In this tutorial, I will go over the process of painting stylised trees. All you need is Clip Studio Paint's good'ol basic round brush and one other textured brush of your choice for a more detailed style.

1/ Referencing Tree Species

Stylisation is just another way to express the idea artists find creative ways to simplify or modify the look of a subject that can be found or is based on something from the real world.

It happens when an artist wants to solve a problem, for example: how do I paint this tree's folliage using only 2 colours as it's meant to be animated and time is limited?

To solve this problem, arists resort to their knowledge of art fundamentals combined with creative choices according to their taste or that correspond to the artistic direction established in the case of a project involving a whole team.

In this case, the artist can rely on his mastery of values and colour temperature to make sure the volume of the folliage reads by separating the part of it that is in shadow and the one hit by the sources of light with a warmer colour.

Eventually, the artist could resort to his understanding of shape design to define the silhouette of these light and dark shapes according to the type of tree they're aiming to represent (spiky shapes for a menacing dark forest or round fluffy shapes for a more welcoming place) while revealing the texture of the folliage through the transition from light to dark.

This is how an artist could tackle this problem. But as can be seen here, these limits enable to create a style, any factor changes the outcome of the subject's appearance, ranging from the brush's texture and its opacity settings to the presence or absence of line art, and if line art there is, is it coloured? Does its thickness vary?...

See how infinite the possibilities are, but the common element that all the stylised trees will always share, is that they are trees, and to make sure we end up with one, regardless of how much stylisation is involved, it has to be based on reality, indeed, some generalisations can be made on the trees' trunks, branches etc.

This is where looking for references of actual trees comes in handy, whether it be to familiarise yourself with a specific tree species or to practice the general tapering shape of the branches and the trunk... But I guess, "look for references" is something you hear over and over again, so I won't expand here on why it's impotant in general, but I'll rather mention the specific notions that can be learnt from tree photo references and how they can be applied in the process of stylising them.

A. Basic Shapes of Trees

The Trunk

While surfing on Pinterest, you can quickly observe in most cases that, regardless of the shape of the tree species, the general shape of the trunk tends to taper the closer you get to the folliage, indeed, we all know trees find balance through their tentacular roots that grow wider and deeper to feed.

The Branches

Quite conveniently, branches tend to behave the same way. Think of branches as mini trunks, trunks from which other trunks come out. According to this, the main branches are thinner than the trunk, but thicker than branches coming out of them. Meaning when it comes to drawing the shapes of the trunk and the branches, all you need is to be familiarised with is that tapering shape.

The Trunk and the Branches Assembled

Note how the trunks seems to widen slightly again as we get closer to the folliage, this is due to the main branches branching out and spreading in different directions that are kind of unpredictible, the trunk doesn't really widen, the branches separate!

Considering everything I have mentioned, we could say trees have a mushroom-like general shape, which is even more evident as we add the folliage. However keep in mind that all of the above was meant to address the shapes created by the outline of the trees so we can drawn them, but they remain 3D volumes!

Therefore, when drawing the branches, you want to make sure the longest ones are those which spread on a vertical or horizontal axis, whereas the ones coming to you or turning away from you, will appear shorter because of perspective.

B. Conveying Trees Volumes

Volume of the folliage

When choosing your references, bear in mind all references are not suited for studies. Especially when it comes to studying the basic volumes of folliage, indeed, the lighting scenario when the pohoto was taken can greatly impact the reading of a tree's folliage volumes. Typically, with an overcast, the contrast between the shadows of the folliage and the part receiving the sky's light is not important enough to clearly disnguish its volume, in which case only the silhouette of the tree appears clearly, but it's flat... which can be interesting when looking at the shape designs, but volume-wise, it gets quite complicated.

Therefore, here is an exemple of how you can check the quality of your references:

Look for high contrast between lights and shadows, to help you do so, you can bring the saturation of the image to 0, squint your eyes or blur the image. You can also do both, which is what I did here.

As is to be seen on the 2 first images, the values of lights and shadows are contrasted enough so that the volumes keep reading even once the image is blured. For the first image, it was obvious even without turning the image to grayscale. Images 3 and 4 respectively don't read well and not at all.

