How Do You Paint a Tree?

April 18, 2013

Tuscan Hillside

“Tuscan Hillside” ©Jill Rosoff 2012, 9″ x 12″

Imagine how funny it was that this question came up in two different workshops, two completely different groups of people.  We were working on how to paint landscapes in each session, so it’s not a complete surprise.  I love that it did, and it also made me a little curious.  Is painting a tree a paint-by-numbers proposition?  Nope.  The starting point is: lets take a look at the kind of tree you want to paint.  

“Trees have a spirit and personality; none of them are the same.”  Trees come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  The trunks of trees can be all ranges of browns, greys, even green, blue or, as in fruit trees, burgundy.  The leaves are any and all shades of green, with touches of all the other colors used to create contrasts.  The fun here is the learning, observing:  first figuring out what the tree’s shape is, and then deciding how to put it down on the paper.  Is the trunk the more visually interesting element?  Or the way the crown of the tree is shaped?  In watercolor, you put down the lighter elements, then build in the darker, more richly colored ones.  Because, as always, in watercolor you paint light to dark.  The other trees also punctuate, more because they are a textural contrast to the stripes I used in the patchwork of fields.

In the painting above, the trees, especially the pencil cypresses, act like punctuation marks, creating small points of contrast, which keeps the rest of the rich colors from sort of going flat.  Put a finger up and block out the cypress trees and you’ll see what I mean.

Or look at this painting done by a fellow watercolorist/shopowner on Etsy, JC Strong.  You know its a tree, but it’s a deftly shaped tree silhouette of lovely combinations of purples and greens.  

I read this quote the other day on Facebook:  “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.”  When I teach my job is to lead people down the path to explore, look and learn by observation.  There’s no one formula.  

See my work on my website, and in my Etsy shops for my paintings and my scarves.

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One Response to “How Do You Paint a Tree?”


  1. Love this painting, Jill! As always, your colors are so vibrant and fresh; I love your unique interpretation of a familiar subject.


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