Trees come in all shapes and sizes, colors and heights. Even two trees of the same species won't be identical, though from a distance they may seem very similar. Up close you'll see branches growing in different directions and lengths, bumps and scars in the bark. Add to the mix light and shadow, changes through the seasons, and you've an exciting element in a landscape. But make these mistakes, and your trees may ruin your paintings.
1. Don't Use One Green For All the Leaves
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans
The leaves on the tree you intend to be paint may be green, but it's a mistake to use only one green and expect your painting to look realistic. Adding white to create a lighter green and black to create a darker green is inadequate.
Dig into your paintbox for, at the very least, a yellow and a blue. Mix each of these in with your green to create variations. Use the yellow+green mixes where the sunlight is falling, and the blue+green for shadowy parts.
2. Don't Use One Brown For the Trunk
Image: © 2006 Marion Boddy-Evans
Likewise, one brown for the whole trunk, mixed with white for lighter areas and black for darker, isn't the recipe for painting a tree trunk successfully. Mix a little of your greens, blues, yellows, even red into your "tube brown" mixture to echo the variations in color and tone you get in bark.
Check whether the bark on that species is brown or not. Do it from life, by personal observation, in different lights. It's surprising how much the color and tone on the same tree can change.
3. Don't Chop the Trunk off Straight at Ground Level
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
There isn't a straight line where the tree trunk emerges from the soil. It's an uneven line, and can be tremendously so if it's a tree species with dramatic roots. What about grasses or plants growing up against the trunk, or fallen leaves?
Photo ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans
Humans may have their arms and legs neatly arranged in pairs, on opposite sides of their trunk, but tree branches follow a more complex arrangement. Spend some time sketching various species, noting the characteristics of their branches. Or, if you're too lazy, just remember to put branches in randomly not like a row of soldiers.
Image: ©2007 Marion Boddy-Evans
You've spent ages perfecting the shadow your tree is casting on the ground, but what about the shadows the branches and leaves cast within the tree itself? Put them in as you're painting the leaves, not as an afterthought stuck on top.