Painting Grass

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IT would obviously be stupid when painting a landscape, to paint every leaf and every blade of grass. We want the general character of the material, and that we cannot secure without careful observation of the factors of which it is composed. Go into a meadow on a sunny day. If you look at the grass facing the sun, you will notice that it is of the most brilliant green. The sun shines through the uppermost blades, penetrates others through the interstices of the first, and reaches so much of the remainder that practically every blade is deluged with rays that filter through the very substance of each leaf and compel it to transmit its hue to the eye. Then turn and look in the opposite direction from the sun. You will see that the grass instead of being a bright green is of a silvery green grey ; this is because you are standing at the angle of reflection of the majority of the blades, which catch the light of the sky as it shines upon them, and not through them. Only here and there occasional blades show a rich green to qualify the general greyness. The aggregate of a field of grass is made up of infinite details of colour, and its character is affected by countless little reflections, whether of the deep blue of the zenith, or of a passing white cumulus cloud.

Have you ever noticed, when a meadow is being mown, and you happen to face the sun, the rich hue of the standing grass, through whose stems the yellow-green light penetrates in a brilliant glow? Examine the same grass when it is cut and lies in long swathes behind the mower. How grey it now appears! The infinity of leaves through which the sun awhile ago was freely shining, now reflects the summer sky at innumerable angles, and the result is the revelation of one of the most lovely combinations of colour in nature.

painting grass
The Aftermath.

It is important to remember the difference in colour of grass at dawn and sunset. The grass in the morning is greyer than in the evening, because in the former the light is reflected from myriads of dewdrops, whereas in the latter the reflections are from dry surfaces.

A difficult thing to paint is grass in perspective. One knows in looking across a wide meadow there is a considerable difference in appearance between the grass at your feet and the grass in the extreme and intermediate distances. As the material is so uniform in colour and texture, the difference is less perceptible than in the case of trees and other objects, which by their diminution of size add to the are more easily placed in their proper large flat grass field of even surface and requires the greatest study and closest you can realise the fact of its extent and many come to grief in this respect, and depend upon such aids as trees, cattle or anything of a known size to assist them to realise its area. In many cases if you took away these aids, you would have nothing left but a stretch of plain green, standing on edge, with the complete loss of the sense of its being a level plain. How is this to be avoided ? The grass in the immediate foreground, which is near enough for you to see if you look closely, is composed of many shades of green; some blades transmitting the light, others reflecting the tint of the sky, and others presenting their own local colour. You will also observe there are differences of colour as well in each blade, some darker or lighter, some deeper in tone or less pronounced. You will see here and there withered stalks and a hundred detrareills, which break up the mass. There are clover leaves, so dandelion, plantain, and many other weeds which, which taken in aggregate, build up the general colour. In your immediate foreground it is possible to realise one or two of the most apparent of these, but a little further off it is difficult, and further off still it is impossible. The intermediate distance must not be so broken as the foreground, and the extreme may be flat. The contrast of this flat paint to the broken paint of the foreground will be another aid to perspective. Other things, too, will help you, as for instance a cloud shadow, a distant church, or a winding brook or river. But none of these incidental objects should lessen your effort to realise the character of grass.

It is quite an easy matter to get the exact colour of things close at hand. The representation of still life is comparatively easy, there being practically no room for dispute as to the local colour of the objects. For instance, some beech leaves in a glass of water can be imitated, so far as colour is concerned, by the merest tyro in art ; but when the same leaves form part of a tree standing some distance away, the problem becomes a test of judgment and skill.

Looking at the grass as a mass you are conscious that in the immediate foreground of your picture you must realise the feeling of all its differences of colour and texture, which is made up of a hundred subtle differences of material, the predominant colour, of course, being green. Now as you see these broken shades of green in the foreground in Nature you must break up your pigment into the various shades of green without any attempt to realise individual blades of grass.

Do not mix your colours on your palette ; take a little of each (pure) on your brush, and place them on the canvas. If you find the effect a little too cold, you can correct it by a warmer tone in the next touch. If you find it too grey, you can lighten it by a little transparent oxide of chromium or cadmium, and so on ; but put the touches down separately and firmly, and unite them at a subsequent painting. The distance will be painted with a flatter tone, and will be of a greyer quality of colour. You will observe also that some portions of the grassy expanse are stronger in colour; more yellow and blue will then be required, and more vigorous green. Or it may be that some withered stalks alter the local colour, and you will want reds and yellows, with a dash of flake white, of course, to qualify the pigments. A bushy tuft occurs here, a smoother surface there, and so on. To represent the host of qualities which unite in the making of the whole field demands patient study of these and all such details. Grass grows up from the soil, but it does not follow that the paint should be put on in upright strokes all over the area occupied by it. Were it so, your picture would resemble green velvet. Some portions of your grass are indeed aggressively erect, but others lie prone. These latter, and more level patches, if carefully painted, impart greater individuality to the prominences of the upstanding grass.

The accent of flowers can be taken advantage of with profit, also the red sorrel stalk and the nettle. These touches will be suggested by the means already described in the course of the first painting, or they may be added afterwards. If you notice passages that are too obtrusive and broken, it is a simple matter to flatten them down; but, as I have said, it is necessary to have these flatter passages. The distance can be made flatter, but let this be in your first painting after the rubbing in, and the next painting will consist in emphasising passages and introducing here and there groups of details hitherto omitted. And do not overlook the rule that when shadows overlay your grass, the same method of broken colouring will be revealed in the shadow as in the open light, except that the tone is lower, and that the shadow, as such, will bring its special tint to the general effect. If you do this successfully you will be astonished to find how nearly you express the general feeling of Nature.

For painting grass I should use white, yellow ochre, French blue, No. 2 cadmium, transp. emd. ox. chromm., and rose madder; sometimes a warm grey of raw umber and white, a long-haired brush, and plenty of confidence and paint.

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