When looking through my watercolour journal, I realised two things: trees remain my favourite thing to paint, and the theme so far is somehow season-related. Totally unplanned, but the pages transition from autumn to winter. More on this later.
Since I so love forests and trees, I figured I could show you how I like to paint them. I have three different looks for you today, and the bonus is that all three are beginner friendly.
Before we start though, please check out my watercolour pencil tricks post. This is a great place for beginners to start, and explains some of the techniques I used to paint these trees in more detail. If you’d like to have a look at all of my tutorials so far, this is where you want to click.
The first tree is a slender, graceful autumn coloured specimen. Specimen? Yep. I have no idea what tree this is, sorry. My father-in-law is going to have a thing or two to say about my lack of nature knowledge. 🙂
Okay. For this one, I used dark cadmium orange, dark chrome yellow and light green for the leaves, and walnut brown for the base. I kept the walnut brown close for the other tree bases too – it’s such a versatile bark colour.
The first step is to sketch out the trunk and branches with the brown. This particular tree has reaching branches that are all more vertical than horizontal. Think tall. The thinner and finer a line, the farther and smaller it will seem – perfect for those higher reaching branches. On the flipside, thicker, stronger lines make for closer, heavier branches. Keep the trunk thicker and the highest branches slim, and by George, you have a tree.
I left gaps between some of the branches to fill in with leaves later.
Step two, paint the branches with water. Easy peasy. If you’re going to do this with watercolours and not the pencils, just dilute the paint more for the higher, thinner branches, and focus the most pigment around the trunk.
Step three is to add the leaves. I coloured in random patches of green, yellow and orange, keeping the pressure light to medium. With trees, I want more control over where the pigment goes as far as the leaves are concerned, so I always work in at least two layers. The first is just to lay down a base, and the second is to enhance the colours.
So, after placing my colour with the pencils, step four is to add water. I kept the pressure to the paintbrush to a minimum and tried to use swirling and squiggling motions while I painted.
The most important thing here is to keep the outer edge of the tree uneven. Except if you’re painting a perfectly trimmed shrub, of course. 🙂 Trees in forests usually don’t come with gardeners, so try to keep it organic and a little wild.
Also, don’t be afraid to go over the branches. If the brown pigment bleeds into the leaves, that’s fine. In some places, the leaves may be slightly thicker, so just the silhouette of the branch may be peeking through. A blurred branch will have that effect, while a perfectly crisp line will seem like a branch that is completely visible through a gap in the leaves.
While the first layer was still wet, I added splotches of colour using the wet on wet technique we spoke about in the watercolour pencil tricks post. I told you that one would come in handy.
There’s no science to the colour placement – I took my lead from the first layer and just brightened what was already there, or added random pops of colour where I felt they lacked. Do what instinct dictates, your eye already knows which colour goes where.
I also added some splatter with the yellow and orange pencils, just because I like doing that. It’s soothing, okay? 🙂
Congratulations, you’ve painted the first tree!
Next, we’re painting a fir tree. Yes, I actually know the name of this one! It’s my favourite in a forest setting, so I paint it often. It’s also the easiest tree there is to paint – you literally can’t make a mistake with this one.
I used walnut brown for the trunk, and pine green and earth green yellowish for the leaves.
First, I drew a vertical line – this is the guide for the tree’s length. Then I plotted out the general direction of the branches. I don’t usually do this, but hey, it’s a tutorial. 🙂
Using the wet on dry technique and the pine green pencil, I started painting the leaves from the top downwards. It’s this simple – keep the lines irregular, at a diagonal angle, and flick every third or so brushstroke upwards.
Keep going until you have a tree.
The same as with the last tree, I went back in for the second layer while the first was still damp, again using the wet on wet technique. I added scattered lines in pine green to add some tonal depth to the tree. Once the darker tones were in place, I repeated the process with the lighter green (earth green yellowish) to add even more tonal depth.
See what a huge difference that second shade of green makes? The tree would have been fine with only one shade, but the second adds a lot of depth and vibrance.
Finally, I added a peek of the trunk at the bottom, and the second tree was done.
Okay, our third tree is similar to the first, except it’s short and stout. My kid has been singing ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ so often lately, I guess that’s what inspired this. 🙂
I used five pencils for this one: pine green, leaf green and earth green yellowish for the leaves, and burnt ochre and walnut brown for the branches.
First, using the ochre, I lightly plotted out the shape of the tree. This time, we have fewer branches visible at the top, because we’re painting a summer tree, chock full of leaves.
Second, I added some walnut to the shadowy parts.
Third step – add water.
While the paint was still damp, I added some more walnut brown in swirling and dotting motions, to add that bark texture to the tree. I also darkened the upper branches, since they’ll be in the shade cast by all the leaves.
There’s nothing to this step, it’s random and organic. If you ever feel you’ve added too much pigment, just dilute it with an extra drop of water and let the paint do its thing.
Next, I plotted out the colour and shape of the leaves, like we did with the other trees. The lightest shade of green forms the base colour, the middle shade creates medium shadows, and the darkest shade makes up the deepest shadows. My only tip here is to place the deepest shadows directly next to the medium shadows.
Next, you guessed it, add water. Again, irregular edges are your friends. I added random dots and squiggles to the edges, to imitate single leaves.
As always, while the first layer was still damp, I added leaf green, then pine green with the wet on wet technique to deepen the colours and shadows.
Et voila! You have three watercolour trees. 🙂
Easy, charming and such a stress-reliever. I highly recommend taking an afternoon and painting some trees. Your anxiety will thank me for it later, I promise.
Thanks for stopping by!