I want to draw landscapes, but my greens never look right and I can’t find the right green colored pencil. How do I make a green that looks real?

This is a great question. No matter what medium you use, creating believable landscape greens is a challenge.

Before I say anything further on the subject, let me save you a little time. You can stop looking for the perfect green pencil. There isn’t one. Even if there was just one green that worked for everything that grows, it would be difficult to make an ideal green pencil, because the atmosphere, time of day, and time of year all influence the way landscape greens appear.

Does that mean you’re stuck? Not at all. What it does mean is that you’ll have to rely on mixing colors rather than using a single color.

Here are three of my favorite methods for creating believable, true to life landscape greens.

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How to Tone Down Those Vivid Greens With Earth Tones

The first and most obvious is to draw trees and grass with the green or greens that are closest to the colors you want to depict. When drawing fresh, spring grass, for example, you might use grass green, spring green, or apple green (these are Prismacolor color names) in various mixtures. Apply alternating layers of the colors you want to use on a piece of scrap paper and see what happens. Just make sure to keep the warm greens on the sunny side and use cool greens on the shaded sides.

afternoon-graze.jpgYou probably won’t be a surprise is the brightness of the resulting green. In fact, you’re almost guaranteed to get an artificial, “painted on” look any time you use just green.

So every few layers of green, add a layer of an earth tone that’s the same value as the greens. For light value greens (or brighter greens), try light umber or beige. For mid-range greens like grass green, burnt sienna or burnt ochre will work better. Dark umber or dark brown are perfect for the shadows or any other place you might have dark greens. Pine trees, for example.

Again, use a little caution and experiment on scrap paper first. Just because a color combination works most of the time doesn’t mean it always works!

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Use an Umber Under Drawing to Create Life-Like Landscape Greens

The next logical option is to use those earth tones first and draw an under drawing. My favorite colors of umber under drawings are light and dark umber. Use one or the other or use them in tandem. Develop the drawing as much or as little as you like, then glaze greens over it.ee-landscape-2012-03-part-1

You may still have to add earth tones later in the drawing process, but not as much. It may seem like more work to develop the drawing twice–once in earth tones and once in color–but it’s actually faster this way because you can work out the shadows and values without also worrying about color.

ee-landscape-2012-03-part-2At least that’s the way it works for me.

(More about drawing a landscape with an umber under drawing here, on EmptyEasel)

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Draw Believable Landscape Greens with a Complementary Under Drawing

The third way to draw believable landscape greens is by using a complementary under drawing.

A complementary under drawing is the same basic process as the umber under drawing, but with one important distinction: Rather than choose an earth tone to do all of the under drawing, use a color that complements the final colors.

The Sentinel Complementary Under DrawingFor this small landscape, I began with an orange red and added a slightly darker red as the under drawing developed. The only places I didn’t do an under drawing was in the sky. Actually, I only rarely under draw the sky because the sky is usually the brightest, purest color in the landscape. The only time you might consider under drawing the sky is if you’re drawing a cloudy day. Even then, go lightly.

The Sentinel, Colored Pencil, 8x10

The Sentinel, Colored Pencil, 8×10

Once the under drawing is finished, the process is the same as for any other under drawing. Glaze colors over the under drawing. The complements in the under drawing will affect the way the greens look even after several layers.

(More about drawing a complementary under drawing here, on EmptyEasel.)

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These aren’t the only methods for drawing realistic greens in your landscape, but they’re the three that work best for me.

They should work equally well for you, too.

Which of these methods is your favorite? If you use a different method for creating believable landscape greens, what do you do?

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