Painting a Landscape on Red Ground

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Painting Trees over a Red Background

Why paint on red?

With the canvas already colored, there is no need to cover every centimeter of it. Colors are less likely to become muddied by mixing as they touch. Ground color can separate different colors painted wet next to wet, avoiding unwanted mixing. Red which is medium in value provides contrast with whites/highlight colors as well as contrast with darker shadow colors. Red is especially suitable in landscape and water scenes. It contrasts opposing greens and cerulean blues creating visual vibration effects, most effective in foreground areas. The color ground, allowed to consistently show through between painted brush marks, gives an overall sense of unity to the finished painting.

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Step 1 - Sky and lighter background

* Sky: White mixed with a little Cerulean Blue; gradually lighter down toward horizon
* Lightest background areas: Sunlit midground - White with Cerulean Blue and Cadmium Lemon Yellow in varied proportion mixtures of blue/yellow; areas painted separately.

Tip: Follow the "fat over lean" rule... add little (preferably no) linseed oil to the first paint applied in all areas.

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Step 2 - Distant background

* Distant trees: White mixed with small amounts of Ultramarine Blue, Viridian and Permanent Violet

Tip: Paint lighter areas first leaving the slightly darker/closer trees blank (still red). Paint remaining tree shapes using less white.
Tip: Cover all of the red canvas to eliminate any hint of color intensity or warmth in the background. Cool and low contrast/dull colors force the background to visually recede.

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Step 3 - Brightest close areas (for foreground/background contrast)

* Backlit close tree foliage: Cadmium Yellow Lemon both unmixed and mixed with Sap Green
* Transition between light midground and foreground shadow: Mixtures of Cadmium Yellow Lemon and Sap Green, increasing Sap Green toward the front.

Tip: Visually project the foreground by allowing red canvas to show through. Repeatedly skip little spaces between leaf and grass shapes creating strong color contrasts and visual vibration effects.

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Step 4 - Foreground density

* Darker foreground areas: Viridian and mixtures of Viridian with Sap Green, Ultramarine Blue and/or Indigo to create the darkest foliage and land masses in the foreground.
* Tree trunks and branches: Ultramarine Blue mixed with Burnt Umber and/or Burnt Sienna

Tip: Continue to leave bits of unpainted red canvas increasing brightness and visual projection of the foreground.

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Step 5 - Foreground detail and contrast

* Tree and grass dark/light detail: Add Indigo shadows to tree trunk/branch sections to suggest dimensionality. Using Sap Green and Cadmium Yellow, both straight from the tube and mixed, add lighter leaf clumps over dark foliage masses. Add dashes of Cadmium Yellow as well as Indigo to foreground grass plus a few touches of white for increased brightness contrast.

Tip: Unmixed colors remain true producing the strongest version of whatever their character. Colors straight from the tube are therefore most effective in the foreground.

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Step 6 - Enhance depth

* Foreground darkness: Apply glazes of Ultramarine blue and/or Indigo to strengthen ground shadows.
* Background haze: Apply glazes of White, or with a little Ultramarine Blue added, over distant trees thus dimming the background and softening any line separations between horizon and sky.

Tip: Glazing works ONLY over paint that is dry to the touch. I consists of mostly oil medium with a tiny amount of paint mixed in.

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Tutorial is copyright of Caroline Jasper.


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