Blurrying the image also enables us to focus on the big shapes, which as pretty much anything you want to paint, is always the first thing you want to look for. This is part of the process is called the block-in, which is when you simplify the shapes created by shadows and light to the largest blocks of colour possible. Here is an example using the same images as above.

Now you have gathered information thanks to references, always remember these are general observations, but as always, there will be exceptions, however this is actually great news. Indeed, with those weird looking trees, your mental library only gets bigger and enables you to design new types of trees by combining existing trees and go even crazier than Nature itself!

See those trees? Have I been lying to you this whole time?... Look at how the trunk of photo 3 doesn't give a shit?

To conclude this cetion on references, even if exceptions exist, general observations are made to help you study and be able to draw trees from imagination and, eventually, have fun breaking these very rules.

2/ Let's Draw this Tree Someday?

First, I'll draw the trunk, wider at its basis, thinner at its height.

Then, the primary branches, also tapering as I get closer to their extremes.

Now I can define the silhouette of the folliage with one single big shape. Note how the silhouette is already made of 3 main bumps, these are secondary shapes that I directly included, but this can be achieved by starting with a big geometric shape like an oval, that you devide in smaller ones. To achieve a natural, organic and unpredictible effect, go for preferably an uneven number of medium shapes, or at least of different sizes.

Here, I separate the big shape in smaller section, as mentioned before. These secondary shapes already add some texture to the drawing, but most of it is achieved through the smallest shapes, the details, that you want to put along the outline, the silhouette, of the biggers shapes. By doing so, the first geometric and therefore less natural shapes appear more organic and the folliage start to read. Adding texture/detail doesn't mean only adding lines, you can and should also play with negative spaces, by erasing some lines or drawing some inwards bumps, which is key to reach this organic and random effect.

Here, I just grounded the tree on a piece of land, nothing important, but note how I erased some parts of the branches that are hidden as they dive deeper in the folliage. Some bits of branches can be revealed higher in the tree. I also went for some wavy roots almost creating a spiral effect, look for such design elements that really adds movement to yet a static object. Obviously, according to your goals, this is an example among infinite possibilities. When it comes to this spiral design, you can use the Liquify tool of Clip Studio Paint to come up with cool flowy shapes, and the advantages of CSP's liquify is that you see the changes live, it doesn't take you on a new window with only the selected layer, here you can make your changes and see the big picture at the same time.

3/ Painting the Tree

I start filling my sketch with colour flats. I personnally go for the shadow colours first, not the local ones. Indeed, when looking for a more realistic look with many layers of lights and shadows, we usually start with mid tones. But I am going for a simplified style, with relatively harsh edges between lights and shadows, and the mid tone will naturally come with the use of the mixer brush, you'll see how.

Given these are my shadow colours, I take into account their temperature, which is colder than my lights as my scene will be exposed to a blue sky as a secondary light source.

Then, I put down big shapes of light, this enables me to quickly feel like the piece is progressing, you could totally start by the light colours and add shadows afterward, it's just a preference of mine. I like the feeling of light instantly revealing the 3D volumes by hitting them and above all its easier for me to design light shapes, I feel like this is closest to reality, everything is in "shadow" until it's hit by light.

Talking about light shape design, I try another shape (and lighting scheme, but don't mind if it's not coherent with the clouds ahah even if you should xd)

My main light source coming from above (the sun) made me expand that shape to the whole tree. I also start to add texture/details where my light shape meets the dark one. This is one of the most important notion when simplifying/stylising something while keeping it readable as such:
Light reveals texture, put some texture at the transition between light and shadow, and the viewer's brain will fill the gaps automatically. Also, you generally put more texture in the light areas than in the shadow ones, but keep most of it for the transition area between the two, the contrast will strike the viewer's eye and the texture will read instantly.

For a very simplified folliage, you could stop here, the more you work transitions, add colours and texture, the more your tree will look realistic, but the longer it takes, and in the animation industry typically, unless the tree is the subject of the shot, it will be simplified.

And I define a smaller shape on the left to bring variation in shape sizes.

