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Painting Trees in Acrylics – Tutorial

February 16, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about two things to remember when painting trees. In a nutshell, you need to keep in mind the specificity of the tree’s species and form (make it believable) while simplifying the details. Click on the link for a more in depth discussion.

And now, as promised, here is a quick tutorial on how to paint trees in acrylics.

First, consider your colours. When painting trees, you want to choose, or mix, a green that is natural. A hooker’s green works well for foliage. A pthalo green, not so much. Pthalo green is very blue, so you would need to add a lot of yellow. Here you can see the difference between hookers (left) and pthalo (right) green.

Second, consider your brushes. We are going to be using a “dabbing” technique. You want a brush with thick, short bristles that will separate and clump.

How to Paint Trees

It helps if you can think in three dimensions here. I’m going to paint the leaves that are furthest away from me first, then the leaves in the middle, and then the leaves on the surface of the tree. These layers roughly correspond with my values: shadow, mid-tones, and highlights.

I mix my paint the same way I am going to apply it, which helps spread the bristles out. You want a fairly generous amount of paint on the brush, but you want it dispersed throughout the bristles.

The first layer is made with a combination of hookers green and cadmium red (to make it dark). Now I can dab the paint onto the page, building the structure of the tree. Make sure you twist the brush every now and then to vary the pattern of the bristles. Don’t over-work this: you want to be able to see the texture as well as some of the background.

The next layer is made with the hooker’s green and a small amount of white. Make sure to thoroughly wash your brush between layers and let each layer dry, otherwise you will make mud. Here I have applied the mid-tone green on top of the shadow, letting the dark value show through. I’m still not covering up all of the page.

You can also see here that I have added the trunk and some branches. Paint these using a fine-tip brush and place them throughout the tree. Remember that you aren’t going to see the entire trunk, or the entirety of anyone branch. You just want a few peeks here and there. Try to use a contrasting value. If your background is very dark, make your trunk a bit lighter.

The last layer is the highlights. Here I have mixed hookers green with white and a touch of yellow to brighten it up. Again, don’t over-work it. A few dabs here and there are all you need. If you’re having trouble seeing past the individual dabs of the brush, squint your eyes to see the overall effect.

A few things to remember:

  • You can go back and add more shadows and mid-tones as needed.
  • Don’t make your tree too symmetrical.
  • Paint your background first and then paint the tree on top of it.
  • Have fun!
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From → Painting, Tutorials

3 Comments
  1. I really liked the way the tree turned out. Excellent tutorial and a great way to approach trees. Landscapes are something I need to improve on (a lot) and tutorials like this are very helpful. Thanks!

    • Landscapes are tricky. It’s all about simplifying. I find it’s helpful to learn a technique through a tutorial, and then modify it to suit your own style 🙂

  2. kayla permalink

    wooooooow!!!!!!!! this is amazing…. i can’t do trees but i can draw a realistic horse…. but these trees are amazing!!!!!!!

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