Unfortunately, there’s not just one trick for painting convincing trees.
There are lots of things to keep in mind when you’re creating a tree, whether you’re using oil, acrylics, watercolor or any other medium. Let’s take a look at some of the things you need to keep in mind when you’re painting a happy little tree.
Vary Your Palette
The foliage of a tree isn’t all one hue. You need to vary the colors to add interest. Not only are there various shades of green in the leaves, but there can also be lots of yellows, reds, blues and browns. And, I’m not even talking about autumn tones. I’m referring to spring and summertime leaves.
The same holds true for the trunk, branches and twigs. There’s just as much variety in color on the bark, as well as potential diversity in the texture. Using some of the same colors of the foliage in changing up the shades of color in the bark, you’ll make sure you have color harmony in your painting.
Observe The Skeletal Formation Of Each Species
Different varieties of trees have specific skeletal shapes. Although they may appear random, branch structure follows identifiable patterns. Pine trees look structurally different than a weeping willow, but you should learn to see differences in the structure of every type of tree you’re painting.
Shadows Within The Tree Structure
You’ve probably remembered to add the shadow the tree is casting on the ground, but don’t forget that there are loads of shadows within the tree itself. Every bough and branch of foliage casts a shadow on another portion of the tree, and since it’s three-dimensional, the deeper recesses of the tree are bound to be darker than the portion of the tree directly in front of the viewer.
Building up the layers of the tree to give it depth adds not only interest but adds to the realism of the composition. Even if there is no specific light source, like a cloudy or misty day, you’ll still have layers of light and dark to reinforce the three-dimensional shape.
Paint Color Masses, Not Individual Leaves
When you glance at a tree, you’re not generally looking at individual leaves. You perceive overall masses of color, interspersed with branches or bits of sky.
You can use some texture to suggest definition of smaller components that make up the color mass, but don’t try to paint individual leaves. If a tree is really a focal point in your painting and it’s close enough in the viewer’s perspective, you can define a few leaves in the foreground.
Include The Negative Spaces Within The Tree
Even though a tree may have heavy foliage, it’s far more convincing to allow a few glimpses of sky to peek through than to paint a single blob of color. There will be more on the periphery than in the core section of the tree, but bits of sky throughout the formation adds interest and character.
Use Various Tools And Brushes To Add Texture
Try out different types of brushes to achieve different foliage effects. Using a brush at various angles can give you different results as well. Using dry-brush technique will also give you different texture than using a heavy wet-in-wet application.
You might even try using a palette knife for impasto paint application. A watercolorist may use a sponge to apply paint for a random lacy effect or incorporate salt or plastic wrap techniques to develop random patterns in the paint.
As always, careful observation and loads of practice are important in creating convincing, realistic trees. Have fun creating your own forest of happy trees as you build your skill in painting landscapes.