Foliage is a challenging element to draw, even for experienced artists. However, by following certain principles, it is possible to achieve realistic and high-quality results. In this foliage guide, we will explore key aspects that will assist you in working with foliage, regardless of your skill level. The RocketBrush Studio's signature brush is included.
Each leaf, as an object in space, can be simplified into a geometric shape. When viewing a leaf from above, we see it as a flat surface, while a side view reveals its thin, sometimes almost imperceptible, edge. Depending on the type of leaf, we may simultaneously see its top surface, bottom surface, and side. However, the main rule remains unchanged: a leaf is a three-dimensional object, so it's important to remember that we are conveying not just a flat plane but its mass and volume.
Simplifying foliage to a basic geometric form helps us to better understand its structure and basic proportions. We can think of a leaf as a rectangle, triangle, or ellipse, depending on its shape. Please note that simplifying it to a geometric shape doesn't mean depicting the leaf as a flat shape without volume. Briefly to conclude, when drawing leaves foliage, it's important to remember that we are working with a three-dimensional object, and our task is to convey its mass and three-dimensionality.
Each leaf, like any object in an image, exists in perspective, which means its placement depends on multiple factors. The weight of the leaf, its texture, flexibility, as well as the influence of wind and the direction of growth on the branch — all of these factors impact the position of each individual leaf. Some leaves may appear smaller, while others larger. Some will be positioned straight, while others will be at an angle. It's important to remember that not all leaves will be facing the viewer at the same time. We can imagine ourselves looking at the foliage from a side view, away from the viewer. In this perspective, it becomes evident why foliage with all the leaves facing the viewer flatly looks unnatural. Realistic depiction of foliage requires considering perspective and the various placements of leaves in space.
When observing leaves in different positions, we can see that some of them are illuminated perpendicularly, while others are at an angle to the light source. Some leaves are in the shade, while others are in direct light. Depending on the warmth and intensity of the light, the colors will vary. Additionally, even a single leaf does not have a homogeneous tint. The shades can differ at its tips, base, and along the veins.
To better understand the texture and interaction of leaves with lighting, gather as many references as possible for the specific type of tree you are drawing. Exploring real examples will help you gain a deeper understanding of the variety of textures and shades that can be found on leaves, as well as how light affects them in reality.
Simplifying foliage is a process, and like individual leaves, mass can be broken down into primitive objects. Each individual leaf will have its own shadow, cast shadow, light reflections, illuminated area, highlights, and other effects. To create a more voluminous and realistic image, you can imagine the mass of leaves as geometric shapes such as spheres or ellipsoids. When drawing a tree or a bush, mentally divide it into geometric objects or outline their surfaces to keep track of where all the leaves will be in the overall shadow or under the overall lighting. This will make the foliage more voluminous and realistic. The less overall shadow an object has, the more it breaks up into smaller parts.
The closer masses of foliage are to us, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish them. Up close, the leaves will appear more contrasted and voluminous. Conversely, the further away the mass is from us, the easier it is to perceive its shape without fine details.
When working on a foliage drawing, it's important to pay special attention to leaves that are in key points. These could be leaves close to the viewer, illuminated by bright light, or located at the center of the composition. In these areas, focus more on details, sharpness, contrast, and a variety of colors.
Choose several focal points where you want to draw the viewer's attention and concentrate on refining them. This will help create depth and dynamism in your foliage image.
In addition to overall shadows and lighting, rhythm can help unify foliage. Try to select masses of foliage that are different in size and shape. Avoid placing them in a straight vertical or horizontal line to avoid a sense of artificiality. You can imagine them on a plane as geometric shapes, which will make it visually apparent where individual parts appear too similar or dominate the composition. It's also important to consider the structure of branch growth. For example, if we're drawing a willow tree, all the branches will radiate from the top, and therefore, the main masses of foliage will be closer to the top and gradually decrease towards the bottom. If we're drawing a bush, the masses of foliage will be distributed more evenly on smaller branches. Pay attention to how much more natural a tree looks when the masses are depicted unevenly. Straight, small-sized branches may be suitable for decorative works, but for illustrations, it's better to depict the crowns with masses, especially if there are multiple trees, to maintain a cohesive overall composition.
When approaching the drawing of foliage, it's important to identify the main masses and focus on them without outlining the individual leaves. Once you have determined the most significant masses, you can move on to smaller masses and elements.
If you're working with a detailed sketch or line art, start by outlining the contours of the main masses, paint over inside the contours with general colors, and then proceed to the details. If you prefer working from a block in, select a brush and indicate two or three primary colors, a general light, and a general shadow for the masses. Then gradually add detail to each part of the foliage, incorporating more shades and smaller brushstrokes to create volume and realism. Remember to maintain a balance between the overall impression and the details. This will allow your work to appear well-composed and appealing to the viewer.
When working with a textured brush, it's also beneficial to add strokes with simpler brushes to the focal areas. This will bring the foliage to life and allow better control over each individual leaf. In this foliage guide, we used brushes from our studio, which we have provided below. Feel free to use these brushes in your work, and we hope they will assist you in achieving excellent results. Here is the link to download the brushes.
Creating foliage for games is an exciting and creative process that requires attention to detail. In this foliage guide, we have covered important aspects that will help you convey volume, perspective, texture, and lighting when drawing foliage. Remember that each leaf is unique, and observing real objects is important for creating convincing illustrations. Experiment with different techniques and tools to find your own style. We hope that these tips in the foliage guide will assist you in creating beautiful assets. With time, you will undoubtedly achieve magnificent results in this field.