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2 Things to Remember When Painting Trees

January 15, 2011

First of all, let’s look at what trees are not. Trees are not green lollipops, they’re not solid, and they’re not all the same!

When painting trees, it’s important to keep two things in mind: simplification and specification.

Okay, they sound like complete opposites, and in some ways they are, but they are both essential when it comes to painting trees!


Imagine a pine tree…

What picture appeared in your head? The standard image of a symmetric cone with pointy branches? Is that really what a pine tree looks like?

Each species of tree is different. The size and shape of the trunk, the direction of the branches, the leaves, the overall shape. These details are what will make your tree look believable. Whether you’re going for a realistic style or a more expressive or impressionistic style, you want your tree to look distinct.

When painting a tree, find a reference image to work from. Let this image be your inspiration for the tree’s essence. Remember that you don’t need to copy, you just need to pick out the little things that make that tree an individual.

Another thing to remember that even within a species, each tree is different. Maybe one branches sticks out at a funny angle, maybe the tree is fuller on one side or maybe it has a crooked trunk. It’s all in the details!

And speaking of details…


You don’t need to paint every little leaf or twig. This is where your editing skills come into play. Mother nature is incredibly complex and it can be overwhelming to try and capture everything you see. The good news is that you don’t have to!

When we look at a tree to paint it, suddenly we notice all the little details that we’ve never seen before. When we look at a tree casually, we take all this in without focusing on it. This is what you need to accomplish in your painting. Capture the suggestion of the fullness of the tree without painting every single branch.

Squinting slightly at your reference can help eliminate some of the details and let you focus on pattern, texture and values, as well as the overall shape and movement of the tree.

As you can see, it’s a bit of a balance between capturing the details that define the tree while simplifying it enough to paint it. The best way to learn this technique is practice. Make sure you check out my tutorial on how to paint trees in acrylics!

Bonus Tip

Trees are not solid! Your tree should look like a bird could fly through it. Make sure some of the background can be seen through the leaves.

Good luck!


From → Painting

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