Painting Grass and Foliage: Techniques for Capturing Foreground Detail in Your Paintings

There are several ways to approach grass and foliage in your paintings depending on the outcome you desire. In this post I'm sharing one of the more simple ways one could approach grass and foreground details that produces impressive results.

how to paint realistic grass with oils or acrylic

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At first glance, painting something like this may seem like a lot of tedious work and careful planning. However I must say that achieving this type of detail in my foregrounds is one of the more relaxing parts of the process. In fact I don't plan any of the specifics out before I begin and tend to go with the flow. The beauty of painting grasses and ground litter like this is as long as you capture the general lighting/color as a whole, you don't need to worry about the tiny specifics. Grass can grow any way it pleases and the ground can change from as little as the wind. So keep that in mind and keep your thoughts loose along with your brushwork.

The first thing to do is to cover the entire area you're working using a wider brush. I block in the area with a few of the more common colors.

blocking in with oils - how to paint grass

I like to add a little bit of rough detail but I keep it to a minimum. At this stage I typically stick with the angled flat brush and focus on nothing more than covering the canvas.

Once covered in general shapes and colors, I then switch to a detail brush like this dagger and I load it heavier with a nice roll of paint. 

use dagger brush to achieve natural grass and foliage details

I dance and twirl the brush around letting the paint melt off the brush onto the canvas. I want many small natural patterns and to achieve that I delicately flutter the brush in all sorts of different ways with different brush strokes.

painting realistic detail - oil painting landscapes

Depending on the angle, the pressure, the paint load, and the part of the brush that contacts the canvas surface, it produces different patterns or textures. This is typically a small trial and error type of process where I'm not shy to add lots of paint and I'm willing to change directions and try different colors. Eventually I'll hit my stride and develop a procedure that produces the results I'm looking for. Patience is important here with all the small brushstrokes. 

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I switch colors often until it starts to exhibit this complex pattern of ground litter and foliage. I prefer using a brush like this over say a fan brush because I feel like with patience it produces a more natural organic feel. I like to use oils with liquin impasto medium as the medium helps me layer colors on top of each other without blending together and becoming mud.

adding more color and detail using a dagger brush to achieve natural grass and foliage detail - oil painting
I remain focused on where the light is and where the shadows fall as that becomes most important to the painting overall. The small details are just there to please the viewer upon closer inspection. So I cannot stress the need to step back often and assess the area as a whole. Getting caught up in pointless details can steer you in the wrong direction, away from the goal. I prefer to bounce around, adding little by little, at this point so that I get enough important details without overdoing it and becoming bogged down in a single area.
At the very end when I feel there is enough texture, I'll roll on some blades of grass that are larger with thicker paint, add a few sticks and twigs where I see fit. This gives the viewer a few distractions to keep their eyes moving.
how to add grass and foliage detail to an oil painting
The foreground is looking lively and realistic and now I'm ready for the tent and campfire which came next. I cover how I painted the fire in this blog post.
I spent some time poking at this whole area of the painting to crisp up some edges and add the finer details of the blades of grass where I saw fit. I used a lot of the tip of the brush to delicately add these details and clean up certain areas. Remember that most of what is done beyond this point should be done with caution so that it doesn't become overworked.
Landscape painting techniques - how to paint grass
I made a short instructional video that you can watch on my YouTube channel of this entire process:
I hope that you find this bit of information helpful in your art and that it makes things like grass a little less intimidating. Thanks for reading and happy painting.
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