By Bobbi Shupe
“Do you have to paint every leaf on a tree for it to look real? And every blade of grass in the lawn?” The anxious nine year old was envisioning hours of painstakingly drawing every little leaf on the bare branches of his carefully drawn tree.
I was conducting today’s art class of eight kids outside in the beautiful Colorado sunshine, one of those fantastic blue skies overhead and a touch of breeze rustling the leaves on the big cottonwood we were sitting under.
“Look at the trees in that meadow.” I pointed to the stand of aspen about 100 feet away.
“Squint.” Eight sets of eyes became little slits.
“Do you see every leaf when you squint?” I asked.
In unison all eight responded, “NO.”
A “mush” of values is seen instead of individual leaves when squinting at a distant tree and that is exactly how it can be drawn. Draw or scribble the preliminary outline of your leaf clusters. Then add values to these clusters either by scribbling tones or painting in washes. Be sure to leave “sky holes” in the leaf clusters. The atmosphere and sky can be seen through these holes as well as interior branches. The darkest values will always be closest to the trunk and branches of the tree. But remember, leaves are not stationary but are constantly moving. Therefore, darkest dark and lightest light tones/colors will be sprinkled throughout the mid-tones of the leaf clusters.
Depending on the media you are working in, you can create the “skeleton” of your tree and fill in the leaf clusters right over the branches. This works especially well if you practice using very light strokes for your initial drawing. If your chosen media doesn’t allow you to draw over the top without the initial drawing showing through too much, draw your trunk, create the leaf clusters becoming smaller toward the top of the tree and then add interior branches throughout the sky holes.
And, the question of drawing every blade of grass? This is handled in the same way. Squint at a meadow. The green grassy meadow becomes a mesh of colors/values. The only “single” blades of grass you’ll see are right in front of you.
As an illustrator pay more attention to values than single elements. Keep it simple.