It isn't always green!
by Janet Glatz
Painting foliage is such a broad subject it is rather difficult to teach and write about. Consider all the variations in species, color, shape, and size.
Being predominantly a realistic painter, I usually try to make foliage appear as true to life as possible in the foreground, but of course as the picture fades into the distance, the trees also blur into masses of color.
Seasons have a huge affect on all kinds of foliage, but this is also complicated by location. Here in Maine, there's a pronounced difference between summer and winter. Even spring and fall are diametrically opposed! (Why I love Maine) Point being, if you're painting a seasonal scene, be true to the hues of the time of year. One of my paintings, called Royal Color, depicts several mid fall trees: oak, maple, red maple and birch. It was a joy to showcase the peak of color for each species and provided a lovely contrast. Live in Florida? That's a totally different story, right?
Now, painting an up close tree or bush could be an arduous task if you tried to paint each leaf, one by one. Rather than go blind doing that, try "pouncing" in the varying shades of green (on a very dark background), then add in small groups of correctly drawn leaf shapes here and there, especially in the very front.
Treat trees exactly like the shapes they compare to: spheres, groups of spheres, cones, cylinders.
By this I mean apply the various shades of color as you would in painting a shape, with the lightest ones directly in the sun and then gradually darkening toward the shadow side. This will give your trees a better, fuller shape. Don't forget to leave dark space in appropriate places. To the right you see the red boathouse...notice the horizontal spaces between branches in the pine trees.
Remember to leave small areas of sky showing through, within which you might have a limb crossing. Be careful to keep the size of the limbs in relation to the trunk size.
Small plants often require more careful brushwork, simply because they won't look like the species you are trying to depict if you don't take care to paint the leaves and blossoms realistically. Again, you can "cheat" by having the background blossoms and foliage "fuzzed out". Don't forget details like stamens and contrasting coloration of the center of the flower.
This was just a few hints that will hopefully make your job a bit easier!