Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction and Paint Along Videos!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Painting Trees this Week...Join Us!

'Sentinel of the Marsh'         9x12          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase  $125

You either love it or dread it. Painting trees that is. For some artists,  painting trees comes so easily. Or maybe it just  looks that way.  For others it can be a struggle. How to get the right shape. How to make the colors interesting. How to add the right amount of detail.  It is all to easy to overwork a tree or have trees that look like they were painted by children.

I am usually in the 'dread painting trees' category.  I typically avoided making trees the focus of any painting. Perhaps it goes back to my first pastel teacher Marsha Savage. Marsha paints trees beautifully. Have a look at her work here.  I knew I could never paint them as well as she does so I just avoided them.

But this is a bad example for me to set for my students so I am slowly incorporating trees into my paintings. And I am practicing. That is always the best way to get better at something.  I will not let trees scare me! In fact on my trip to Pawleys I sought out trees to paint!

plein air pastel from Pawleys Island    sold

This week we are working on trees in my classes and I invite you to follow along. Today I'll share some tips I have discovered to help simplify the subject of trees. Tomorrow I will share an exercise that will help us all get more tree painting practice under our belts.  And if you are one of those artists who love painting trees and paint them with ease, please feel free to share your advice!

Ideas for Simplifying Trees

  • Look at the overall shape of the tree. Is it oval? Square? Round? Triangular?  Does it have lots of little section of foliage?  Block in this big simple shape.
  • Pay attention to the silhouette of the tree....If it was just a bog flat shape what would the outer edges look like? (more on this tomorrow)
  • Make sure the shape you block in for the tree is an interesting shape. You want an interesting positive shape as well as have the shape around the tree (negative space) be interesting.
  • Don't let the symbol your brain has for a tree cause you to make a plain, boring and orderly shape.
  • Observe carefully. Be a good observer of trees. Pay attention to how they grow, what kind of foliage do they have? Where do their branches come from?
  • Practice, Practice and practice some more. Don't avoid what frustrates you. (but don't obsess about it either, balance practice with difficult subjects with subjects you have success with.)


Jean said...

Thank you so much, Karen. I tried a few trees earlier today and they were pretty bad. So really need this advice.

David King said...

I love painting trees and while I often get complimented on my paintings of them I'm not sure I have an special advice, I'm no master anyway. I can only think of one thing that you haven't touched on and it's more about color and it's something you've done in both of your examples. When painting green trees I always make sure to add one other color. Depending on the mood of the painting it's usually either a violet or an orange such as burnt sienna.


My teacher, Julie Ford Oliver, told me to look at the tree branches and foliage as pillows.

Anonymous said...

Thanks--trees are the hardest!

Tarang Sinha said...

I'm an absolute beginner & right now I'm so bad that I can't call myself a painter but I love watercolours and trying. Painting tress could be a nice start for beginners I think. I've tried painting some trees before and this post inspire me to paint (With keen observation as you've said) some more. Will try...Thanks!:)

robertsloan2art said...

I loved painting trees even when I wasn't very good at it. Trees were one of my first studies in life - as a little kid I was doing trees and confounding my teachers because I did them from life instead of the way I was taught in school.

One thing I remember that really helped shape the way I handle trees all the way along the line. Sketch dead ones and twigs, sketch the skeletons of trees. If you know what's holding up the foliage and get that right, adding foliage over that sketch is easy. At most maybe a bit of lifting with a kneaded eraser will make space across dark trunks and branches for it.

It may seem silly to have to say this, but people don't always get it without having done lots of bare tree observations. Trunks and branches are always widest at the base and narrow as they go up, branches are always smaller than the bigger trunk or branch they came from. Everything tapers as it branches out. It never widens out again except occasionally at a brief "knuckle" when it bends... and it will narrow again immediately after.

This was easy to notice without foliage and is harder to see following a tree or shrub that's covered in masses of trees or flowers. Go to winter photos if you don't have any bare trees around yet.

So that's my shared tip for the day about trees. Hope that helps! I love them and will never tire of painting them, but I am still not that great about adding sky holes after painting in foliage clumps. I know I should and don't quite have the hang of additive sky bits. Once again, my head knows more than my hands!

Your sky holes are spectacular in that gorgeous example tree. I'm drooling at how lacy and rounded it is, while mine tend to look very solid and sculpted. I have got to break the "no sky holes" habit.

Karen said...

Thank you everyone for chiming in with your tips! They are all fantastic! I would love to share these tips in a blog post so that more will see them!