Causes of an Unrealistic Painting of Trees
- Having preconceptions about how a tree should look, for example, tree trunks are brown and leaves are green
- Using only one green, or even worse, a garish green, to illustrate the foliage in trees
- Not observing the tree sufficiently to make it look realistic
- Using trees merely to fill an empty area of painting
- Trying to illustrate trees within an impressionist painting, by drawing each branch and leaf, for example
- A painting with too many trees ending up as a solid block of green
- Using black to darken the colour of leaves
My Youtube video provides a simple step by step demo on painting an old Lakeland tree.
How to Paint a Tree Effectively
The following tips on painting trees will help improve any landscape painting containing a copse, wood or forest:
- Foliage contains lots of different greens, which can be achieved not only by one green pigment, but by including different blues, yellows, earth colours and even reds
- Try darkening green with its complimentary colour, red. Any reddish hue such as crimson or violet can be used.
- Apply an under wash of red acrylic paint if the painting is to feature lots of green. Allowing some of the under wash to poke through the green paint will make the painting shimmer with contrasting colours.
- Tree trunks often contain unlikely colours such as blues and crimsons, as well as interesting textures. Using impasto medium or Sgraffito will emphasise the texture of wood
- Avoid trying to illustrate every leaf or twig. Viewing trees through half-closed eyes will cut out irrelevant detail and reveal the true essence of trees
- Observe different trees in different lighting conditions and times of the year. Horse chestnut in late summer contains golden hues, which is starkly different to the fluorescent sapling leaves in spring
- Similarly, observe the different shapes of trees, a gnarled oak has different feel to a supple willow, or the stately cypress.
A good photograph of trees will help the artist observe trees in their own right and become more aware of their varying colours and shapes. Trees appear more interesting in bright sunny weather, which adds contrasts in colour. Trees can also be made into a focal point in a painting, as opposed to a gap-filler, by placing it just off-centre of a painting composition. Adding an interesting quality such as one struck by lightning, or placed next to a ruin will encourage the artist to observe trees in a new light.
Essential Art Materials for Painting Trees
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Articles on Painting Trees