Now that I have my 2 colours settled, my general shapes and volumes read. I grab a textured mixer brush, and redefine the texture of the folliage. Given I use a mixer brush, a third colour appears automatically, that I will reinforce afterwards. Note the more you add colours, smoother the transitions get, and more realistic your subject looks.

Here I spread this new colour, and I even add a fourth one. However I make sure the colour closest to my deepest shadow is significantly lighter to keep a good contrast between the two.
I also add texture on the edges of my tree's silhouette, indeed it is an edge too that can be exploited to reveal texture.

After working a little the wood texture of the roots. I add some bits of light seeping through the leaves, to add interest to the focal point and give this good'ol feeling of a sunny day, which I will evoke in the last part of this guide.

Then, I grabbed a custom brush to add some detailed leaf texture. I also add colour variation, pushing the yellows on the light shape. This often happens when starting with only 2 shapes, one for lights, one for shadows, the contrast is high enough at the beginning but as you add transition colours, you often realise the lights and shadows could be pushed (in terms of values and colour temprature/variation). I quickly added some shadows to carve the tree's trunk, but since it's all in shadow, the contrast shoud not be super high.

Now, I'll do the trees further in the distance, on the right. I start with my shadow colour and define the silhouette of a group of trees. Starting from here, colours will be more and more tinted with the sky's colour as we go further away, and the colours also get lighter to give a sense of depth. The contrast between light and shadows will decrease, details and texture will decay, and objects will get smaller too: all 5 of these factors result in achieving atmospheric perspective.

The same way as for the main tree, I add my light colour with the GREAT round brush. I won't make use of a textured brush, I suggest it slightly with some irregular brush strokes to design the light shapes myself. We don't want the background to be as textured and noisy as the foreground, it would flatten the whole scene and steal the show from our focal point.

Same process for the trees closer to the main tree, but I could have went for bigger shapes or lighter colours, it almost looks like bushes at this point xd.

Evetually, the farthest trees will be painted with only silhouettes, with one colour and simple round shapes.

4/ Suggesting the Presence of Trees Without Them Being Fully Part of the Composition

Trees don't have to be in your frame and still totally impact the vibe of your piece.

Looking to convey this feeling of a light breeze taking a few tree leaves away during a peaceful and sunny spring day?

Or maybe you want to depict a warm summer day spent hiking and resting in a refhreshing forest?

Well this element will make your piece extremely heartwarming: light seeping through leaves.

This is an extremely powerful weapon that not only plays a huge role in giving a soothing vibe to your piece, it also enables you to guide the viewer's eye throughout the piece by brining conrast in shadows.

Indeed, small shapes/details attract the viewer's eyes, so does conrast. Therefore, these small shapes which outline is defined by the texture of leaves screams "LOOK HERE" to the viewer. It also adds interest to some parts of your piece that may feel too empty. However, these spots of light should be carefully designed and placed to keep a balance between the random effect of folliage and your composition choices.

This is so flexible and gives you a large control and freedom in terms of composition. Indeed, you can use the cast shadow of a tree on a wall to make your character hit by the light pop against it.

Or, use this shadow to frame your compostion.

Or, as is to be seen on the illustration above, use directly small clusters of leaves to frame the compsition and suggest the presence of trees, once again, these composition elements should be carefully positionned and designed to keep a natural and organic feel, using randomness. With both the leaves and the cast shadow, you can frame a whole scene easily while indicating presence of vegetation in your scene, which totally shifts the tone of your painting.

When it comes to low exposure scenes, just a simple silhouette with very low or no contrast of some clusters of tree leaves works too. The viewer can easily envision the big picture of the environment without actually seeing it.

Anyways, many things mentioned in these tips are applicable to almost everything, but I think trees zre quite an important and relevant subject as they happen to be represented a lot, especially when you are doing a scene taking place outside, chances are they are not far.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I am happy if at least one person found something interesting in these tips that they can use.


PS: You think I am obsessed with tree shadows and light seeping through them, don't you? ... But wait, you haven't seen this yet:

Yes, even my character design sheet spreads gotta be under a tree ... xD



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