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Monday, July 25, 2016

Tips for Painting More Expressive Foliage

'Island Oasis'           9x18        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165

It is so tempting but I have to resist. I have to remind myself that when painting a landscape my goal is to paint my impression of the scene and not to make a photographic copy.

I don't have to paint every leaf on the tree for the viewer to know it is a tree. 

It isn't always easy though. Once the pastel is in my hand and I start painting the tree or shrub it is hard to know when to stop. How many leaves are really necessary and how can our trees and shrubs be more expressive?

the painting before refining the trees
 I took out an older unfinished painting from my pile. I liked the colors but the trees seemed unfinished. It was the perfect painting to practice painting expressive foliage. It only needed a little more work to refine the trees without overdoing them. Here are four tips that helped me finish the foliage in this painting:




  • Spray workable fixative to add texture to a painting. I sprayed the fixative on the trees and grass to darken and fix the color in place. I was then able to highly stumble some greens over the 'fixed' areas creating areas of broken color. The darks remain in place and peek through the added layers giving the suggestion of texture / leaves.

spraying workable fixative over the foliage and grass


  • Create volume in the trees by building up layers of darks and lights. Know where the light is coming from and keep only that part of the trees sunlit. If there are spots of light and dark all over the entire tree they will look too busy and flat. Build the form of the tree with value and temperature changes.
  • Carve the big tree and shrub shapes by painting what is behind these shapes. Painting the sky holes will allow the foliage to take shape. Don't forget to make sure you paint what is behind the tree....it isn't always the sky!
  • Add the finishing touches by painting a few leaf shapes. Use a firmer touch and harder edges on these leaves. Painting a few leaves will allow the viewer to read the whole tree. The viewer will fill in the details so we only need to suggest a few.


1 comment:

Kevin Mack said...

Thanks for another informative post Karen. I love your work.