The Right Colors for Drawing Summer Grass

A while back, someone asked for tips on drawing faded, summer grass.  I am planning to write a specific tutorial on that subject, and I’m hoping to use the plein air challenge to do the drawing. First, however, lets talk about finding the right colors for drawing summer grass.

If you get that right, the rest is easy.

Finding The Right Colors for Drawing Summer Grass

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, though, permit me to share a recent experience that may help you understand why your landscapes all look alike (if they do.)

Here are two recent landscapes. The first is Flint Hills July 2009, which I documented as a series tutorial beginning here. It’s drawn on Stonehenge Aqua 140lb cold press watercolor paper.

The second drawing is on Uart Sanded Pastel Paper.

Finding The Right Colors for Drawing Summer Grass - Flint Hills July 2009
Finding The Right Colors for Drawing Summer Grass - Evening in May

I’ve been working on landscape drawings exclusively for the last few weeks and after finishing the third one (which isn’t shown here,) I realized something discouraging.

Although the reference photos had been taken at different times of the year, all the drawings looked the same. Deep, rich greens that look more like spring than summer or fall. If the drawings were all spring-time drawings, that would be fine. But they weren’t.

It took sitting outside, looking at the greens in the trees all around to realize where—and how—I’d gone wrong.

What I Did Wrong

I worked with a limited palette on all of those drawings. Time was important, so I also opted to use a more direct drawing method. No under drawing of any kind, other than blocking in the basic colors.

So even though I added earth tones or complementary colors later in the drawing, each drawing used the same colors and, therefore, looked the same. In short, I’d opted to ignore everything I’d learned about drawing realistic landscape greens in order to finish something fast.

Talk about a light bulb moment!

Finding The Right Colors for Drawing Summer Grass

The best way to draw grass (or almost anything else) in my experience is by using an under drawing. There are two basic types of under drawings: Umber and Complementary.

You use an earth tone to draw an umber under drawing. Any earth tone can be used, but browns are the most common.

With a complementary under drawing, you use colors opposite the color wheel from the final color. A blue subject is drawn with an orange under drawing. Greens are drawn with a red under drawing.

Both methods work so well for landscapes because they mute—or tone down—greens and make them look more natural.

Take a look at this color chart.

How to Choose the Right Colors Under Drawing Complementary Sample

From left to right, you have an umber under drawing, a complementary under drawing, and a direct drawing with no under drawing.

Each column was drawn with the same two green colors—Olive Green and Chartreuse. I used the same type of strokes and the same pressure for each one, so the only difference is the color I used first.

And yet the final colors are quite different.

(You can draw realistic landscapes using a more direct drawing method. I’ll show you next week how to find the right colors with that method.)

A Range of Options

Within each of the categories, you have a range of options. Depending on the brand of pencil you use, you may have from three or four to nearly  a dozen browns to consider if you prefer the umber under drawing method.

If you like the complementary method better, you have colors ranging from orange to reds (if you’re drawing greens).

And of course, the line between complementary and umber can be very fine indeed, as I’m about to show you.

The chart below is set up basically the same as the previous one, except that I chose a variety of under drawing colors, then paired each one with one of several different green colors to show you how the under drawing colors affected each green one-on-one.

How to Choose the Right Colors Under Drawing Color Combinations

Please note that the warmer under drawing colors affected the cooler green colors more than the warm green colors. Chartreuse didn’t change either Mineral Orange or Pumpkin Orange very much, but it make more of an impact on the cooler browns such as Chocolate and Dark Brown.

Finding The Right Colors for Drawing Summer Grass

There are more factors to consider than just the basic colors, and I’ll share some of those with you in the tutorial on drawing summer grass. Things like value, and tint.

In the meantime, make your own color charts and see what combinations look most promising for your drawings of summer grass.

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