Painting Trees Means Knowing Their Anatomy
We often think of trees in a very human way—that they have personalities and traits that distinguish them from all the rest. Their symbolism can be powerful and moving, and they are definitely a landscape painting essential.
To better understand their structure and how to paint them realistically in an outdoor painting, you don’t want to just paint what a tree is in general or what you see in your mind when you think, “tree.” Instead, landscape painters paint the specifics. That is why you are painting outdoors, after all.
So study what kind of species it is, go up to the tree and get a look at its leaves, study the overall shape of the tree—is it round or conical, does it droop or is it more erect and broad? What about the angle of its branches and their connection to the trunk? What is the texture of the bark?
Asking yourself these questions is not meant to force you to go detail crazy in your painting, but to sink into a familiarity with your subject—really see it—so that you can create a compelling, believable plein air landscape painting.
Here are some details to keep in mind when you turn your attention to a few species of leafy brethren.
Large and in charge—the Elm
-Grows to be 120 feet tall and 50 feet wide
-Vase-shaped with branches growing from the top of the trunk
-Flowers are reddish-brown
-Dense, overlapping foliage
Stands out from afar—the Sycamore
-Reaches 50 to 60 feet in height
-Pyramid-shaped form when young; grows to have a round or irregular shape
-Distinctive white bark that is smooth in texture
-Spiky, circular-shaped fruit
-As it ages, its branches droop.
Wild and unpredictable—the Oak
-Branches come off the trunk nearly horizontal or parallel to the ground, and can grow in twisted, tangled ways
-Bark is crackled and rough
-Tubular or cone-shaped
-Produces acorns, which will often be littered at its base
What kind of trees did I miss and what can you tell us about their appearance that will help when it comes time to paint them? Let me know! And for more on the wonders and skills associated with landscape painting, consider this new resource bundle: Beautiful Watercolor Landscape. Enjoy!