Is there a sure-fire way to draw realistic landscape greens most of the time?
Short answer, yes.
The question is, what’s the best solution for you?
I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself, but I can share with you the method that helps me draw landscapes that look like landscapes, no matter what shades of green, what time of year, or what the lighting conditions.
Landscape greens can be the most difficult colors to get right in any medium. Most of us have drawn landscapes in which the greens are too soft and muted or are way too bold and artificial.
My Favorite Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens
Over the years, I’ve used several methods to draw landscapes. My favorite method to draw realistic landscape greens is beginning with an umber under drawing, then glazing color.
The first few layers of color you put on the paper are called the under drawing. An under drawing can be a single color, two or three colors, a limited palette, or lighter shades of the final colors.
When the under drawing is in earth tones, it’s called an umber under drawing. You can use any earth tone, but the best choices are generally medium-value, neutral colors like Prismacolor Light Umber or Polychromos Nougat or Raw Umber. Once I discovered umber under drawing, my landscapes began to look like they were supposed to look.
Step 1: How to Begin an Umber Under Drawing
The process is simple. Develop your landscape first in all earth tones. Choose one or two browns—three at most—and draw the entire landscape with those colors.
I prefer Prismacolor Light or Dark Umber, usually use just Light Umber. It’s possible to get a nice value range with Light Umber simply by adding layers. The more layers, the darker the value.
You don’t want to get too dark too quickly, and you also want to avoid developing details too quickly, so draw the under drawing with several layers applied with light pressure.
You can also use a tinted paper, as I did with the drawing below. The paper is Rising Stonehenge in a very light tan color. The color of the paper provided the lightest values for the drawing.
Step 2: Develop Detail & Values
Use a variety of strokes to mimic each element of the landscape. Short vertical strokes with a sharp pencil for grass, stippling (dotted) or circular strokes with a sharp to slightly blunt pencil for trees (use a sharper pencil in trees close to the foreground and a blunter pencil for more distant trees), and the sides of the pencil to lay down even color in the distance.
Define the center of interest early by drawing the darkest shapes near the center of interest or in the foreground and keeping other parts of the drawing more subdued.
Step 3: Finishing the Umber Under Drawing
You can make the under drawing as detailed as you like. When I draw horses, I generally draw a more detailed under drawing, because I want the under drawing to look like a finished drawing on its own.
But with landscapes, I develop just enough light and shadow to define the landscape elements and to begin depicting the sense of space (pictorial depth or aerial perspective).
Glaze color over the finished under drawing layer by layer with light pressure. Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so the umber under drawing tones down the greens you glaze over it. Even if you appear to totally cover all of the under drawing, its influence is still present.
Want to See How I Drew Realistic Landscape Greens Step-by-Step?
I drew this landscape as a demonstration piece for EmptyEasel.com. To see the full, step-by-step demonstration on EmptyEasel.