Painting a tree in watercolor is not difficult if one does not try to paint each individual leaf. Here is one way to paint a deciduous tree. Start with an outline of the foliage shape. Although I was not drawing each leaf, I made sure that the edges of this shape indicated a leafy texture.
I also drew in the shapes of a river in the background, a path leading down to the river, a bench beside the path under the tree, a couple of figures near the river, and assorted bushes. Because I’m going to make the foliage darker than the sky, I painted in the sky down to the horizon so any “bird holes” in the tree will be the same color as the sky. Watercolor paint is usually transparent and I didn’t want a hard line behind the tree, so while the paint was wet, I softened the edge of the horizon line that would be overlapped by the tree.
Next I painted all of the foliage of the tree a yellow-green, the lightest color that I wanted my leaves to be. Although I have a couple of greens on my palette, I find that my greens look more natural if I mix them myself. For this light green, I used a warm yellow and a cool blue so that it would remain fairly bright. I didn’t mix the puddle of color entirely but left areas of blue and yellow on the edges so that I could vary the color as I picked up each brush-full of paint.
After painting a strip of beige to represent the sand on either side of the river and letting it dry, I also painted the trees on the far side of the river. I wanted this green to be darker and duller, so I added a warmer blue to my previous mixture. Touching a small amount of orange into the wet bushes and tree shape gave me some variation to indicate individual trees without painting each one. Watercolor is a wonderful medium which will often do the work for me, if I let it!
Using a darker and duller green mixture, I painted in the foliage that was in shadow. I also dropped in some darker greens while this area was wet to be areas that are in deeper shadow. I made sure that these edges also look like leafy shapes.
In order to keep these darker shadowed areas from looking pasted on, I went back after the paint had dried with a damp brush and softened some (not all!) of the edges between the sunlit areas and the shadowed areas. Now I can see some depth in the tree. I added blue for water and yellow-green for grass. Making these areas darker in the front and lighter in the back helps to create the illusion of depth.
The last step for the tree is to weave in the trunk and branches. Because the lightest green represents the foliage in the sun, I don’t usually put any branches in front of these spaces unless the tree is lit from the back. I start from the ground and “grow” the woody parts into the leafy mass. Weaving the trunk and branches over the darker greens and through the bird holes, I make sure that the trunk and branches get smaller as they get farther from the ground. Growing them in this way also lets all the branches seem connected to each other in a logical way. I make sure that I imagine the part of the branch that is hidden in the leaves.
I painted in the rest of the picture, making sure to add some shadows so that the other areas appear to be in sunlight.
My working title for this has been “Painting A Tree” but I don’t think that will do. Any suggestions for a title for this picture?
Robert Genn, who puts out a newsletter for artists twice a week, wrote recently about painting with greens. You can read what he said here.