A previous tutorial described a couple of ways to choose the right colors before you put the first mark on your drawing. In that post, I mentioned a tutorial on drawing fading summer grass.
That is my subject today.
How to Draw Fading Summer Grass
This sample is based on a section of our front lawn between the sidewalk and street. In the evening, a light pole casts a very nice shadow along that patch of grass. The light and shadow are my subject for this plein air drawing, which took a couple of evenings to finish.
I’m using Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils on a small piece of 150lb Bristol vellum in white. This method works on any type of paper, and with any type of pencil, though the better the paper and the pencils, the better your results.
Step 1: Draw the basic design with one or two earth tones.
This is the under drawing. I chose a warm, light brown and a cooler, darker brown, though I could just as easily have drawn the whole thing with either color alone.
Shades of brown make sense with this drawing because so much of the green has faded out of the grass. Brown is also a logical base color, because it naturally tones down any greens glazed over it.
I used loose, directional strokes with both colors, overlapping them in order to avoid drawing a straight line between light and shadow. I applied both colors with light to medium-light pressure.
TIP: To draw larger patches of grass, or grass that’s farther away, use shorter strokes, or closely spaced circular strokes to draw more even color. Remember that even with tall grass, the further in the background it is, the shorter your strokes should be.
Step 2: Add green to the under drawing.
Next, I added Green Gold to the lighted part of the grass, using the same type of strokes and medium-light pressure.
An Experimental Detour
At this point, I did something a little bit different. In the middle of the afternoon the next day, I took my pencils outside, chose the greens I thought were most likely to be right for the subject, and put them in the grass for a side-by-side comparison.
The first four colors are the ones I would have been most likely to choose just by eye-balling the subject. I’ve never used the other shades of green, but they seemed like good possibilities, even though I didn’t really like any of them.
As you can see, those are actually closer to the real thing, than the colors I would have chosen.
As much as I like the warmer, brighter colors, it’s obvious the best colors for this patch of grass are those in the middle.
I don’t always make this sort of side-by-side comparison, because it isn’t always possible. But I’m glad I did for this tutorial because I not only discovered the best colors for drawing fading summer grass; I discovered my bias toward the brighter, warmer greens. No wonder all my landscapes look like spring!
Step 3: Continue adding greens to the under drawing.
I chose a medium-value warm green (highlights), and a darker, cooler green (shadows,) then used light pressure and directional strokes to layer each color. I also added darker accents along the bottom, where the base of the grass was visible along the sidewalk.
TIP: Add more greens to draw a late summer grass, and fewer to draw autumn grass.
When drawing fading summer grass like this, don’t cover every inch of the paper with every color. Grass fades in patches, with browns and greens mixed together. Use pencil strokes to duplicate—or at least mimic—this pattern and your grass will look more realistic.
What It Looks Like in Practice
Here’s a small (4.5 inches wide) study of part of a landscape I’m thinking about drawing. I used the same colors for I used for the step-by-step above, plus a light blue for the sky.
The colors aren’t quite true to the reference photo, but I wanted to show how the colors worked together in a “real drawing.” With some adjustments, they’ll provide a good base for what I want to do.
It also shows you how I mixed the browns and greens along the side of the large hill so that there’s no clear transition between brown and green. Keep color transitions soft and muted, especially in the distance for a more natural look.
As grass gets older, the vibrant greens of “youth” begin to fade. That process is accelerated by colder weather and shorter days, as chlorophyll levels diminish. What remains are the drabber greens and, finally, only the earth tones that mark dead and dry grass.
The secret to drawing seasonal grass—no matter the season—is to use the appropriate amounts of green. More in the spring and early summer and less in the late summer, autumn, and winter
Also pay attention to the types of greens you use. Warmer greens are best for late summer and autumn grass, while cool greens are ideal for spring and early summer.
Whichever greens you use to draw fading summer grass, keep them subdued by adding earth tones or complementary colors. Beginning with an umber under drawing (as shown above) or with a complementary under drawing is also a good alternative.