These are the main Sections of the Site

These are the other Topics within this section

TREES  in your Landscape  1

This section is in TWO PARTS

1/ discusses the shape and structure of trees and is not just specific to CP

2/ will look at the methods for working trees in CP


The main thing to get right at the beginning is the overall shape of the tree.  If you have the structure right, the shape will be right whether you are painting a winter tree or a summer tree (or one in between).  

The  first step is to establish the height of the tree relative to the surroundings  and it’s overall shape.  

This can be done using a feint line in CP which will

establish the limits of where the outer branches go

It will also establish the overall shape

and enable you to keep to that shape.

Shown right, is part of a CP picture of Winter Trees that

 I did a few years ago.  

The basic tree trunks were lightly pencilled in

and the overall outline of the outer branches marked

as a dotted line, which established the shape.

I then turned the paper upside down

and worked lines for the branches wending their way out

to the outer shape & getting thinner and thinner as they go.

The dotted line on the outer limits merges in to become

the fuzz of tiny twigs

Look at a number of tree shapes, below.  BUT BEFORE YOU COMPLAIN !

This is not a comprehensive study on British Trees - I have only sketched out one or two to make my point.

Check out a book like the Observers Book of Trees if you intend to do a lot of landscape and need to identify and show shapes exactly .  For most landscape work you don’t have to be specific over the exact variety of tree you include unless you are painting a commission and the eventual owner is an expert on trees, but it helps to be aware of the different shapes.

Upright forms like pines, firs and poplars tend to have fairly recognisable shapes

More rounded tree forms like Birch have a very light open structure and a light leaf cover. You can see a lot of sky through it.  

The Oak tends to have a more solid appearance with a strong wide trunk and dense leaf cover.

Trees like the Sycamore and Sweet Chestnut have a similar round form to the Oak but more open appearance and often many holes in the leaf cover

You will see that I have indicated the pattern of the branches.  This helps to direct the foliage shape when you work an image of a summer tree.  The foliage will usually form blocks of leaf which will show light on the tops and shadow underneath each section.  This will help give form to your summer tree.

 The Skeleton of the Tree

I have seen it stated several times that the amount of timber per cubic foot in a tree is the same amount all the way up to the outer limbs.  

The tree carries the wood as solid material in the lower trunk and as each branch leaves the main stem, the tree trunk loses the same amount of timber per cubic foot as the branch takes away, and the main limb therefore narrows slightly to accommodate the loss.

The result is that there is (I am told) the same total weight per cubic foot of twigs at the extremities of the tree as in the trunk at the base.  I must admit that I have yet to see a branch that gets wider and heavier as it extends out from the tree, and the trees in the wood behind my house all seem to obey the ‘rule’, so until someone proves it to the contrary, I will go with it !

I always apply this principle to any tree I draw or paint, and

ensure that the branches get progressively narrower as they go out from the trunk.   The way the branches grow is always a

fascination - from the wriggling branches of an oak tree to the straight branches of a poplar.   Just look at the limbs on some of the trees shown in my photographs alongside.

Obviously the branches are more visible in winter when the trees have no leaf cover, but note that even in high summer timber is still visible.  

One of the joys in looking at woodland with a view to painting it, is looking for contrasts of light and dark, seeing how the sky is visible through some trees and not through others.

Seeing how light produces silhouettes of branches and highlights some leaf cover against dark, shadowed backgrounds.

When painting trees, it is always best to work from a reference

And look very closely at exactly what light and dark areas exist within the image.   Don’t look at the leaf cover as leaves

Look at it as areas of dark and light colour exactly as you would when painting, say, the reflections in the surface of a  metal vase.

Paint what you actually see, not what you know is there.


Tree trunks are generally grey or greenish grey.  Brown is usually only found among conifers and exotic trees in the UK.  Look at tree trunks when you take a walk next time.  The surface of tree trunks varies enormously from ribbed to scaly, to smooth.  The colour will also vary depending on the amount of natural moss and algae growth and the prevailing wind direction which will discourage surface ‘extra’s’.    

Woodland will have a mixture of young trees and low bushes as well as mature trees so keep an eye on how you bring in lower growths within the main trees.  Colours will also vary, even in high Summer as well as in Autumn.

Tree foliage will vary enormously between Spring and Autumn and it will rarely be possible to get by with just one colour for each tree or bush.  Watch out for those areas of deep shadow and how the light shows up certain areas of leaf in highlight against the dark

Look particularly at the last image of a bank of trees

( to the left ) and how the forward trees are highlighted against the ones behind and the shadowed areas.

I show some of them again below, in close up.

Next Page


In the landscape


using Watercolour

and Wax type pencils