19 October 2013

How to Paint a Tree

Always wanted to be able to paint a simple tree but could never quite figure out the elusive nuances of the branches to make a beautiful tree? I was always stuck drawing figures and animals and houses without a beautiful landscape background because I couldn't paint a landscape for my life! I recently have unlocked some of what I believe are the secrets to making a beautiful tree.

Here is a tutorial on how to paint a beautiful tree using acrylic paints! I have found this to work best for trees with the branches visible. Early spring, late fall, and winter trees where there is an insignificant amount of leaves to hide the "skeleton" of the tree work best.

To the right is a tree I painted for a series I am doing of wintery trees with a pop of color.  The "pop" in this one is the single yellow leaf on the tree, the last leaf of fall. This particular painting was somewhat inspired by this piece I found on pinterest, and partially by the trip I took to the boundary waters this summer.

Anyways, here are my suggestions for creating your own beautiful trees.

step one
Start with your colors mixed with a small amount of water to make the paint more fluid. This will help the paint "flow" onto the paper so you can create a long line without having to get more paint. My paint is a deep blue mixed with a little black.

step two
Using  flat brush, paint a thick line onto your paper to create a solid trunk.

step three
Continue this line until you run out of paint, twisting the paintbrush slowly to the side as you go to make the branch get narrower and narrower. Don't worry if it ends too abruptly for your taste, you can add more to the line later.

step four
With fresh paint, paint over the trunk and create another branch following the same strategy as the first branch.I added a little wiggle to it near the top to give a more spontaneous, organic feel to it. If you want, you can add a third main branch, or more. I find usually three is my max or else the tree begins to look awkward. A third branch usually looks best coming off one of the two initial branches, rather than directly from the trunk, unless it is significantly narrower or wider than the other two. If you notice my painting at the top, the left main branch (with the leaf) comes off the middle branch, not the main trunk. It is a subtle, but important difference.
step five
At this point, you can switch to a smaller rounded brush. Following the line of your first branch, slowly pull away from the first branch at a gentle angle. You can make it more curvy if you like.
step six
Now using the same strategy, add more branches to the initial offshoot until the branch looks like a branch and not a line. THEN STOP. You can add more branches later, but cannot subtract branches after they are painted.
step seven
See how that little branch looks a little awkward coming off such a large main branch? We can fix that by thickening the line a little at the base where it connects with the larger branch. If it still looks funny, thicken a little more of the branch until you are satisfied.
step eight
I didn't like how abruptly my second main branch ended, so I simply continued the line trying to allow it to gently get narrower to create a more natural look. In this case I ran out of room and so decided to have my branch climb straight out of the paper. If you are feeling cramped remember that it is not crucial to see the entire tree in a landscape, and it is better to leave some to the imagination than to create a branch that is cramped inside the painting.
step nine
At this point, I decided to add a bit more interest to the trunk. Using my round brush, I made some lines on top of the trunk and main branches to create an illusion of texture from the bark. This step is not necessary, but you can try this strategy if you think the tree needs something.
step ten 
Keep adding more branches until the tree is to your liking.
Always make the main branch the longest one.
If a branch looks too long, add more sub-branches/twigs
If a smaller branch is much darker than a larger one and looks weird, darken the larger one.
Sub branches should ALWAYS be narrower than main branches, but ONLY SLIGHTLY

Happy Painting!

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