How can I paint decaying vegetation?
Morgan Winter, Canada
Answer Mélanie replies
Painting decaying plants can add a nice touch to a composition, and they can be a strong storytelling element. My example will feature Eden gone wrong, with a gorgeous woman surrounded by dead plants. I want to create a contrast between healthy and dead vegetation. To achieve this I’ll play with the shapes and colours. A healthy plant will be basically straight and green in colour, while a dead one will be bent and feature autumn-like colours.
The shape and the colour scheme are both important to create the sense of decay. A dead plant loses all its colours, so its green stem and leaves are replaced by a lot of brown, orange and even black and grey parts. If you want to paint flowers then the colour scheme needs to be treated differently. The flower colours simply fade away, so for example instead of having a bright red the petals will be paler and desaturated with some hints of brown.
The wilting plants and flowers quickly conveys to the viewer that the vegetation is dying. Note that the petals and leaves react in a different manner: their oval shape becomes distorted as they curl up and droop. To create this effect you just have to paint a crazy leaf shape – my walkthrough will explain things in more detail…
Even in this basic sketch, it’s clear which plants are in rude health, and which ones are destined for the compost heap. I add some dead leaves blowing all around the character, to emphasise the sense of decay and give the scene extra dynamism.