Artist Technique Depicting Tree Bark

In my last videos and blog I discussed how to paint a tree, so today I want to show you how to approach the tree bark and give more detail to it.


First I begin by drawing a rough outline of the tree stump I’ll be painting. Then I wet the board behind the stump drawing so I can lay my paint in smoothly.  Remember from my other videos/blogs, that you don’t want it to be too wet. As it comes to a low sheen dampness,

Wet the board, but let it dry to a low sheen. This is the high gloss look.

then I paint in my light colors and afterwards my medium to darker colors. This back area behind the stump will be grass.

First pass is to lay in grass behind the tree stump.

Similarly, I paint in the basic tree bark color, starting with the light areas, then painting in the dark areas. Doing it quickly and roughly allows for variations of tone to be my foundation for the bark as I paint.

Lay in light-to-dark color to build bark foundation.

I do the same with the top of the tree stump – putting in my lights and a little bit of shadowing tones.

Add light and shadow tones on the top of the tree stump.

Now use acetate to create extra texture on the tree bark. I’ve shown you this technique in past tutorials (check out Technique for Wall Texture or this one on Ground Texture for a refresher).

Use acetate to give random texture.

Painting some directional strokes and curvature lines help build the details of the tree bark. Adding darker shadow or groove lines help to break up the bark.

Groove and curvature lines build the bark structure.

I’m returning to the grass area behind the stump, where I painted in my first pass of light and dark colors. As a second pass, I use light value brush strokes in the shadow areas, so that you can see the shape of grass blades. Then I paint in a darker value color into the light areas. (See previous post “Artist Technique Depicting Grass in a Painting.” This simulates grass without having to detail every grass blade).

Simulate grass with dark strokes into light areas, and light stroke into the dark areas.

Refocusing on the tree bark now, I add much darker lines to form bark. More shadows and lines help it stand out from the wood underneath the bark. Building dimension takes a few little lines here and there to create the look I hope to achieve.

Dark shadow lines separate bark from wood.

Afterward I add some age lines or tree rings on the wood, including cracked wood lines (doing that with the dark shadow colors), building the texture of the bark. Then I come back and paint in lines of light, as if  the light is coming from the left hand side and hitting those edges. I’m able to define more of the textures with light spots.

Add lines of light to define the bark.

I always think in steps of one, two, and three: The (1) middle tones, the (2) dark tones, and then those (3) light tones. It’s the simplest way to think of giving form and dimension. 1 – Middle tones, 2 – dark tones, and 3 – light tones! It may not always be in that order. It can be 1 – light tones, 2 – dark tones, and 3 – middle tones. However, the idea of 1, 2, 3 is a simple process to remember.  Even in the shadows or dark area, there is some light. But it’s toned down light to help build information or structure of what you are painting.

On top of the stump I’m painting light where it catches the edge of the cracked wood. This helps it to stand out and gives it more form.

Putting light at the edges of the crack on top of the stump.

Now to pull out a few more grass blades. These will be the accent lights (accents are what give you the final information to make it look like there is grass).

Accenting grass strokes.

Below is a close-up of what the final tree bark detailing looks like.

Final painting of detailed tree bark and wood textures on a tree stump.

You can give the tree bark more detail and texturing to make it really busy, or you can keep it simpler or cartoony, if you prefer.

What do you think? If you like this, please let me know. Is there something you would like to see me paint? Let me know. Don’t forget to subscribe to my videos on YouTube and check back here for the next blog post. Until next time, happy painting!