“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” —William James
The Perfect Palette series has taught us how color choice, value, and intensity—combined with a thoughtful deliverance of the creator’s intent—are essential for building a scene. It’s a satisfying outcome when a viewer is captivated by an artist’s rendering.
The quote by William James articulates how an artist interprets a scene from their chosen reality, keeping the gems and asking the viewer to step into the image to discover its essence.
A well-executed image moves the audience’s eye through the image to discover various treats. Hopefully, they deeply engage and find it hard to break away, like they’re in a captivating spell!
If you’d like to explore purchasing a poster of the above print, please click > Mama Bear and Cub Poster
Building the Foreground
Painting foreground rocks, trees and their root mounds, grasslands, twigs, gravel, flowers, weeds, all start with a foundation.
Steps for painting the foreground foundation before adding the final detail:
- When laying out a foreground plan, move the brush inward with every stroke to represent a thoughtful execution. This is one way to define and record the experience you wish to give the viewer.
- Always note the light source so you can begin to define the shadows and the highlights.
- Change color and hue about every four brush strokes.
- Use a balance of red, yellow, blue based hues using simple abstract shapes.
- The percentage values are in the lower range in the foundation layer while still consisting of a combination of 2 bright and 1 dull color.
- A perfect shadow tone combines Ultramarine Blue and Raw Sienna, and uses a little black and Alizarin Crimson for the holes in the soil, rocks, trees, etc.
Now it’s time to add the rest of the foreground detail:
Three Steps When Painting Rocks
After painting the foreground base foundation, if the image contains elements like rocks, add another light wash to further build the rock’s next layer of detail.
Note the warm side of the rock and the cool side. The intensity is heavier in the middle value of the rock.
- Warm area: the middle value of grey plus a little Yellow Ochre
- Cool area: the middle value of grey plus a little Ultramarine Blue
- Core: and a little black to your mix
Add another wash using a dry mix over your current rock’s foundation.
Now, begin to build additional detail using whatever technique supports creating greater dimension. Some favorites are dry brushing, a toothbrush, dry brush or tool to flick paint, course airbrushing, or even squirts of spray paint.
Painting a Seamless Transition
The painting is complete when all three fields, foreground, middle ground, and background seamlessly flow together.
The following images illustrate how foreground, middle ground, and background combine to complete the painting and go on to capture the viewer’s eye. Hopefully, they feel enticed to step into the painting to explore this new reality.
The eye might first notice the focal point or it may be intrigued by the small rusty orange flowers in the foreground and move on to see bears. Or the eye may first see the bears, move to the sky, the sunrise, back to the foreground while noticing the detail in the grasslands, and then back to the bears.
- To where do your eyes naturally move?
- Did you notice where your attention first landed in the scene?
- Did you notice if your eyes moved to other elements in the painting?
- Did your eyes interpret the light source?
- Did you find the scene comforting?
- Was your imagination engaged?
- Did you feel your eyes wanted to return for a second view?
When an artist gets their audience to consciously and unconsciously respond to this list of questions in a positive way, it’s time to celebrate. You’re on your way to becoming a master artist. Congratulations!
Please feel free to share this series with other artists or anyone who may want to deepen their knowledge and understanding of color, theory, and atmospheric perspective.
Our next art series will describe all the Basic Graphic Design Elements. What a fun series to learn how design can be interpreted mathematically and be combined into recognizable marks and shapes!
Table of Contents for the Perfect Palette Series
- The Many Hues of Color
- Best Palette Colors to Build Depth
- The Double Primary Palette
- Painting Blue and Cloudy Skies
- Mixing Colors for Painting the Background
- Painting Mountains
- How the Middle Ground Creates Harmony
- Stepping Into the Foreground
- Laying Down Foreground Foundations: Rocks, Tree Mounds, etc.