Triadic colours are a set of three colours equally distant from one another on the colour wheel; you most often think of the primary colours. Orange, purple, and greens are the secondary colours and another triadic set that’s equally satisfying to use. Let’s use those colours on a fall landscape to see how they look!
This is the reference we will be using. The orange and green are right in there, and the sky is blue, but we can shift it to purple to make it suit our chosen colour harmony. The weather will look overcast in the picture rather than sunny, but it will still be realistic.
Step 1: Sketch
It’s really up to you how detailed you like your initial sketch. I like mine somewhat detailed but not overboard since the paint will do most of the work later. Make the trees less detailed the further back they are.
Step 2: Mixing the Colors
Now, if we take our triadic colours straight out of the tubes and use them like that, they’ll look a bit cartoonish and not really what we’re looking for in this context. Let’s do a little mixing to make them look natural.
Add orange or brown to the green to make it a natural fall green. You’ll know the best mixture to use because the colour will immediately look “right” to you once it is.
The orange can stay pretty much as-is as far as saturation is concerned, although mixing some yellow with it is not a bad idea.
Mix the purple entirely from scratch using cool red and ultramarine blue. Unfortunately, purples straight from the tube are rarely suitable for nature paintings, especially when it comes to skies.
Something else I do with colour combinations occasionally is mix a small amount of the same colour into them. That instantly unifies the color scheme and is extra useful when you have to use a lot of colours in one image.
Add some pale green to the lower trees in the background since they’re a different variety and won’t turn orange for another week or two. The taller trees are all one kind, so use orange on all of them.
The wash doesn’t have to be super-even. Just try to follow the contour of the leaf groups and keep shading in mind right from the start.
Step 4: Sky
Wet the page a bit beforehand to make the sky easier to paint. Don’t revisit any areas you already painted for an optimally even wash. Even if they’re not perfect, leave them because trying to fix them will only worsen.
Step 5: Adding Detail
Once the paint is dry from the previous step, you can add the lightest wash of orange to the tree trunks to make them off-white, like in real life. Then, mix some of the purple with some of the oranges to make a darker orange that is suitable for shading the leaves. You don’t have to be super picky with shading since this is only a sketch and you want to keep it loose, so it has some life. Just follow basic light and shadow rules, and remember that each mass of leaves can be thought of as its own little sphere being hit by the light the way a more exact shape would.
Step 6: Branches
This step will balance out the darker shadows in the picture. Mix some brown and blue into the purple to make a more neutral colour, then use that to shade and add markings to the tree trunks.
Add detail to distant branches as well, but don’t go overboard. You can add more of this dark colour than you think, just focus on shading realistically. The trees will retain their off-white appearance.
Step 7: Inking
Don’t overdo this, but adding some lines with a brush pen is nice to unify the image and define any lost details. You can add little branches in the background, make some edges between different foliage groups, and add edges to any places that got blurred accidentally.
Don’t make the lines too solid and continuous because broken lines look much more accurate. Try to limit the lines in the leaf groups to the undersides of those leaf groups. A heavier line weight implies a darker shadow in that area, so you don’t want heavy lines on top of anything.
And there it is! You can easily create a realistic fall sketch while outside in the woods, all done in a triadic colour scheme. Knowing the different colour harmonies on the colour wheel will help you create colour palettes for any project you do in the future.
Practice drawing from life using those limited palettes will help you see where those colours belong in the real world.
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