The Dancing Stroke

A Strategy for Painting Densely Leaved Backgrounds.

Layers and layersLeaves and layersMy use of what I call the ‘dancing stroke’ began its evolution when I moved to Costa Rica seven+ years ago. Everywhere I looked there were strokes of shapes – leaves – layers and layers of them. Coming from New Mexico, surrounded by light and air – I was suddenly in a quandary. How do I deal with the often cluttered and layered landscape backgrounds I now wanted to paint?


Blue Leaves original photo_edited-1Eventually I came up with a plan. I found a way to create some order even if I was not seeing it. This photo of some leaves I particularly love became my self teaching tutorial. I called them the blue leaves and they are found all along the coast road next to the Pacific, just about 25 miles from my home.

I began to treat the foreground subject separately from the background jumble by with all the ‘negative spaces’ that were found tucked in between and just beyond the subject. I then began to create some order there using what I called the dancing stroke.  As with most things, one learns by doing.  And I did them over and over and over….

Blue-Leaves-4,-2  Blue Leaves Colores, jh  Blue Leaves 1, jh 2009

Iguana AlertI painted them high key, low key, darkly, with mystery and light and in all different color schemes. Any way I could imagine – even with a favorite creature added – and always with the ‘dancing stroke’ in the background to simulate the jungle.


Please see my Demo – Grief Leaves Demo


An Overview

I use the Dancing Stroke

as a background strategy that mimics the multilayered and ubiquitous backgrounds we see in the tropics. It can also be used in the dense woodlands of North America.

The painting process goes like this.

Leaf Light 4


Step 1. Foreground Subject Here in this painting, the subject is the leaves shaded and shadowed and backlighted in the foreground. I like painting the leaves one by one so I can enjoy the pleasure in the process of wet into wet, soft edges vs hard edges, changes in colors and intensity, etc. There are still a few more leaves to paint before I get into the background and dancing strokes.

Leaf Light 5

Step 2. Dancing Strokes in Background. Using the dancing stroke technique, I fill in the negative spaces, using the same paints I’ve already selected for the color scheme. At this point, the background looks something like confetti – but the best is yet to come.



Leaf Light 6Step 3. Selective Glazing

It is the glazing that begins to push the background back a bit and allow the subtle structural cues (branches, some leaves, etc.) of the areas to emerge into view.


For a more detailed Demo of the Dancing Stroke, click here



  1. Just checking to see if this works. Jan

    • It looks like it works and I’d love comments and promise to answer!

Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

More Information

© All Rights Reserved>
Website by JDO Design and Eagle Condor Media

Jan’s Mailing Address

PO Box 595-8000
San Jose, Perez Zeledon, San Isidro 11901,
Costa Rica, Central America