"Your cyber source for artist news and education!"
© 1998, 1999, WetCanvas!

[ Home: ArtSchool Online: Oil Painting: Painting Simple Summer Foliage ]
Painting Simple Summer Foliage with Oils

Author: Scott Burkett


This simple tutorial will talk the novice oil painter through painting a series of bushes and tree shapes in a summer setting. This tutorial is designed to be done in a single session (alla prima). I used a pre-stretched, pre-primed 18x24 cotton duct, medium textured canvas purchased at a local art supply store. I chose to use this canvas for the demo, as it was damaged (see indention on the lower left of canvas), and not really usable for anything else.

As you can see from the photo on the right, the final piece contains a few bushes flanked by a small tree. The goal of this tutorial is to introduce the beginning oil painter to some of the various concepts and tools used in creating simple summer landscapes.


The materials used here are a small amount of turpenoid (odorless turpentine), a small palette cup (or metal can), a variety of small flat and filbert style brushes, and our palette knife for mixing colors. Colors used are raw umber, sap green, cobalt blue, cadmium yellow, alizarin crimson and titanium white.

The first thing we need to do is prepare a small batch of thinned raw umber. First, notice how small the blob of paint is on my palette. One very common mistake made by new painters is they tend to put massive piles of paint on the palette. Believe it or not, this little swatch of paint is actually too much for this demo!
Now that we have a working pile o' paint on the palette, we need to thin it a bit using a few drops of turpenoid. We are thinning this color so that we can use it to "sketch", or create our underpainting. The turpenoid keeps the paint thin enough to work with, and allows it to dry much quicker than if we had just used paint by itself. Notice the watercolor-like consistency.


Now its time to "sketch" our small bush. Notice that the sketch is simply a sphere, with a shadowy area cast down to the left. I always begin a painting like this, thinking in terms of "objects" on the canvas, rather than "a tree" or "a bush". We aren't looking to "produce" a bush on our first set of brushstrokes. They should be loose and free.

Let's continue our underpainting by adding some more of the thinned raw umber (a bit more pigment, and less thinner now - to make it darker). See how to circle is beginning to resemble a shaded sphere with a shadow? At this stage, we are finalizing the overall mass and structure of the "object", in this case, a bush.


Okay, take a break now - give your sketch about 10-15 minutes to dry. For now, you can read ahead a bit if you'd like to prepare for phase two.

Okay, now that we have an overall shape to work with, lets begin mixing up some dark green color to use on this little bush. I put a little dab of sap green onto the palette, next to the raw umber. Add a very small amount of alizarin crimson to the end of your palette knife. (See the photo for my definition of "a very small amount"). Crimson is a strong color... :-)

Mix this small speck of alizarin crimson into a small section of sap green by "pulling" your palette knife into a small portion of the sap green. A lot of beginners tend to mix the second color using the entire batch of the first! Don't! Save most of your original sap green for later - we just need a small bit for now. Experiment with this until you derive a dark, brownish-green hue.
Once the underpainting of thinned raw umber is dry, add the new dark green mixture to the original spherical shape using short "dabs" and "pulls" of a small filbert or flat brush. Notice the "details" around the edges of the bush. As you work the brush closer to the edge, turn it on its side, really move it around. Be sure to pull some of this color down into the shadow area.
Now, let's mix up a quick batch of color to use as midtones. Just pull some titanium white over some of the sap green to make a light green color. This is the color we will use to provide some simple leaf shapes. (I have put a bit of extra white in this batch to show you the contrast, don't make it quite this bright!).

We add the midtones in the same manner as the original dark tones, just using short pulls of the brush at different angles. Be sure to pull some of this midtone down into the shadow for a touch of realism.

Create a nice highlight color by pulling some cadmium yellow and titanium white over a small bit of the light green mix.

We apply the highlight color on the right side of the bush, as dictated by our original shadow cast off to the left. Notice that there are a few dabs of this highlight color toward the left of the bush. This indicates branches that are facing the viewer.
See how easy that was! Here, I've added a second bush using cobalt blue, titanium white, and a bit of alizarin crimson. When you do more than one bush close together, use different values (or even colors) to separate them out a bit.
You can use a small rigger, or script liner type brush to paint in a few twigs and sticks using raw umber (or van dyke brown). Don't get carried away, just make little indications. Allow the viewer to mentally finish the picture.

Let's add a small tree off to the right. Take your brush back into the thinned raw umber, and paint a little sketch, such as the one shown in the photo to the right. Notice the darker raw umber value to the left of the tree - remember, the light source is off to the right.


Here, we've added some of our dark green bush color to the tree, and pulledsome of the color down to form some grassy areas toward the base. We've painted a simple trunk with raw umber and a small amount of cobalt blue. But wait! It looks like we've made a mistake with the trunk. It's too big, and not in proportion with the rest of the tree. We can fix that...



The wonderful thing about working in oils, is that due to its slow drying nature, and buttery texture, you can correct most mistakes right away. Simply take your palette knife and scrape away a bit of the trunk on either side, as show in the left photo. Just keep scraping until you see the tooth of the canvas appear. Paint over these scraped areas with a small bit of the dark green mixture, as shown in the right photo.


That was easy! Now, simply paint in some midtones and highlights on the treeshape. Be sure to bring some of these lighter colors across the trunk in various places, and especially over any old mistakes. In bigger trees, you'll want to leave some open spaces in the leaves so the sky can shine through (called "skyholes").

To finish this little masterpiece, you can use your rigger or script liner brush to indicate a few small twigs and long grassy stems at the base of the tree.

We hope you've enjoyed this short tutorial on painting simple summer foliage!