Untangling Trees

As a young girl I used to climb a huge contorted apple tree. I loved the feeling of being in the trees—especially when it was in bloom. That was heaven! This familiar knowledge of trees has helped me immensely when I paint trees and other foliage. But if you haven?t had this “up close and personal” relationship with trees and you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, I?ve pulled together some tips and resources so you can help make trees an expressive part of your paintings.

1) Keep in mind that different varieties of trees have different overall shapes. Study trees throughout all the seasons to appreciate the skeleton and the wardrobe of your favorite trees.

2) When you want to paint natural-looking trees with realistic knobs, bumps, branches and sticks, hold your brush loosely—with your index finger and thumb about 1 inch from the end of the brush (not the hair-fiber part, the other end). Then swing the brush in a pattern to make the trunk and branches. Because you have so little control, the brush jumps and pops over your paper. Amazingly, these flaws are the perfect jags and zigs to give a natural look to your tree. I use about a No. 12 round brush for most of my trees. I might use a rigger brush for very fine sticks on the branches.

3) Here?s another tip to get a natural-looking wild, unkempt tree. Draw a “V” with an angle of about 130 degrees. Sponge on some foliage. Then connect the foliage to the branches and trunk with the loose brush technique described above. To me, the advantage of this technique is that you don?t have to do much drawing.

4) Cathy Johnson?s Creating Textures in Watercolor has some excellent tips for creating the vast range of textures and colors of bark and leaves. Plus, she offers excellent step-by-step examples for painting a variety of trees in all seasons.

With a bit of practice and success with trees, you will find yourself being more and more entranced at their diversity, complexity and beauty. As well, you might even find yourself a little more inclined to scramble up the next one you see.

Jane Jones shows her work in galleries and museums nationwide, and her work has won awards in numerous national competitions.

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