Artist Technique for Painting a Tree

Hello all you art lovers out there! Today we’re going to discover how I would paint a simple tree. I’m painting the way background illustrators in the motion picture industry use to paint it, animation style. But you can utilize it in your personal painting approach as well. So follow along, let’s see what happens, and hopefully have fun!
As in previous videos or blogs (check out the series that say Artist Technique), I wet my board first, then I lay in the paint on a low sheen, damp board. This allows the paint to lay in smooth and even.Laying in sky blue paint on a damp board.

I use a badger brush and water from an airbrush, spraying lightly to help blend the strokes better.

Using a badger brush to blend paint, while the airbrush keeps the surface moist.

Then I put in the back foliage. Think of the process as one, two, three steps: a dark value, middle value and a light value. My back foliage is the dark value that goes in first.

Painting in background tree foliage in a dark value.
Then my tree trunk and branches over that. I paint the tree trunk in a wet-into-wet method which allows me to blend my colors as I lay on paint. In this situation, paint from the dark, shady areas to the lighter areas.Painting in the tree trunk and branches from dark to light values

I’m not dealing with grass or ground in this demo as I’ve shown those techniques in other videos. My focus is strictly on the tree. Once I have the basic shapes, then I build in more details: Adding in darker tones on the tree trunk to give it more form; making lines to depict bark and groves in the trunk. I put lights into random areas of the shadows.


Adding lines to bring dimension and detail to the tree trunk.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Painting reflective light into random shadow areas of the tree trunk.

Next, I put in the middle values of the foliage over top of the trunk and branches. It’s helpful to angle the paintbrush in a way that allows you to quickly lay in paint for a leafy appearance without stroking every single leaf shape. We want to simulate a look of lots of foliage. Notice the shape of my paintbrush in the photo below on the right.

Simulating the look of foliage by angling the paintbrush and shaping the tip. Keep the paintbrush tip flat and smooth with a fine edge.









We may need to put extra line detailing in the trunk to give more form where needed. As more detail is added and more form appears, we may need to refine those details. In the same manner as the foliage, we want to simulate bark detail without putting too much information.

Now keep in mind that I’m giving you the simple method of approaching this. You can added as much detail as you like or make it as simple as you like.

I then add some reflective or bounce light in the back shadow side of the tree trunk to aid with more volume or roundness. This will give extra color interest to the tree, as well.

Add in more bounce light to increase dimension, and bring some color interest too.
To accentuate the foliage, I add the light value leafiness in random spots. Not all over – just a few hotter areas to catch the eye and give dimension and form to the foliage, too.

Painting in lighter value leafiness to the tree foliage.
Now you could add a few twigs or small branches, some in a middle tone, others in lighter tones, to make it look as if these branches are coming forward out of the shadow area of the foliage.

Paint in highlights, shadows, and add details like a few leaves or twigs here and there.
At this point (if you used Gouache or water pliable paint), I go back and spray water from an airbrush and use a badger brush  to soften areas that were too crisp or sharp. We’re creating variables of soft and sharp focus which allows rest points for the eye.

Using the airbrush and badger brush to soften the focus in some areas.
Here’s the finished look. Again, this is the quick, animation method of doing a tree. You can make it as cartoony or as realistic as you like.Finished look of flowering tree painted in animation style. Next time I’ll do a close up on the bark for a more detailed approach.
I hope that was useful for you! Check out my other Artist Technique series to depict Ground, Grass, or Wall Texture. The technique I share when beginning these paintings are the same:

Depicting Grass in a Painting
Technique for Wall Texture
Technique to Depict Ground Texture

With each simple tutorial, you’ll learn industry tips and techniques to create your own, complete painting. Thank for your interest! Try it out and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below or on my Facebook Page. Be sure to follow along for more and subscribe on YouTube. Until my next video and blog, Happy painting!