Painting Foliage

Potted Iris, 2010, by Ora Sorensen. Oil, 30" x 22".

I enjoy painting flowers. To me they are jewels of nature, with an exquisite array of colors and endlessly intriguing shapes. They are subjects that could never get old for me. An important element of a floral painting is the green foliage surrounding and supporting the flower, and I feel these greens should be painted with the same luminosity as the flower.

To contribute to the overall success of the painting, the foliage can be manipulated to enhance the piece’s composition and heighten radiance through their color values and contrasts in hues and temperature.

Addressing and organizing the innumerable variations of green in nature can be dizzying, so I use a color wheel to choose shades of green that will yield the most glow in my paintings. I don’t necessarily focus on the believability of the colors, but on the harmony of the colors, and choose tints that are analogous to one another to enhance the luminosity of the foliage. Analogous colors are those that butt up to one another on the color wheel, and when indigo, blue green, green, yellow green and yellow are utilized in a painting, a harmonious glow occurs through the gradual shift in color temperature. Placing these colors side by side in a painting results in a radiant bounce of life and energy.

Where to place the shifting hues of the leaves within the analogous arc can be determined by the light source of the composition or by the type of leaf. For example, light resting on the surface of a leaf will read as a bluer green, while light shimmering through a leaf will appear as a yellow green. A fresh leaf may be a tender yellow green, and a more mature leaf will be a richer green or blue green. Leaves in shadows can be rendered a dark indigo, and leaves drenched in sunlight will appear pale.

Some favorite colors I use to mix greens are:

Sap Green
Chromium Dioxide Green
Thalo Green
Permanent Green
Cadmium Yellow Light
Cadmium Red
Yellow Ochre
Indigo Blue
Ultramarine Blue

Ora Sorensen ( was born in New York but grew up overseas in such countries as Libya, Turkey, Iran, Holland and Thailand. Her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.