The simplest way to paint a summer tree

As a beginner learning how to paint green summer trees can be a challenge. This is why it is important to know the basics and the techniques before you begin practicing. This post contains knowledge that can help simplify how to paint a summer tree using watercolors.

Keep in mind that this is not the only way to paint trees, there are other methods and techniques you can experiment with. Personally, I preferred this method because it gave the effect that I was looking for.

Basic principles of painting trees

Below are listed a few principles you should always keep in mind as you are painting your tree.

  • Most of the foliage is usually located in the center of the tree where as the broken foliage is located towards the edges of the tree. This way there will be more paint applied in the middle.
  • Trees are not all symmetrical. If you want to make your tree appear more realistic, try to avoid painting it symmetrically. Have fun with the shape.
  • Keep in mind where the light is coming from in your reference image. This way you can know where to use dark and light shades when painting. (e.g. The darkest areas are usually at the bottom of all the foliage.)
  • The tree trunk is composed of different values (not just one shade of brown).

Base tree sketch

Before you begin painting, you may want to create a sketch of your tree to help guide you. Keep your sketch simple, adding too much detail will complicate the painting process.

Simply draw the outline of the foliage and the trunk without adding any branches as shown bellow. The branches will be filled in later after you add the paint. The image below shows an example of a base sketch.

Painting preparation

The painting process requires you to utilize the dry brush technique. This technique is when you apply paint onto the paper while keeping the brush damp or close to dry. Keep in mind that you will have to mix your colors onto the palette before you apply it onto the paper.

  • Colors
    • lighter shade of green, a medium shade and a darker shade of green.
    • You can add a light yellow to lighten the shade of green and you can add prussian blue or ultramarine blue to darken the shade of green.

Brush- This technique works best when using a round brush. You will have to determine which size to use depending on how big the painting of your tree will be.

The key technique to painting your tree, lies in the way you hold your brush. Begin by placing your thumb on one side of the brush and the remaining four fingers on the other side of the brush (image bellow). Holding the brush this way allows you to use the side of the brush rather than dabbing with the point. This creates texture in your painting that expresses tree foliage.

Painting process

After preparing your pallet with the different greens you are going to be using, it is time to paint the tree.

  • Using the two techniques mentioned in above, begin by adding the light green onto the paper. Gently stroke the paper using the side of your brush rather than dabbing with the point
  • While the first layer of paint is still damp, you can now add the medium green using the same techniques.
  • After the paint drys, you can begin painting the trunk.
    • darker shade -burnt umber mixed with a small amount of paynes grey.
    • lighter shade- raw umber
  • Lastly comes adding the branches through the foliage.
    • The higher up the tree, the thinner the branches will be.
    • Areas with heavy foliage often don’t show branches
  • In the painting above you can see that the light is coming from the top right corner. Therefore, the lightest shades of green is more dense towards the top right part of the tree.
  • The areas with the least amount of sunlight have been dominated by the darkest shade of green.

It is important to note the different tones as this will assist your painting in appearing more realistic.

Key tips

  • Working on cold press paper will make it much easier to paint your trees. This is because the small wells in the paper create texture and therefore allow for more control.
  • However if you are using hot press paper, this technique can still work if you do the following:
    • Use less pressure when applying the paint with your brush. this way you’ll be able to create lighter and more accurate strokes.
    • Using less water content in your brush will allow you to regain control.

Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this content or you have any questions you would like me to answer!

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