When it comes to landscape painting, trees speak for themselves. As with all things in nature, there’s tremendous variety in trees whether coniferous (evergreen) or deciduous (leafy). Choices in colors, brushes, techniques and mediums all contribute to that variety.
Some trunks are straight as with many types of evergreens, while others can be crooked and with branches that twist in many directions. Limbs may begin to divide at the top of a trunk and some may group and sprout from the base or pop out from the sides like a ladder. Trees can also identify an area, redwoods are extremely tall, and, seeing them in a landscape, you automatically know that the painting reflects the west coast of the United States. Various palm trees immediately suggest a desert, tropical, or temperate zone scene. Willows and cottonwoods have huge trunks and they thrive best near water. Sycamore and birch have bark that is marked quite distinctively and create an interesting look in a landscape painting. Maples and aspens reveal brilliant color and contrasts in autumn paintings such as yellow and gold and, additionally, maples also offer many shades of red and orange.
Seasons give diversity to trees as well. Have you ever noticed the light bluish green on new growth of a blue spruce? In spring, the leaves are bright green and the color changes as the chlorophyll becomes depleted. Fall is golden in some areas in fall and ablaze in others. Winter is a great time to study the shape of a tree, trunk, branches, limbs, twigs. It’s also when evergreens become even more beautiful when boughs are snow covered. Some trees are specific to a region such as the Monterey cypress along the California coast, the Joshua tree given it’s name by the Mormons who traveled to Utah, the cedars of Lebanon, banyan trees of India, remember the story of Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore fig tree in order to see Jesus, and the bald cypress of southern marshes. The world is full of trees too numerous to mention and because of this, an artist has unlimited opportunities for painting.
The illustrations are simple and offer just a few quick ideas of how to present trees in a landscape.
1. The bare tree. It can be a dead tree, one in spring before the leaves, or double loaded by adding white to created limbs and boughs that are snow covered. Bare trees are striking when painted white against a dark background to appear covered in frost. Painting a tree bare is also a great way to create the form for a leafy tree or one in blossom. Depending on the size of a painting, limbs and boughs can be painted with liners and rounds. The trunk is the thickest, followed by the branches; limbs are thinner and radiate from branches and twigs can be a fine line coming from the limbs. Tree bark is not actually brown (though I’ve used it here) but tends to be a shade of gray and trees like the birch and sycamore are blotchy with shades of white in the detail. Blue mixed with brown gives a nice tree color and DecoArt’s Charcoal Gray is a good color to use and not have to mix.
2. Leafy and blossom trees. Usually at least two colors are needed but 3 will give more contrast to shade and highlights. Less is more when stippling as you can always add more. Blossom trees can be many shades of pink from light cherry blossoms to deep crab apples. Apple blossoms are white and usually white can be stippled over white, as the second application will brighten the color. However, an off white and a pure white can be also be used. Fall foliage can be many shades of yellow, red, and orange. Keep in mind that variations of color will present a more airy look to the foliage. Stipplers, stencil brushes, white nylon, or bristles are all good for stippling. However, some artists like to use shaders or rounds, so it all depends on the look and technique you prefer.
3. Distance (leafy trees). Notice the trees at the top of the hill are smaller, less dramatic in color and only small strokes added at the bottom suggest the trunks. Midway the trees become larger and a little more detailed. In the foreground, the tree is largest. This is usually the general rule but like everything else in painting, noting is carved in stone.
4. Evergreen. It’s often helpful to determine the size and shape of an evergreen by pulling a line and then deciding on bough width. This can be done with paint, chalk, or pencil. I like the foliage wave or the Black Gold Wave best for pines but angles, liners, shaders and fans can be used as well. Evergreen boughs can go up, down, be open and airy or tight enough that light won’t show through. Highlights can be chose for the time of year, winter or otherwise.
5. Evergreens (open and closed). Keep the brush applications close and tight for dense foliage. Evergreens can also show limbs and well as the trunk and needles are painted from those limbs. Ponderosa, sugar, lodge pole, red cedar, and larch are examples of open and airy pines. Blue spruce, arborvitae, and northern pines are denser.
6. Distance (pines). Pines in the distance can be simple coarse strokes that are pulled up and in shades of the sky and tree colors. Sometimes they can just be very dark (shadowed) or light (highlighted) depending on the time of day or the weather. However, the main thing is they are not detailed specifically. Trees generally increase in size coming toward the foreground. Bare trees create nice accents for winter landscapes that include pine trees and wonderful contrast is offered in scenes with evergreens against autumn colors.
7. Coconut palms. Many trunks sway at an angle and grow wild. Double load a liner or angle to paint the bark and stroke detail lines across. I like the wave edges for painting palm fronds but angles and shaders will work as well, and I imagine a fan might, too.
8. Palm trees. The thin straight palm is the royal palm as it’s considered to be the most beautiful. You will see these often planted along streets where climate is warm year round. The fronds are feathery. The date palm trunk is thicker as this tree needs to retain a lot of water. Leaves can be as much as 20’ long.
9. Distance (palms). Paint them extremely vague in the far backgrounds. They can be shadowed by deepening the sky color. They become more detailed and brighter being painted to the foreground.
I hope this has been helpful, even in a small way. Though there isn’t an illustration for painting woods and forests, they can be stippled to fill a hill or the lower part of a mountain. It’s done much like the leafy stippling in the far distance in painting #3 being sure to keep colors variegated for interest. If an evergreen type woods were to be painted, layer the pulled up strokes so that there is a representation of various heights in the trees, and this is done through color as well. As in painting #9, though showing palms, the background can be used in other landscapes; it’s simply a wash that gives more impact to the foliage in front of it. For me landscapes are a journey, taking me to places I may never be able to visit. However, the short time I paint them, I can imagine. Imagination is everything!