How to Paint a Tree: Start With These Tips, Then Branch Out!

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You thought you'd mastered the tree back in preschool — a brown rectangle topped with a big blob of green. But once you traded in those tubs of tempura for tubes of acrylic, you learned the humbling truth: Trees are actually pretty tricky to paint well, especially if you're going for a bit more realism.

It's worth putting in some effort to get them right. If you want to paint landscapes, there's a good chance you'll need to paint trees And having a good grasp on one type of tree will help you figure out any kind more easily.

So get out that old smock (okay, maybe a larger one). We're going in! Want a full tutorial? Check out How to Paint Trees in Acrylic.

1. Prep Your Materials

Choose your canvas — I've opted for a slim canvas board, as you can see in the photo above, but any size or thickness will do. Then prime it with gesso .

Gather your acrylic paints and brushes. For this tutorial, I used Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow and Titanium white paint.

Pro tip: I like to soften my brushes before I start by soaking them in warm water for five to 10 minutes.

2. Paint a Tree Structure

All trees have different branch and trunk structures. Look at different types of trees and notice how they're built. While almost all trees are made up of V-shapes, there's a lot of variation depending on the type of tree. Colors vary too, even among trunks, so play around and have fun!

3. Add Shadows and Dark Leaves

With acrylics, I find it's best to work in layers, starting with the darkest colors and working my way up to the lightest tones.

Mix up a dark green using the primaries (yellow, red and blue) for the darker leaves and shadow areas. Use a few different tones and values to mimic nature and create a realistic image.

4. Bring in Mid-Tones

You can either wait for the previous layer to dry or, if you'd like some blending action, go ahead and add a layer of lighter greens. This is the bulk of the tree color.

You can also add some mid-tones to the tree trunk for texture and shadows. This is where your tree will start to come to life.

5. Paint Highlights

Add the lightest leaves in the tree on the side closest to your light source. For this, I primarily used a mixture of white, yellow and blue, adding a tiny bit of red to neutralize the color where needed.

Don't forget the trunk! Some of it may be in sunlight too, depending on your light source.

But don't go crazy: Acrylic newbies have a tendency to overdo highlights, which can ruin the balance of light and shadow. It's easier to add more highlights than to take them away (which requires painting over your work).

6. Add the Finishing Touches

Finally, add the lightest accents and other flare to make the tree your own. I added some small strokes of saturated yellows and blues to give more of an Impressionistic color effect.

Once you really start paying attention you'll be endlessly inspired by the trees around you, especially as they change through the seasons . So take a stroll in the woods, or even down your city block — then start painting!

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How to Paint a Tree: Start With These Tips, Then Branch Out!