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Monday, October 28, 2013

How To Paint a Red Tree

'Autumn Reverie'               8x10             pastel             ©Karen Margulis
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I love red.  I have a little maple tree outside of my studio. It turns the most brilliant red in Fall.  I can't wait to paint it this year.  But red is hard to paint. I want to paint a red tree that glows.  I want the tree to look like it's on fire.  But so often when we paint red trees they look dull and washed out.  How do we get them to glow?

Just think Sunlight!  Turn towards the sun!

My chart illustrating how to make foliage glow
When we are painting foliage that is getting sunlight we often think we should paint the sunlit leaves lighter than the foliage in shadow.  So if we have a green tree we may choose a light green (think mint) for the sunny leaves.  If we are painting red foliage we might choose a pale red or a pinkish red.

Now our tree looks like it has volume and shape. It has a light side and a dark side. But something is missing. It looks pale and boring. How can we make it look lit by the sun?

The sun is our answer. The sun is warm. if we want the foliage to look sunny then choose a color that is WARMER and not necessarily lighter.  As our foliage moves out of the shadows and into the sun use progressively warmer colors.

Our little red tree then will start out with cool brick red and even purple foliage in the shadows. As the foliage gets closer to the sunlit side, we can use warmer reds. And in the sunniest places we can even use an red orange to orange.

Try a sample...paint two red shapes. Use a pale red/pink on one and an orange red on the other. See the difference a little warmth makes?


robertsloan2art said...

This is so true! I first noticed it looking at real red trees. They usually have some red-orange in them. It's not always on the sun side, following reality may mean some muted russets in the shadows along with violet-reds. But the sun side always glows a bit more orangy!

It's true even with green trees, the sunlit part turns bright yellow-green rather than light mint green. I love your example and that little color chart working it out for different red trees is wonderful. It means you can set up a group of them and still vary them, which often happens in fall foliage.

Even the pink-shading one may read true if it's that black-red kind of dark red that's monochrome. I see the leaves sometimes whiten a bit on them, though it could help using a pink a step warmer than the base. A subtler effect. There is one tree in my usual sketch spots that has that color - very dark red, almost black, and its highlights look pinker rather than orangy. But it's muted and I would use some russet in with the pink too.

robertsloan2art said...

Now here's a tough one for you! Bradley Pears and a certain type of maple will turn and go from bright green through yellow through orange to red at the outermost edges, all those colors on the tree at the same time. Getting volume and light on a tree with that coloration would be challenging but could be wonderful.

When I see one next, I'm going to have to really stare at it to see the hues on the sun side. The greens are usually deepest in, a branch will change green > yellow > orange > red as it's outward from the trunk on those. So clusters moving forward look like red with lighter yellow-orange inside them, the shapes become complex but in real life these are so beautiful.

Maybe following its natural hues and then scumbling yellow on the sun side and violet in the shadows could do it... Just a thought.