Painting Trees

A couple of winters ago, when my daughter moved into her new house, she asked me to paint some large-scale paintings for the “niches” in her entry way.  Her custom-built house has a gorgeous two-story entry way with a beautiful staircase just off the hall way leading up to the bedrooms.  The entry is quite dramatic and the specially lighted niches she had built into the wall were a perfect spot to showcase some big dramatic paintings. 

What to paint?  Well, there’s always my favorite – trees.  Trees inside on such a large-scale seemed to fit the drama of the entryway.  So after looking at a lot of photos – my own and some on the internet…we settled on two views of birch/aspen trees that we both liked.  The niches are about a 41/2 feet by 51/2 feet rectangle and they are stacked one on top of the other.  The bottom niche is just inside the doorway at the foot of the stairs, and the top one is on the upper story just across from the balcony on the landing.  I decided that the bottom one would contain a close up view of the birch trunks with a pathway through the forest (to give it some depth) since that was the one that most people would immediately see.  I wanted the painting to look like you could literally walk into it and be in the forest.  My daughter’s decorating skills include trying to use color and design to bring the outdoors in whenever possible, so this was a good subject for her. 

The top niche presented more of a problem.  The entry way, although commodious, was small enough to make you crane your neck to see the top niche when standing in the entryway.  I decided it would be fun to continue the trees as if we were looking up through the tree tops toward the sky in the upper painting.  This presented some perspective challenges for me as a painter, but after looking at more photos, I settled on a composition that I thought would show off the majesty and height of these beautiful trees. 

They are still a work in progress, but here is a preview:

I still have quite a bit of work to do on them yet, but they are beginning to take shape.  Two 4 x 5 foot paintings take a while!

As with all my acrylic painting, I tend to paint them in the same way as I do my oils.  I use heavy bodied acrylic paint (Liquitex is my paint of choice), and I apply the paint thickly using hardly any water or medium.  That way the paint stays wet longer and I can work back into it to add a more “painterly” (strokes showing) look to the painting.  It is also much easier to brush mix variations of color into wet paint, and to soften edges where blending is necessary. 

I always begin from the back forward.  That is to say I paint whatever is farthest away first.  My first coat of paint is rather thin and I don’t pay too much attention to painting images.  I paint in the color fields of my backgrounds first, then proceed to the details.  In these tree paintings, the bottom one started with a little bit of sky, and then a mostly dark

green (shadow) background, adding layers of leaves and shadow as I painted. Trunks went in last, and after they were painted white, I glazed color over then in both blue and yellow/gold to mimic the sunlight reflecting off the tree trunks.  Glazing means that you thin the paint to a watercolor consistency and apply it in a transparent manner.  Some artists like to use acrylic glazing medium – a silicone based polymer, but I usually prefer just water.  The drying time is faster with water, and I like to add multiple layers of glazes to give the painting depth.

In the painting that will be hung higher up in the entryway, I wanted the background to be just sky pierced with the towering trunks and a few leaves, so I painted the entire background the sky color first and then added the trunks.  I will paint the leaves in last. 

Why not try your hand at painting a few trees?  They are fun to paint and you don’t have to draw any straight lines.  As a matter of fact, if your hand is a little unsteady, it actually helps with wiggly branches!  Let me know how it goes!

Happy Painting!

About Sharon McCameron Whyte, MFA

Sharon hails from a military family that has lived all over the globe. Born in Kansas, she has lived in 8 different states, and 3 European countries. She received her BFA and MA from Kansas University, and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Art. She has taught in private schools, European and American Universities and art centers. She now teaches for Clark College and at her studio in Salmon Creek. Sharon specializes in creative painting classes, and organizes creative art getaways through her art workshops called Visual Voyages. Special interest tours include distinctive venues with a visual feast for the senses. She offers instructional tours in painting, photography, nature journaling, wine tasting and drawing. Sharon has conducted workshops in France and Italy, as well as Canada. Recent local plein air workshops include "voyages" to The Royal Tulip Festival in Woodland, Elk Cove Vineyards in Oregon Wine Country, East Fork and Bethany Wineries in Washington, tramps through Cougar and Swift Reservoir Recreational areas, Guided Tours through Portland's Chinese Garden, Weekend Art Getaways on the beach at Lincoln City, Oregon, and urban and country gardens through the northwest.
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2 Responses to Painting Trees

  1. Lyynn Spurrier says:

    I love your web site, so sorry I spelled your name wrong. I thought I heard you say it was spelled weird I should of known then. oops! Just nervous! I loved the class very informal I need that! You are very kind! I’m very excited!

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