Jan Hart: Creating Fall Foliage

Fall colors jolt us out of our familiarity with the greens and blues of summer. Every year, almost overnight, there is an explosion of warm, analogous colors — the reds, oranges, and yellows of the fall foliage. A deciduous tree makes a great subject to experiment with fall foliage colors. It’s important to understand the tree before you paint it. If you can, make
studies of the individual leaves, the structure of the foliage, and the light and dark values.

creating1Underpainting, Form and Ground A full underpainting of Aureolin establishes the sun-drenched setting. Beginning from the left, paint each clump of leaves with a 1″ flat brush. Remember that the left side receives sun, and the right can be a bit darker and brighter, out of the sunlight. Try different mixes — Cobalt Blue or Green Gold. The underside of the foliage is painted in darker, more orange pigments, as is the right, shaded side. Use only warm paint colors to communicate the intense yellows and oranges, warmed with reflected light. Dancing brushstrokes and flips help show the tree’s canopy. The ground is painted loosely, using directional strokes to show the terrain. The ground usually is the lightest area as it receives more direct light.

Darks The dark trunk can help the eye see the entire value range. A warm dark for the trunk will refer to the presence of reflected light. Naphthamide Maroon is perfect, while a vertical daub of Ultramarine Blue can suggest cast shadows. Paint shadows on the ground in Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, and Quinacridone Magenta. When adding cast shadow colors, take care to keep the strokes horizontal with occasional brush flips to suggest grass. Take care also to make sure the shadows change at each change in landscape surface.

creating2More Darks Add more warm darks to the background at left, using Napthamide Maroon, Quinacridone Gold, and Quinacridone Magenta. Where the dark left shape approaches the hanging leaf clump, take care to leave a bit of white paper beside the painted leaf clump. Negatively paint the edge in a jagged, varied manner.


Sky Use a mix of Cobalt Blue and Rose Madder Gen. for the sky, making strokes that continue the upward gesture of the leaves. Paint a bit of a darker mix (using less water) negatively around the upper left branch, taking care not to go into the yellow. Painting over the yellow produces a darker edge, which is not desirable on the lightest side of the tree.

creatingbottomGlazing and Finishing Stand back to assess the overall impact of the painting. Glazing the shaded areas with variations of the nonstaining, transparent trio (Cobalt Blue, Rose Madder Gen., Aureolin) is a perfect way to increase the color and value contrast without losing the beauty of the underlying mixes. Beginning at the left lower branches, apply a mix of Rose Madder Gen. and Aureolin to the shaded areas. When applying glazes, use the tip of a flat brush to make zigzag strokes along with some fl at, smooth washes. Care must be taken to avoid disturbing the dried pigments below. Notice how the areas brighten and darken. Cobalt Blue is useful where there is no concern about turning the area too neutral; e.g., blue over orange, or too cool. The cast shadows on the ground can take the cool blues and lavenders. After a few more touches to the sky and distant hill, and some playful punches of Cobalt Blue, the painting feels finished. — Jan Hart