How to Paint Trees

Painting woods adds dimension to a landscape, particularly when the trees cast a profusion of shadows. Linseed oil is ideal for creating delicate washes between light and shade and knit the forest painting together.


Painting a Wooded Scene


At first, the scene may confuse the eye for its array of light and shadow. The secret is to simplify the scene. In this example, an avenue slices through the trees, creating a tunnel like effect. For this reason, the eye is drawn into the picture. The following recommendations may help the artist.
  • If painting a scene depicting dappled sunlight, applying the bright colours prior to the darks will prevent these dark colours soiling the sunlit colours
  • Tree trunks are often not merely brown and the leaves not merely green, which may result in amaturish painting of trees. Each will exhibit such colours as grey, white, green, blue, mauve and even flecks of red
  • The forest floor may exhibit the most unlikely colours as well as green. In this demonstration, red, yellow and brown have been included.
  • It often helps to simplify a scene depicting a myriad of trees by half closing the eyes.
  • Painting a forest scene in autumn provides great opportunities for using bright vivid colours.

Art Materials Required

  1. A photograph depicting a thicket
  2. Acrylic paint in burnt sienna and ultramarine
  3. Oil paints in the following colours: titanium, pthalo blue, ultramarine, permanent rose, burnt sienna and burnt umber
  4. A 12” x 16” (30.5 x 40.5cm) primed MDF
  5. A size 3 and size 6 round sable brushes
  6. A ½ inch wide bristle brush
  7. A palette consisting of a china plate or varnished wood
  8. Linseed oil
  9. Pot of artists’ white spirits
  10. Rags
  11. A soft pencil

Tips on Painting Woods


Juxtaposing delicate washes with solid colours creates interesting contrasts within a painting, and is a great way of expressing different qualities of sunlight found within a forest thicket.


Demonstration on Painting a Wood
To set the tones of the painting, a dilute wash of burnt sienna acrylic paint had been applied over the surface. When dry, the composition was carefully drawn out and overlaid with neat blue acrylic paint to make it stand out.


Firstly, white, pthalo blue and a little linseed oil to make the paint flow were applied onto various areas of the sky and the thoroughfare between the trees.


Painting Trees Impressionist Style


The forest floor exhibited a remarkable array of luscious greens and dry patches. White, burnt sienna and permanent rose were used in selected places; viridian and white on others.




Getting carried away with detail on the trees will merely give the painting an illustrated feel. To retain a painterly expression, imply detail by allowing brush marks to remain as the French Impressionists did.

The Colour of Shadows

Pthalo blue, white and linseed oil was applied to the sky prior to the treetops. The linseed oil adds fluidity and a sense of movement to the numerous branches. Ultramarine and burnt umber was then dabbed to the shaded branches of the trees.


Lastly, ultramarine and permanent rose were applied via a thin sable to illustrate the dynamic shadows in the foreground. Notice how the shadows flatten out and appear thinner in the distance. The sunlit colours were emphasised by dabbing pure colours in selected areas. As can be seen, using linseed oil adds movement and fluidity to a painting depicting a forest scene with dappled light.


This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my two art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author via this site, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased direct from Amazon.


© Rachel Shirley 2010