Painting Of Trees With Oil Colors

oil painting of several trees

Posted On November 17, 2018

In landscapes, trees are usually seen from the distance so it is more important capturing the form and shape of the tree then to concentrate on the details like leaves and small branches. Try to define the silhouette of a specific tree you are painting since each has a different overall look.

It is always important to simplify your work to a certain point no matter if you are painting bare winter trees or summer trees covered with leaves. Look for large shapes and mass that are characteristic for the tree and cover them with a thin layer of paint, without adding the shade or light.

Then use thicker paint to work on smaller branches and parts of treetops. At the end use your brush to point out some of the leaves with sharper lines and brush strokes. The most important while painting a tree is to express it like it is an alive moving object, therefore, you need to keep the edges of treetops soft and blend them into the background with the technique wet on wet paint.

The most common mistake while painting trees is in the proportion, painting the treetop too big in comparison to the stem so all trees on the painting start to look like lollipops. Make sure to asses the proportion well, look at the size of the treetop and then compare it to the hight of the stem.

sketch of trees made with a pencil
hand with paitbrush sketching several trees

Shape and size

Use light and shade to determine the size of the stem, branches and individual parts of the treetop. If you disregard that aspect your tree will look flat and one dimensional. With close observation, you will discover that in the lighter side of the tree you have warm colours and the shaded side has traces of blue and purple like the reflection of the sky. Also look carefully at the branches, not all of the branches are growing sideways, some are faced towards you while some are facing away from you.

By looking closely at the treetop you will realise that it is not just one large mass of leaves, there are always small areas on the treetop where you can see the sky especially on the edges of the treetop. You can leave adding of these areas for the end, that will also give you the chance to redetermine the shape of the treetop.

Colours of the leaves

Try to determine how many different colours are there in the treetops around you. Green is the main colour of them but there are so many shades of green depending on the type of the tree. Colour also depends on the season and the time of day you want to capture on your painting. In the spring treetops are filled with light green, grey and even pink colour and in the summer you will see lavish greens, brown and reddish.

oil sketch of several trees
sketch of trees made with oil color

Autumn trees

Landscapes are one of most favourite themes for oil painters, especially for beginners. I will try to show you how to “capture” main characteristics of the trees, their shapes and textures using different techniques of working with the brush in order to make your painting look alive.

For this painting, you will need the following:

  • Primmed canvas
  • Round hog bristle number 2
  • Flat hog bristle number 5
  • Long flat hog bristle number 4
  • Charcoal
  • Rag
  • Turpentine or odourless mineral spirits
  • Linen oil
  • Spectre yellow
  • Ochre yellow
  • Indian yellow
  • Chrome orange
  • Cobalt purple
  • French ultramarine
  • Manganese blue
  • Chrome green
  • Titanium white
  • Light purple


Use the charcoal stick to make a very light sketch of the main contours of the trees. Use a piece of clean rag to gently pick up any residue from the charcoal. By doing that you will prevent the charcoal to mix with the oil colour and change it. With round brush number two paint main areas of the painting using the mixture of cobalt red, french ultramarine, chrome green and ochre yellow. Dilute the colour to a very thin layer with mineral spirits and rub it in the weavings of the canvas. Sketch the human figure in the front plane.

Take the flat brush number five to cover the sky with different mixtures of white, manganese blue and french ultramarine also diluted with mineral spirits. While painting use all the colours only partially mixed in order to give texture to the sky. Add more ultramarine and a bit of ochre yellow and paint the trees in the distance.

Paint with bold diagonal strokes to express the movement of the trees in the wind.

almost completed oil painting of several trees

Developing the painting

Mix cobalt purple and Indian yellow to get warm brown and use it to paint leaves on the tree on the right side. Twist and twirl the brush to apply vertical and horizontal layers. Dilute the paint with sixty percents of mineral spirits and forty percents of linen oil. That will make the paint much easier to work with.

With the mixture of ochre yellow and Indian yellow work on the leaves on the trees. Add to it a bit chrome orange, chrome green and spectre yellow. Work on the painting using many combinations of green, yellow and orange gradually filling all the areas with the leaves.

Adding the details and finishing the painting

Start painting the front plane of the painting. Use flat brush number four to mix cobalt purple, ultramarine and chrome green and colour darker shaded areas around the base of tree stem and on it. For the top part of the treetops and the leaves with sun rays on them use light green gained by mixing ultramarine and chrome green.

Colour the pine trees in the front plane with darker mixture adding a little of white to create the impression of sunlight on the leaves. Mix spectre yellow with chrome green and ochre yellow for the grass changing the ratio of colours to get different tones and textures.

To paint the lane in the middle of the painting mix Indian yellow, chrome orange and cobalt purple to get warm brown. in order to paint autumn leaves make a mixture of yellow, orange and a bit of purple. Again vary in tones and paint with vertical and horizontal strokes on the canvas to create the surface of the painting full of energy and life.

Paint the tree stem on the right side with titanium white leaving some details on it uncoloured in order for the lower layer to be seen partially. With round brush, number two add the dark tree stem and branches using the mixture of ultramarine and light purple. Finish the human figure in the front plane using the same mixture. At the end go over the painting adding details to give your painting more texture.

After your painting is fully dry to the touch (depending on the thickness of layers it might be from a month to a year) use damar varnish to protect it.

If you have any questions regarding the subject I wrote of feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to answer them.

Written by Magdalena

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1 Comment

  1. John S Kress

    Is there a part 2 to this, where the details are done?


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