Sunday, 21 February 2010

My Tree Painting Looks Childish

Trees that resemble green-headed lollipops are often the result of a painter with preconceptions about how a tree should look. The greens look garish and uniform; the trunks and branches illustrated by thin brown lines. A green splodge serving merely to fill an empty area within a landscape painting is sure to spoil the effect. How can the artist paint trees effectively?

Causes of an Unrealistic Painting of Trees

The following practices are often the culprit of common mistakes when painting 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.
How to Paint Realistic Trees

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

Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color
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Trees contain many different greens, which can be achieved by the inclusion of just two yellows, two blues and a green. These are: cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, pthalo blue, ultramarine blue and viridian green. Although viridian is often maligned for its garishness, beautiful greens will often result if it is mixed with other colours. Varying amounts of earth colours or complimentary colours such as burnt sienna or violet serves to tone down bright greens and give a muted feel, often seen in misty weather or in early winter. Good quality hog hair bristle brushes will add an impressionist feel to a painting of trees.

Articles on Painting Trees

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