Wednesday, February 13, 2013

3 Tips for Painting Winter Trees in Pastel

'Towards the Light'          8x10       pastel on homemade board     ©Karen Margulis
Bid Here at Daily Paintworks
Trees are hard to paint.  I hear this from my students all the time.  I think sometimes we make it more difficult than it has to be.  Take trees in the winter landscape. I am referring to those bare branched deciduous trees.  You would think that they would be easier to paint than a tree full of leaves. After all it is just a few branches which can be easily drawn in with a hard pastel, right?

But it is the bare branched, lacy looking tree that can be the most challenging. Why? Because we try too hard to put in every branch and twig and we end up something looking like a stick poking out of the snow.

Another challenge is to get the bare trees to look like they are part of the landscape and not 'stuck' on the background. Again, we sometimes try to hard and spend all of our efforts painting the tree and branches and forget about the background. Then try to put it in around the tree. Challenging!

How can we avoid some of these winter tree challenges? Here are my top three tips.


  • For those lacy looking bare branched trees in the distance:  It is easier to suggest the laciness. It is all an illusion. I like to scumble a nice muted distance color such as a muted purple or grayed green up into the sky. Then I pull some of the sky color on top of the trees muting them even more. The next step is to take the sky color and put in a few well placed sky holes to break up the  mass of the tree. Finally I take a sharp edge of a pastel or a Nupastel and draw in a trunk and a few very light branches. I use very little pressure because I want these branches to be light and airy.

  • For the larger bare trees in the foreground : When blocking in the painting if I have any larger bare trees I roughly block in the trunk and any big main branches. I then develop the painting as usual. I complete the background...what is behind the tree whether it be sky or more 'stuff' BEFORE I work on the tree itself. It is much easier to paint the smaller branches and twigs OVER the background rather trying to paint the background up to the branches.

  • TRY A HOMEMADE SURFACE!  If you find that you get bogged down with the details of a winter tree and you want a more suggestive impression of the tree....try a homemade surface with an irregular texture. The rough brushstrokes of the ground won't allow you to get too nitpicky with details. The surface can do a lot of the work for you if you let it! (see the top painting which is on a homemeade surface)
Yo can read more about homemade surfaces in this post HERE  I will also be posting more homemade surface information this week so be sure to come back. If you haven't signed up for email updates have a look at the sidebar on the right and sign up!  Thanks!

1 comment:

HappyPainter212 said...

I absolutely love the winter scene you have shown us today. The bright blue green and the orange make the painting pop without drawing attention to themselves.
Many thank for sharing,