapes cut into them. Or in other words, we drew the leaves with a sharpie pen on a foam roller and cut away everything else. We poured our darkest color out onto a food service tray and then charged the roller. The darkest color we rolled everywhere there were to be leaves. It's important when using a roller like this to not just roll. It's more of a flick and dab approach so you lay down individual leaves rather than creating a pattern. It's appropriate to just use a corner of the roller here and there to create single leaves.
While that color was still wet, we poured a lighter color for the mid-value leaves onto the food service tray. We didn't clean the tray in between these steps. We used the leftover dark as a color that would mix in the roller. In that way, we got two or three shades of paint while only using two colors. This step covered only about sixty to seventy percent of the leafy area.
While that process was still wet, we added our highlight color to the tray and without cleaning the tray or roller we painted in the lightest color of leaves. The highlight color only covered between five and ten percent of the total piece, and we were careful to add it where the lightsource would actually highlight the branches or leaves in our sample.
|The finished piece. Note the food service tray with all colors on it.|
This was a very quick and messy technique. Messy and sloppy, and yet the results are excellent.The use of the PreVal and the sky color to achieve aerial perspective was revelatory for me. I also liked the use of the cut roller to achieve the foliage in a very quick way.
When I have painted foliage before, it was tedious and I had a difficult time allowing the negative space between leaves and branches. I tended to fill everything in. Painting most of the foliage upside down also helped. It allowed for more abstract thought rather than trying to think my way through every branch and every leaf.
While she was demonstrating, Rachel took a brush full of paint and painted some green paint on the bogus paper. Then she stepped on it and took a step on her work, which left a footprint in the middle of the sky where the branches were to go.
She winked and said if she couldn't fix something like that she didn't deserve to be a scenic artist. Priceless.