Painting isn’t just mixing a color and filling in an area like a paint-by-number kit. Whether you’re looking at a white bowl, a red flower or a green leaf, you aren’t seeing just one color.
If you just go with what your brain interprets, your red, single-hued flower will appear flat and cartoonlike. To achieve a realistic representation of the flower requires observation and careful examination to find the many colors that make up your subject.
Study Your Subject’s Range Of Colors
Look at a red tulip, rose or any other vibrantly red bloom. Your mind tells you that you’re seeing a red flower, but in reality, it’s made up of a myriad of shades and hues.
The surfaces furthest away from the light source are deeper in color and may include tinges of blue or green. The areas of the petals facing the light will have dashes of yellows and oranges. There will be highlighting that appears brilliantly white. There may also be other colors formed by objects’ shadows falling across the flower that can be purples or a deeper shade of red.
Use Analogous Colors To Create A Lively Painting
If you think back to the color wheel, you’ll remember that analogous colors are those who reside next to one another on the color wheel. If red is your main color, you’ll see that next to it are orange on one side and violet on the other.
Let’s say you chose Cadmium Red Medium for the main red in your tulip. You can add a touch of Cadmium Red Dark or Cadmium Red Light for starters and work in Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow and you’re off to a great start without leaving the Cadmium hues.
To take it one step further, move over to the purple-violet colors and deep Alizarin Crimson for the deeply shaded areas and pop in some pale yellow and whites like Permanent Lemon Yellow and Titanium White for highlights.
When you’re ready to add shadows, you may want to use a glazing technique with transparent colors. Use a deep shade like French Ultramarine Blue or Dioxazine Violet as a glazing coat to create shadows. However, be warned that these colors have a very strong tinting ability and a little goes a long way.
This is an easy exercise to start with and it shouldn’t be long before you’re painting convincing red blossoms. However, when you move into other colors and subjects, you may need to do a bit more practice before you come up with successful renditions of your subjects.
Painting White Or Yellow Blossoms
Creating white orchids or yellow roses may be a bit more challenging. Your colorations will be much more subtle and controlled. If you don’t take care, you’ll wind up with a colored flower instead of a white bloom and that yellow rose can easily become a muddy mess.
For these pale colors, a light hand and subtle transitions are the keys. Just keep practicing and give yourself time to understand how to mold the flat drawing into believable three dimensions without losing the base color.
Painting White Subjects
When you’re painting white objects other than flowers, you probably have more leeway with color considerations. Local color can play a big part in reflected colorations and the strength of your light source will be a factor in just how white your subject is rendered.
Just don’t think that black need to take any part of this exercise. Black is a dead color. You can create the darkest of darks and add real life by using color combinations like Dioxazine Violet and Hookers Green or Ultramarine and Burnt Umber to create your deepest shades.
Painting Foliage And Leaves
It may be surprising, but a lot of leaves are hardly green at all, and I’m not referring to the autumnal gold, orange and red. Many leaves have red or purplish stems and veining while others sport brown stems. The top side of the leaf may be an entirely different color and texture than the backside.
It might be worth your while to take a trip to a local nursery and snap a bunch of pictures of leaves and foliage in their inventory. If you choose a nursery for your photo shoot, you can make notations of the plant type. However, you may enjoy getting out in the great outdoors. Go ahead and snap close-ups of whatever you find. If you carry a pocket field guide, you can decipher what you’re looking at.
If you’re in the field, bring home some interesting leaves and sprigs of foliage to set up a series of still lifes in your studio. You’ll have a chance to examine the flora and fauna in the comfort and lighting of your studio. While your cuttings are fresh and colorful, spend some time doing color sketches. You’ll be amazed at the number of colors you come up with to replicate your leafy acquisitions.
Painting is always an experiment. Learning to observe what you’re looking at is an ongoing project. We tend to make preconceived decisions of how something looks because we haven’t taken the time to observe closely. Don’t merely look at the colors of your next compositional components, but really spend time determining just what colors make up each object and how those colors can work together to make a unified and interesting composition.